Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?

The Truth That Sets Us Free

Sunday, I mentioned how unusual the prophets can be. Their words can be hard to swallow, and their actions even more so. But why should we be surprised? For that’s how truth often is: hard to hear, and even harder to swallow.

Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of being at a retreat once where the leader asked them to think of someone who represented Christ in their lives. When it came time to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, “I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?”

If the prophets in the Old Testament weren’t treated well for speaking the truth, how much less was Jesus? For was there ever a more truth-filled, truth-telling, truth-living person than Jesus?

And the truth is, the truth from Jesus went down hard. And so everyone came down hard on Jesus. The political powers. The religious powers. The crowd. Even Jesus’ best friend was willing to swear off Jesus rather than face the consequences of telling too much truth.

As Jack Nicholson famously said, You can’t handle the truth! He may have been speaking in a movie, and he may have been speaking to Tom Cruise — but he might as well have been speaking to all of us. For who of us can really handle the truth?

But the truth is: without the truth, how do we know the truth about ourselves? For while we often run from truth, the reality is: we should run toward the truth. It is the truth, Jesus famously said, that sets us free. It is the truth about my life, and what I’ve done, and what I’ve become, that opens the door to the grace that takes me beyond what I’ve done, and helps me become what only God can lead me to become.

So, in a world that continuously redefines, waters down, or avoids truth, give it to me straight. I may not want it, I may not like it, and it may be hard to swallow — but without the truth, how will I ever get free?

Why Are You Yelling?

Have you ever gotten in an argument? Of course you have. Unless you are the rare person who has no views on anything, then you have been through a verbal joust with someone. And you did so because you thought the other person was wrong and you were right.

If you argue enough times, you quickly learn that, while arguing can win the point, it can’t win the person. Sometimes you can get others to do what you want by raising your voice. You might even be able to get them to do something good. You can yell the truth, and it might be very true; but while raising your voice may change someone’s actions, it won’t change a person’s heart.

At Fern Creek Christian, our first value is “Grace and Truth.” It is a clear reminder that Jesus came carrying both, fully (John 1.14). And if we are going to live and love like Jesus, then we are to be people of grace and truth, too. This means that we believe in truth, and that truth is most clearly seen in Jesus (John 14.6). It also means the only way that truth reaches us, and changes us, is through grace. In Jesus’ hands, truth is good news — and is rooted in the love that God has for us.

L2J_Balance

How desperately does our world need both grace and truth? Probably about as much as I need them; which is to say, desperately.

We live in a day when there are arguments about all kinds of issues. And sometimes, it feels as if the world is changing rapidly, almost daily. As it does, keep yourself grounded in the grace and truth of God; for they are a foundation that won’t change. And as you think about what it means to be a person of grace and truth, let me offer these suggestions:

  1. Never forget how much you need grace and truth. Especially grace. None of us is anywhere without grace. Wake up each day grateful for that grace; hit the pillow each night recognizing how grace helped you through the day.
  2. When you remember #1, then you can’t help but show grace to others. People of grace share grace. It’s contagious. Remember, you choose what you are a carrier for: grumpiness or grace. And if you live in grace, you’ll find it more and more natural to choose to be a carrier for grace. In fact, before you know it, you’ll be looking for ways to pour out grace on other people. You won’t be able to help it; that’s just how grace is.
  3. Finally, remember that it’s God’s job to change people. Not yours. Or mine. We are simply carriers for grace and truth — we can’t and shouldn’t force it down people’s throats. Our job is to live in such a way that people see that there is something gracious about us. In word and deed, we point people to a deeper grace, a lasting truth. Our job is to point to grace and truth, but it’s God’s job to bring the change.

So relax. Take a breath. Let God do the heavy lifting; you simply make sure that you are so rooted in truth and grace that you can’t help but be a carrier. And then watch how it spreads.