Tuesday, September 14, 2010

confessions of a doubting thomas-devereaux

I nearly fell off the wagon again, folks. I LOVE blogging and sharing my life with all two of you, my readers. But I struggle with consistency in, um, every single area of my life, and this blog is no exception. Apparently. But I'm back. Because I'm determined to overcome my whimsical, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants personality and not quit.

Now, can I be honest with you? (My husband says that this implies I've been lying all along, but I promise that's not true.) The truth is, I've very recently had a crisis of faith. It would have been more transparent of me to come out with that while still in crisis, but I don't know if I'm ready to be that real with you yet. To be honest (hush, Rob), I was a little bit afraid that the journey I found myself on would end badly and that my blog would be a very sad registry of my weak faith and ultimate betrayal of Christ. Can you say DRAMA? But I want to talk about it. Even the parts where I doubted everything. Because I think it's important, and because I know I'm not the only one who had/has doubts about their faith in Christ and what this life is about.

Another thing I also didn't share with many/most people, and something that has a lot to do with my crisis of faith, is that I had two heart procedures over the summer. Sorry for all the secrecy. I don't like to talk when I'm scared. Coping by silent suffering since 1986 - that's me. The short version is that I have a condition called Atrial Tachycardia, which is actually pretty common - although mostly in men over the age of 50, or 87. I don't know. Essentially, certain spots in my heart send out electrical impulses at inappropriate times and cause my heart rate to go through the roof for no apparent reason. It can be dangerous, but it mostly just limits your ability to do a lot of physical activity and, in my case, was just messing with my pure athletic prowess. Unacceptable.

So in June, I had my first catheter ablation procedure, and the next came in July. It's not a major surgery or anything, but I would be put under general anesthesia for 3-6 hours while they threaded an electrode into the veins in my legs and into my heart. They then would burn or freeze the problem areas & create scar tissue on my heart so the electrical misfires would stop. No biggie. I was feeling great about the procedure until the anesthesiologist and cardiologist popped in to mention there was a chance I could DIE that day. (NOTE: They probably didn't say it quite like that, but any time you're in a room with at least six people and you're the ONLY ONE not wearing underwear, things get significantly more dramatic in your mind.) Once they were finished saying whatever they said after "...and in rare cases, death," I had approximately 5 seconds before they gave me a syringe full of happy juice. I was still puckering my lips to kiss my man when everything got a little blurry, so I didn't have a chance to deeply process the fact that I was utterly terrified of death.

*Spoiler*: I didn't die that day - or during the second procedure in July. But the fact that I couldn't say with confidence that I knew what would come with death in my last moments of consciousness was incredibly unnerving and caused me to take a step back and think about what I actually believe. Not what I claim to believe. What I actually believe. It turns out that I wasn't really sure. I began to wonder and let doubts fester in my mind about how the story of Christ came about. Heaven was a great story. Jesus, while perhaps real and historical, was also a convenient protagonist in that story. I wondered if it hadn't all been made up in an effort to help us deal with the fear that comes in moments like mine in the hospital. Had I been a little more confident in the story, it probably would have been very comforting to me.


I wrestled with these thoughts for weeks. My detachment from God became more and more pronounced and the void seemed more and more insurmountable. I wanted desperately to believe in God and to fall in love with Him again, but I needed to believe in something believable. So I started doing some research. I let my mind work out the things that seemed illogical. During the process, I read a book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist and an investigative journalist specializing in legal cases, and he set out to disprove Christianity and the man it worships as God. Seems like a great place for a wavering Christian to start, right? It was.

What I learned when I allowed myself to ask hard questions, and what Strobel learned through his journey as well, was that God asks us to believe in not only the believable but the provable as well. I won't go through the OVERWHELMING evidence for Christ and His resurrection here, but I have walked away from what became several weeks of questioning with a confidence in the truth of the Bible. It is not a bedtime story, and it is not a myth that has grown in strength and absurdity for thousands of years. It's an historically accurate book that can be cross-referenced by non-Biblical sources and that has been scrutinized by the sharpest minds and most brutal critics. It's trustworthy. More trustworthy than any other tried and tested religion in existence today. By far.

As I've come out on the other side of this season of doubt, I don't feel 100% closer to God. But that was never the intent in my questioning. I've come out on the other side with complete trust, which is better than feelings. God has shown me that, even in the dry, emotionless times that will inevitably come in my walk with Him, His Word is still Truth. I'm learning to not allow my (wildly varying) emotions rock my core beliefs. The Bible is constant and provable and reliable. That doesn't change. Knowing that has given me the freedom to have dry times without the panic that has traditionally come. I tend to jump from not feeling God to assuming He doesn't exist. (Again with the drama.) But He has proven Himself trustworthy and consistent. My last prayer in my journey through doubt was spent telling God that, no matter where I am and no matter if I feel Him completely or not at all, nothing is going to change between us. My feelings will not control my belief. My feelings will amplify and supplement my belief, but never control it.

I'm not sure what I would feel/think if I were on a hospital bed again today, being told that my future past this moment was unknown. I'd like to think I would be singing Amazing Grace and telling my family that they shouldn't worry, but I don't know that I'm quite there yet. But the reality is that none of our futures are guaranteed past this moment. Does this give you a sense of urgency to figure this out?! Me too. I believe that the Bible is true, and that I can be confident in where my eternal future will play out, so I'm not going to panic. But I am going to work on getting my feelings to line up with my mind so that I can rejoice and not fear.

In the final pages of The Case for Christ, after he has presented his most thought-out and air-tight questions to Christian scholars and students, Strobel writes:

"By November 8, 1981, my legend thesis, to which I had doggedly clung for so many years, had been thoroughly dismantled. What's more, my journalistic skepticism toward the supernatural had melted in light of the breathtaking historical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical event. In fact, my mind could not conjure up a single explanation that fit the evidence of history nearly as well as the conclusion that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the one and only Son of God.

The atheism I had embraced for so long buckled under the weight of historical truth. It was a stunning and radical outcome, certainly not what I had anticipated when I embarked on this investigative process. But it was, in my opinion, a decision compelled by the facts.

All of which led me to the "So what?" question. If this is true, what difference does it make? There were several obvious implications.
  • If Jesus is the Son of God, his teachings are more than just good ideas from a wise teacher; they are divine insights on which I can confidently build my life.
  • If Jesus sets the standard for morality, I can now have an unwavering foundation for my choices and decisions, rather than basing them on the ever-shifting sands of expediency and self-centeredness.
  • If Jesus did rise from the dead, he's still alive today and available for me to encounter on a personal basis.
  • If Jesus conquered death, he can open the door of eternal life for me, too.
  • If Jesus has divine power, he has the supernatural ability to guide me and transform me as I follow him.
  • If Jesus personally knows the pain of loss and suffering, he can comfort and encourage me in the midst of the turbulence that he himself warned is inevitable in a world corrupted by sin.
  • If Jesus loves me as he says, he has my best interests at heart. That means I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing myself to him and his purposes.
  • If Jesus is who he claims to be (and remember, no leader of any other major religion has even pretended to be God), as my Creator he rightfully deserves my allegiance, obedience, and worship.
I remember writing out these implications on my legal pad and then leaning back in my chair. I had reached the culmination of my nearly two-year journey. It was finally time to deal with the most pressing question of all: "Now what?""

- Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, pg 266-267