I was a dedicated Christian when I lost my faith in college. It was a huge blow to me. Far from liberating me to live however I wanted, it brought me to what the French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre describes as anguish, forlornness, and despair. The question for me was whether to go on living.
I slowly regained my faith, inch by inch, through reading, study, and endless thinking. The cinching element for me was the realization that if there is no God, then there can be no evil. I doubted the existence of God, but I never doubted the existence of evil.
My loss of faith was not motivated by rebellion against God. To the contrary, I loved God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength when I lost my faith. I was fully committed to following Him in every corner of my life.
I have known some people for whom their loss of faith seemed to be motivated by a desire to be free of God’s shackles. I get it. God is a tyrant, expecting us to give Him everything. He’s not content to have us make him an important part of our lives – He wants to be the central reality of our lives. The Bible says he’s a “jealous God,” which is another way of saying He won’t allow anyone or anything else to be enthroned higher than He is.
Is He a megalomaniac? Well, yes. But when you are the creator of everything, and you’re good and loving, maybe that’s not the best word to use. But He’s totally and unreasonably demanding. He acts like . . . God!
I have a young friend who grew up in a Christian home but who has lost what faith he had and is now an atheist. He just doesn’t find the notion of any god, much less the Christian God, persuasive. And yet. He’s assured me, and I believe him, that if there is a God, he desperately wants to know Him and follow Him. He said he’s willing to hop up and down on one foot in the middle of Times Square, making a fool of himself, if that’s what it would take to know and follow God.
To people who have left their Christian faith or who have never had faith, I have a question: if you knew that the Christian God existed, would you follow Him? Would you let him re-direct your life, your hopes and dreams? Would you submit to him your sexual practices? Your food consumption? Your driving? Your choice of a spouse? Your spending? Your conduct when no one is looking? Every last thing, holding nothing back?
If the answer is “well, no,” then whether God exists or not is mostly beside the point. Even if you believed in Him, you wouldn’t want to serve Him as God. The realization that He existed might bring more discomfort to your life and even a dread of seeing Him when you die (because the Christian God isn’t just a friend and comforter but a judge and an all-consuming fire). But the central reality of your life would remain the same, i.e. you call your own shots.
I’m a fan of “isolating variables,” something I learned in 9th grade algebra and has seemed like a very important concept. If the fixed variable is that you wouldn’t want to submit your will to a God, even if He existed, then the relative variable of whether God exists is unimportant. Disputations about God’s existence might make for a stimulating conversation after a few drinks, but it’s not an important discussion for how you actually live your life.
But if the answer is that a sufficiently convincing belief that God exists and has a demand on your life would, indeed, change your life, then the question is one of seeking Him. Given the importance of the question, I’d say it’s worth spending time reading, talking with wise people, investigating, thinking, and even asking God to reveal Himself to you (a minor waste of mental energy if He doesn’t exist but immensely consequential if He does).
My faith is that if you want to find God and are ready to give Him your life if you do, then He will reveal Himself to you somehow, some time. He is a God who is ready to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with all their heart.
So the first variable to get straight is this: would you serve God if you knew He existed?