I am a hopeless believer. That’s breaking news for me. I just discovered it last night. By “hopeless believer” I do not mean that I am without hope. I mean that I am without “hope” of ever becoming anything but a believer. Just as some atheists reach a point where they say, “I wish I could believe, but I cannot — for better or for worse, I am an atheist,” I have reached that point about believing.
I am a hopeless believer. I have days where I wish I could stop believing, but I cannot. For better or for worse, I am a theist – a believer to the core of my being.
Some are hopeless romantics. I am not. But I am a hopeless believer.
I know what I’m saying when I say I’m a hopeless believer. I have spent parts of the last few months trying NOT to believe. I can imagine some in my congregation would read that and find it disturbing. But we should really be who we are, shouldn’t we? I shouldn’t remain a pastor if I don’t believe in God, should I? I shouldn’t simply continue to believe because I’m a pastor, should I? Shouldn’t I maintain integrity at all times, even if that means giving up my job, my church, and the faith I have held dear all my life? Of course. If I’m not that radical about integrity, I don’t deserve to have people following me and listening to my sermons in the first place.
So these past months I have been through a crisis of faith. It was prompted by many things, most of which I have no interest in writing about here. But it was the closest I have ever come to deliberately, seriously, and finally just shedding my faith in God for good. But something kept getting in my way – namely, my deep belief in God. I would say bedtime prayers with my girls and find myself believing what I prayed. I would talk with my associate Brent and find myself believing what I said or what he said about God. I would read a book about God and find myself believing it. My belief in God kept getting in the way of my decision (or was it desire?) to no longer believe.
A few days ago my brother sent me an email which essentially said, “Dave, I don’t think you could stop believing if you tried.” At the time I laughed it off as a bit of tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. But it wasn’t. He meant it. And he was right. I tried not believing. And I can’t not believe. For better or for worse I am a believer, and specifically a Christ-follower.
I have spent all my life reading the Bible and praying and attending worship services, slowly shaping a faith I could get my arms around and call my own. Now I find that my belief has gotten its arms around me and called me its own. I now belong to it. I am permanently under the influence. Don’t get the wrong impression. I could still easily say the words, “I don’t believe.” I just couldn’t mean them.
More later about how it affects a person when they come to find themselves under the ownership of God – or a God-soaked way of looking at the world. I can already see how this will have dramatic effects on how I approach faith. Despite how it might appear to be a radicalizing event, and in some ways is, it will cause me to approach my faith (and the lack of faith in others) with a great deal more humility and patience. I will try to flesh that out in future posts.