Faith, religion, good, faith, righteousness, God(?)– where do I even begin? The very beginning may be most appropriate.
(If you dislike long reads, feel free to skip the following segment.)
The Very Beginning (and then some)
I was raised in a more or less typical church-attending evangelical home. At age four I would memorize then recite the ten commandments and creation story in front of relatives and dinner party guests at the behest of my mother. As a family, we’d drive through the night on Saturdays following vacations in order to make it on time to Sunday service. And our church (as Korean churches often do) did in fact go through a rather messy split at some point during my adolescence.
In college I started becoming more acquainted with Christians of other denominational backgrounds. I was raised in the United Methodist church, but I soon encountered those who identified as Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, non-denominational, new age, and even those of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. I quickly began realizing how varied, wide-ranging, and even conflicting Christian ideologies could be. Soon enough, the once simple Christian faith I had come to know had become incomprehensibly complicated, and I desperately desired to discern “absolute truth” amidst the growing cacophony of conflict and confusion.
Eventually I took a year off from school to seek pilgrimage at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. My decision probably seemed insane to many at the time, but I was serious enough about the Christian faith to see all of life through its lens– so seeking clarity was of the utmost importance. However my time at IHOP-KC led to more questions than answers as I learned about a now-enigmatic God amongst believers from widely diverse social, economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. The ever-elusive “absolute truth” I so badly yearned for seemed nowhere to be found as questions continued to mount higher than ever before.
The next three years were largely spent in limbo. I had at this point resolved to pursue a career in Christian ministry and as such, much of my time was spent teaching youth groups, leading worship at churches, volunteering at a bevy of religious conferences/events, while summer months were mostly invested on various missional expeditions. I had even resolved to attend seminary upon graduation to strengthen my career aspirations. However in between ministry-related ventures, much of my life was spent mired in confusion and uncertainty, as well as an ensuing anxiety that always followed. When I asked others for their spiritual insight on matters I lacked clarity in, they would typically respond with varied and often conflicting answers backed by the same “I know my stance to be true because it’s what the Bible clearly says”.
Furthermore, I loathed to admit it, but the life I led was all too discrepant from the words I read, preached, sang, and recited in the church. I eventually realized the despair felt within had more to do with the realization of great hypocrisy present in my life than any “sinful actions” in and of themselves.
Life inevitably took a turn for the worse as it does on occasion, and in the context of personal grief, the brittleness of my faith was fully exposed. No comfort or reassurance could be found within the confines of church or even in God himself. And as my mental well-being began to deteriorate, physical actions quickly followed suit in the form of unhealthy decision making. If there was a God, He hardly mattered because He wasn’t impactful enough in my life to stop what now seemed like an endless cycle of pain and brokenness.
I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
but I can’t seem to find my faith again
like water on the sand
or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short
Time may not have a way of healing wounds, but emotions do seem to eventually subside after some. And in the aftermath of my unraveling, I was left with some sobering questions.
- Do I believe in God?
- Should I believe in God?
- What about God am I supposed believe in?
In retrospect, the fragile nature of my faith could be attributed to it being almost completely adopted. The various philosophical, theological, and political stances and doctrines I had observed, taught, and even defended over the years were based on a Christian faith that held neither power nor influence over my life, because I simply preached what I was instructed and believed what I was told. And though I had questioned the nature and content of truth for many years, I had no real answers other than to lean upon the ethoses of pastors and religious authority-figures whom I had come to trust over the years, and their respective interpretations of the Bible. When realizing this, I decided to embark on a journey to find truth– find God, or find that he’s not real. And thus began my journey of spiritual deconstruction.
I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure
I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping me
Somehow I did still believe in a God. Frankly, it was difficult to imagine reality without one. And whether this was the result of a lifetime of evangelical conditioning or genuine influence from the divine, I’m still admittedly uncertain.
As for whether I should believe in God or not, some self-reflection helped remind me it was belief in God which led to involvement in projects worldwide– helping impact many lives and even generations for the better as a result. It was belief in God that sparked a desire within to help young people experience life filled with that which is just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. Belief in God is what reminded me that despite humanity being so broken and depraved, hope could still be found in the form of a man who loved and gave in the most selfless of ways, before dying for all. And it was through belief in the same God I remembered this man’s final commission to not only live as His body, but to live as His risen body– learning, then showing the world His selfless love.
I resolved to believe in Jesus because there was still an innate desire within to “do good” for humanity with my life, and belief in Him is what most-resulted in a markedly transformed ability to love all people beyond naturally engineered tendencies to love only myself and those I identify most with.
As it turns out, “What about God am I supposed to believe in?” isn’t a question I’ll fully be able to answer any time soon.
I will be honest. I’m not sure if praying in tongues is a necessity to be done at all times or something that doesn’t exist at all in the modern day. I’m unsure of God’s opinion on the most controversial arrangement of five letters in the modern church (LGBTQ). I don’t know how God feels about Donald Trump being POTUS, or how we should pray for him as Christians. In fact I’m not entirely certain on how I should be praying aside from instruction given in the Lord’s Prayer. And as sacrilegious as it may sound, I am genuinely unsure if Genesis is meant to be an accurate account of history or a work largely allegorical in nature.
But regardless of what the answers to these questions (and others) may be, what is alarming is that many decide not to ask them in-depth (if at all) or explore further on their own once they’re given simple blanket-statement answers by few. And in many cases, it is simply because we are afraid of dissonance.
Modern church culture seems to mask its deep obsession with uniformity with a misleading call for unity. But unity is in fact not synonymous with uniformity. And openminded discussion on the very questions that typically perpetuate the most offended and dismissive evangelical responses may perhaps best restore influence Christian faith has on decision-making and lifestyle. Is it possible that as Christ’s body, we have become so preoccupied with preserving ourselves and our image(s), that we have forgotten His mandate was instead to give everything in sacrifice for all, just as He did?
At my final breath
I hope that I can say
I’ve fought the good fight of faith
I pray your glory shines
through this doubting heart of mine
so my world would know that You
More than two decades into this journey, I still understand very little about life, love, faith, God, all that is spiritual, and the still-elusive absolute-truth. And while I may never fully find the answers, I feel for the first time a great joy in the unending search for them. In the end, God may correct me on the ideologies I choose to adopt in this life. But I stand for the first time without fear of judgment for not seeking Him earnestly throughout the process. Furthermore, the faith I continue discovering daily is now my own, and therefore it is finally becoming influential to my decision-making, as well as my overall perspective.
TL;DR– I choose to embrace dissonance despite the controversy it brings because doing so has finally brought power and meaning to my faith.