Before I begin, I want to first identify as a “Winter Christian.” In short, it means that I find high levels of complaint to be an important facet for faith development and growth. Richard Beck explains:
The Summer Christians are those who occupy the high communion/low complaint sector. That is, engagement with God is high and the experience is generally free of negativity. By contrast, the Winter Christian is equally engaged with God, yet complaint is a feature of the experience.
(I recommend reading his whole article for more.) If you do not resonate with the idea of a “faith crisis” or you do not feel the need to question, doubt, and complain to God, it’s likely you would be more of a “Summer Christian,” and this conversation may be less helpful for you.
With that being said, for me faith is constantly in flux and often a struggle. The beliefs I held as a child are different than they are for me today. The process of change can be hard and even painful. It can feel like you lose part of yourself, or like you’re stranded on a raft lost at sea. Below are some buoys that I have found helpful when it feels like your faith is drowning.
1. Mike McHargue his spells out his axiom for God:
God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases.
I find this to be a helpful starting point. The more I learn about nature, the universe, stars, black holes, flowers, birds – really all the physical, created stuff – the more I appreciate it. The world is amazing and the more deeply I’m able to experience it, the more I am filled with immense wonder that spills over into joy.
However, rather than equate “God” with anything created, nature is an icon or a window pointing us to God. When confusion prevails, God can be the wonder we experience when we look at the stars. Along these lines, I’d recommend Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue.
2. Another way to think of God is the embodiment of the transcendental values of goodness/justice, truth, and beauty (and some add love and ‘being’). Since Plato and before, philosophers, scientists, politicians, and mystics have identified these as radiant spiritual realities, “windows on the divine,” that can provide a path toward understanding all values. Just as all colors come from blue, red, and yellow, so too can a million shades of quality be traced to these primary values.
Therefore, when I seek after beauty, justice or truth, I am seeking God, for God is the ultimate source of all that is worth pursing.
These values must be practiced and lived out. We metabolize truth by the practice of learning and teaching, we metabolize beauty through appreciation and expression, and we can fully experience the spiritual nutrition of goodness through the practices of service and stillness.
Numerous arguments for the existence of God have been made from these values, such as C.S. Lewis’ famous argument of the Natural Law in Mere Christianity, to many other appeals to beauty. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut has said, “Just because of music, I believe there is a God.”
“God” in this sense may be understood as: That Which is Good / Loving / True / Just / Beautiful.
3. Third, we can think of God as “that which we do not understand.” One of the great tragedies in Western Christianity is our loss in understanding God apophatically – as mysterious and unknowable. When attempting to speak of God, we must remember that we can only speak of God in images or metaphors. Words fall short. God is always shrouded in mystery, beyond any description or box. As the ancient prayer goes, “God, save us from our god.”
In Exodus 3, when Moses asks for his name, God answers, “YHWH” – “I am who I am.” God is the one who is. Divinity is the ground of being. Sometimes, if struggling with faith, it can be helpful to remember that God is mystery and beyond any description. “When we talk about God, we cannot stop talking about that which cannot be talked about.” For more, I would recommend Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God.
The three concepts for God listed above are not exclusively Christian; however, they are easily found in the Bible. The traditional Christian claim is that divinity was perfectly represented in the flesh and blood person, Jesus of Nazareth. As our creed claims, Jesus was “fully God and fully human.” Our mysterious, cosmic creator is best understood in the image revealed to us through his incarnate son, Jesus Christ. That Jesus touched the lepers, ate with outcasts, healed the demon possessed, and talked with the marginalized demonstrates a God I’m interested in knowing. To see “God” as embodied in the person of Jesus gives me hope.
In my very limited experience, we move toward faith or away from it mostly because of desire. Some want to leave their faith for a variety of reasons; others of us want to cling to it, sometimes rebuilding something new. In short, we become what we seek. If you want to know this mysterious creator of beauty and love, it’s what you choose.
Blessings in the journey!