Why I am a Christian

November 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm 8 comments

I’ve tried for two years to figure out why I am a Christian, and have only in the last month started to articulate what binds me to this faith.

I am a Christian because of the stories.

Other people have their own reasons: My friend Karl insists he’s a Christian because of his confidence in the Bible’s “prophetic word.” Others would say their Christian belief rests on archaeology, a miraculous answer to prayer, or the testimony of a transformed life.

For me, it’s the fact that the stories of Christianity are my own stories. The biblical narratives resonate, they give substance to my human experience, they are true in my own life.

I am a Christian because the stories of the Bible are the stories of me.

One of the strongest cases in point is the story that came back to me over and over as I struggled two summers ago with serious doubts about my own faith.

It’s the story of Jacob, that conniving birthright-snatcher-turned-fugitive, who, on the run from a brother with a score to settle, finally comes to his wit’s end at the bank of the river Jabbok.

Out of schemes and knowing that the moment of truth is upon him, Jacob sends his family across the river, and he alone remains behind to wait out the night.

The book of Genesis states simply, “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak” (32:24).

I read this verse in a book of religious quotes once, and it was filed under the heading “Overcoming Self.” I found that illuminating. Jacob wrestled with a Man, and came away saying he had seen God face to face (vs. 30), but Jacob was alone, and the man with whom he wrestled was himself.

By the time the new day broke, Jacob was crippled by the battle with that Man, crippled physically and crippled spiritually. The one who had resisted through the night now clung to his antagonist, insisting, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26).

Oddly, it’s biblical stories like this one that help me navigate my doubts about biblical faith. On long nights after I’ve lain awake for hours, struggling under the monotonous whir, whir, whir of my ceiling fan beating the air, this story becomes true for me.

I am Jacob.

It is me wrestling with God (with myself?) in the darkness of the night. It’s me who walks away in the morning wounded and limping, but with the instinct that God was somehow there in the middle of that night. It’s me who takes my stand and insists that I, too, will cling to this spot until I am blessed.

I know about facts and proofs and science and history, and all those are important to me.

But like I said, it’s the stories that get me. Doubt I might, but at the end of night, those stories are the stories of me.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andrej  |  November 3, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I really appreciate this entry. When we can own our relationship with God through being able to relate to the stories He has inspired others to write, then we can be sure we are safe at home. Thank you for sharing about struggles and the importance they carry.

    Reply
  • 2. David Hamstra  |  November 11, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    I happened upon your blog today (oh the wondrous places links take us). Thanks for sharing this. Healthy doubts make a healthy faith.

    Reply
  • 3. Jamie  |  November 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for the appreciative comments, guys. 🙂

    Reply
  • 4. Stephen  |  November 17, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Does this mean that the doubts of two years ago have been resolved for you?

    My faith was probably never stronger than when I was in Bible college. Surrounded by a supportive community of fellow believers, immersed in the Bible, Christian history and theology full time. And with relatively few responsibilities — you’re immersed in the Word full time as a pastor, too, but with the weight of responsibility that goes with it.

    In general, university is a world apart. That’s certainly true of Bible college.

    But I hope this is the beginning of something lasting for you: a confidence that the stories are reliable, a bedrock foundation on which you can build your life. I wish and pray that for you.

    I certainly agree with you that the stories of the Bible are the stories of me — of each one of us. I wish that was sufficient evidence to remove my doubts, but it’s not to be. I think I’m better off coming to terms with the fact that doubt is a permanent fixture in my life.

    Reply
  • 5. Jamie  |  November 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Stephen: Are my doubts resolved? Well, I guess some of them, yes. A change of perspective helps solve some dilemmas that seemed unsolveable before.

    Other doubts–no, they aren’t resolved. They just don’t bother me as much, because I don’t think about them in the same terms anymore. I just stopped worrying so much about those problems I can’t solve, and I got interested in other things. I’m not sure I got answers to all my questions, but some of those questions aren’t so important anymore.

    (Now I’m not sure they necessarily should be important. There are some intellectual tangles that you just can’t get yourself out of. In some ways, it’s helpful to try and solve them, and I’m glad I tried, because it taught me my own limitations. I’m permanently changed by my experiences, and I’m glad for that. But once I realized these questions are unsolvable as asked, best to accept that, move on, and not wallow in it, I guess. There are other questions to ask.)

    I’m a lot happier now, that’s for sure. Not that happiness is any guarantee of truth, but all the same…

    I know you didn’t actually come out and say this, but I half get the impression you fear that being surrounded by a community of believers is a crutch to support unfounded confidence.

    This is true in some ways, and that fact used to bother me, but I figured out at some point that the opposite is also true: communities of unbelief are also crutches to support unfounded confidence of a different kind (or, alternately, to support unfounded doubt).

    Nothing wrong with being surrounded by a community of people who support your beliefs. That’s why one of the most prevalent metaphors for the church is a body. You cut the arm off from the rest of the body, and it’s going to have problems. It just wasn’t meant to survive like that.

    So now I try to resist viewing my community as a crutch to shun, as if I ought to be able to go it alone, and as if my faith isn’t real if I can’t survive by my lonesome. I’m not superwoman. I wasn’t meant to be.

    I’m not, incidentally, criticizing where you are. Just thinking out loud, mostly.

    Good to hear from you, btw. Missed interacting with you.

    Reply
  • 6. Stephen  |  December 7, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I know you didn’t actually come out and say this, but I half get the impression you fear that being surrounded by a community of believers is a crutch to support unfounded confidence.

    I didn’t mean it like that. It implies the active voice — that you sought out Bible college as a crutch to prop you up in your faith. I’m sure that wasn’t your motivation at all.

    I was merely making an observation: that Bible college is a kind of cocoon. (In fact, all universities are … but Bible college even more so.)

    The question is, will your newfound confidence hold up when you’re out of the cocoon again? I hope and pray that it does.

    Reply
  • 7. Fletch  |  May 26, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Been a while since I read your page. A joy to hear your thinking. Science and prophecy and miracles and answered prayers contribute, but I have found as a great comfort what you mentioned,

    “that God was somehow there in the middle of that night.”

    Like a person actually being there I have appreciated the times I felt God was there and I was not alone.

    Not that I want to here suggest a comprehensive understanding of God’s substance so to speak but, “God is Spirit.” I generally feel that the concept of “spirit” which surrounds me in the Body of Christ is different than mine. I did a study one time reading through all of the NT passages using the word “spirit,” usually “pneuma” if I remember correctly. I also filtered through some of the OT. Wind and breath are the base definitions of both the Old and New Testament words. This fits in well with Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

    For some this thought is acedemic, for others it is not, but I do not think of “spirits” outside of specific references to beings as having any substance. (That note actually complicates my current thought, but it also gets my relevent idea across.) I know that angels are refered to as “ministering spirits,” and I generally think of them as beings of what we as humans would consider to be substance in some senses. I do not tend to think of God’s Holy Spirit in the same way. Tri-partite theology suggests that we are all part spirt in the image of our creator. But what is a spirit in this sense?

    Back to Jesus discussion with Nicodemus.

    “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    Here wind and Spirit are actually the same word in the Greek – pneuma. What is normally understood when we hear comments refering to a “spirit of peace” or a “spirit of hope” or a “humble spirit?” For me, I think of these things in terms of a feeling, or a thought, or idea, or direction. Wind has direction and force and motion but only the scientific minded side of me needs to pidgeon hole the concept to needing oxygen molecules etc. It is the same with water and currents. Currents have direction and force and motion, but any substance might be the subject of that motion. “…So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Truth… joy, peace, love, hope, faithfulness – Comforter. I think of God’s Holy Spirit as many things, but mostly not in the classical sense of a substance. I think of it as His personal wind, His personal direction, His personal intention and motivation and thought. I believe He shares these things with us and “blows” through us….

    This is something I feel. It makes me feel not alone. It comforts me. It is bigger and more pure than me. If my spirit is also a “wind” then God’s wind/direction changes and renews my wind/direction as it blows through. In the strongest sense, “I am born again.”

    Jesus refers to the Spirit as water in John 4:13-14,

    “… Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

    and John 7:37-39,

    (38) “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

    God has life in himself and I do not. I am completely dependent on His life. Acknowledging this I also ask myself the question what is the quality of the wind/spirit blowing out of me?

    Reply
  • 8. cwhig  |  December 16, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I love this, Jamie. I had exactly the same reaction to the Bible stories–these are my stories–but I became a Jew. “Shema Yisrael”: if you hear, does that make you part of Israel?

    Reply

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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