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The Predicament of an Intelligent Person Seeking Faith
So here you find yourself at some point in your journey through life and you're seeking faith, which is another way of saying you're seeking spirituality, and God, since faith is the doorway into spirituality and the primary means of connecting with God.
Dimensions of the Quest
The search you have embarked upon is a quest of staggering proportions. Its dimensions are wide and deep, breathtaking at times, inviting you to the dizzying rim of some awe-inspiring vistas, leaving you wordless in humbled silence. Though a healthy faith is bigger than the intellect, the search for faith cannot bypass the intellect. The sincere spiritual seeker must engage the mind fully, even while transcending cold or calculating rationalism. This is a journey that will require you to think bigger than you ever have before, and then to think bigger still.
But the search for faith also involves non-cognitive parts of us -- emotions, longings, aspirations, dreams and hopes and fears, drives, desires, intuitions. It often forces us to face some ugliness in ourselves, some hard facts about life, requiring courage, honesty, and determination. Faith involves admitting with humility and boldness that we need to change, to go against the flow, to be different, to face and shine the light on our cherished illusions and prejudices, and to discover new truths that can be liberating even though they may be difficult for the ego, painful to the pride. The search for an authentic faith must be the most life-changing quest anyone can ever launch. It's no Sunday school picnic.
Whom Can You Trust?
Another challenge: To whom do you talk about this search? Perhaps you could go to a minister, pastor, rabbi, or priest. But don't they have a vested interest in the outcome of your search? Can you trust them to be unbiased, or might they push you, stack the deck, suppress some evidence and inflate other evidence, subtly making it hard for you to say no?
You might go to a counselor, but then again, the counselor may see your search as a pathology and try to cure you of it.
It's not always easy to consult your spouse, either. "Searching for God? I just wish you'd help with the dishes or clean out the car," you might hear. Or, "You don't have to become more spiritual, dear, just less grouchy." Or, "So now it's spirituality. I wonder how long this will last." A friend's response might be similarly discouraging: "Oh, great. Does this mean you won't play cards with us anymore? Are you going to make us hold hands in restaurants and pray before we eat? Will I have to apologize from now on if I say a four-letter word in front of you?"
You might consult a college professor of comparative religion or a historian conversant with the development of world religions, someone for whom the subject is purely abstract and intellectual. But might her very objectivity and professional detachment create another set of problems? Wouldn't you find yourself apologizing for taking this whole thing so seriously -- so personally -- in the first place? Wouldn't you find it hard to express your personal longings in the company of someone who studies those very personal longings as sociological or psychological or historical phenomena?
The fact is, thankfully, there are many ministers, counselors, friends, and professors who could be of real help to you in your search, who understand your desire for unhurried and unpressured guidance, who will not coerce you to conform your search to their expectations, who will offer guidance while leaving room for you to reach your own conclusions. I hope I can be of help to you in precisely this way. I am a pastor, but before entering ministry, I worked in secular higher education (as an academic counselor and college English instructor). And in each role, I have become more and more sensitive to the predicament of the intelligent adult who begins searching for faith, for spirituality, and for God. I can't pretend that I'm completely neutral, a totally objective third party. Here's my bias: I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for. Toward that end I am dedicating myself in these pages.
What Your Search Is Not
If I understand you and your situation correctly, there are two things your search is not. On the one hand, it is not an act of desperation. You are not in such a frenzied emotional state that you're willing to believe anything as long as it brings relief. Sadly, some people are reduced to this condition, and they jump on the assembly lines of cults and extremist groups, ready to conform, ready to make false confessions, ready to sacrifice their personal responsibility for the benefit of belonging to a group that is sure about everything.
No doubt there are things from which you seek relief, and conversely, things you desire: a sense of purpose for your life, perhaps; forgiveness and peace to replace the guilt and fear that nag you; an integrated philosophy or worldview that makes sense of life with all its grandeur and squalor; an explanation for the spiritual experiences that have come unbidden into your life. But these triggers to your search require something more than a desperate emotional placebo for you. You would actually aspire to know some truth. Your search is for a relationship with a God who really exists, and if no such God exists, then you want to know that too, straight up.
The Physics Lecture
On the other hand, neither is your search merely objective, detached, theoretical, academic. One of my favorite novelists (Walker Percy) loved to picture the difference between your search and the more objective, abstract type of search with a story something like this: Imagine a group of physicists and astronomers gathered for a lecture on cosmic background radiation. As the lab-coated lecturer drones on, the group is listening, taking notes, rubbing their chins, crossing and uncrossing their legs, maybe nodding a bit, occasionally mumbling, "Interesting," or something of that sort. Suddenly, a woman walks briskly onto the stage and whispers something in the lecturer's ear. He hands her the microphone and she says, "Ladies and gentlemen, a fire has broken out in the lobby. Please stay calm. Leave quietly and quickly through the exits on your left. Do not use the rear exits, as they are already smoke-filled and unsafe. Please follow me -- this way."