Note: This author originally emailed us with her story, and she has decided to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of her situation. We are proud to feature the stories like this, and if you would like to share your story of reconciling science and Christian faith, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I reflect back on the version of the Christian faith I was given in the early years of my walk, I'm almost surprised that my faith survived. I deeply appreciate the sincerity and passionate commitment of the friends I made when I first became a Christian. [...] But the faith I was given was an inflexible and fragile teetering tower of assumptions that was bound to come tumbling down as my knowledge of the complex world expanded. [...] I was fortunate, but the majority of young people who encounter intellectual challenges to their faith or who simply encounter a world that is more complex and ambiguous than their faith can handle are not. -Greg Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt, p. 157
In the winter and spring of 2009, I stood at the brink of an abyss. Peering gingerly over the edge, all I could see was a shadowy future without faith or God swirling below me. I stood there and it seemed like I had no choice but to step off the edge. I had so many doubts about faith and God and eternity and the Bible, but I didn't know where to begin looking for answers. My husband was the only one that I felt safe talking to, but he was going through many of the same struggles as I was. I felt that the only two choices open to me were fundamentalism or agnosticism, and neither choice was particularly attractive.
Fundamentalism pushed aside my questions and told me that it was even wrong to wonder. I remember when I first learned that not all Christians believed in the Rapture. I was stunned, and I trepidatiously approached my youth pastor to ask him about it. He brusquely brushed my question aside and told me it was ridiculous, everyone believed in the Rapture. I say this without any rancor toward him; he was a great youth pastor, but that was the general tone of things though when I was growing up. Everything in the world has been settled, so questions were inappropriate. I vaguely realized that part of maturing and growing up had to do with seeing things as less black and white, but I was afraid and unwilling to accept the uncertainty of agnosticism.
My road to the brink of that abyss was long and winding, but I had come to my breaking point through a combination of experiencing postpartum anxiety, compounded with facing the huge question of what my husband and I would do with our lives now that he was done with school. He had his theology degree, but now, after all these years of schooling, we were utterly uncertain about whether we should enter ministry after all. We had doubts about whether we would fit into our denomination and whether it was fair to enter ministry when we had so many unanswered questions about where we stood on all kinds of issues. Ultimately, after much discussion, prayer, and soul-searching, my husband took on a pastoral position in the summer of 2009. This meant a move 700 kilometers away from my hometown, to a tiny community surrounded on all sides by miles and miles of boreal forest. Our daughter was less than a year old. I was a mess. I had moved back from the edge of the brink, but I still felt like my whole world was completely shaken to its foundation. Nearly every day for the first year or two after we moved, I prayed the words of the Roman centurion over and over and over again, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." Sometimes it was all that I could manage, but over time I realized that I wasn't clinging so hard to those words anymore, and I became more sure that even if everything else that I had ever believed passed away, I knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and that was enough. From there I began slowly and painfully and uncertainly reworking my faith.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home and attended a Pentecostal church. I remember most of my interactions with the people around me as being loving and secure, and they instilled in me a love for God, church, and fellowship. But I also had an inquiring mind, and I loved reading above all else. No one can read any variety of books, even children's novels, without realizing in even a small way the vastness and diversity of our world. At 15 I read Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Christ. Ironically, it exposed me to actual questions and objections to Jesus and Christianity that I would never have thought of on my own. It also showed me that a multiplicity of Christian views exist. By the end of high school, I had begun to question some things. I wasn't questioning the fundamentals of my faith, but I was starting to question fundamentalism, and the view that only Christians had anything of merit to contribute to the world. A number of difficult experiences in my teens had also done a good job of killing my naive view that all Christians were loving and unselfish.
Once I got past the first semester, I fell in love with my college studies. I liked feeling like an intellectual, and for the first time in my life I could ask questions and enter into discussions without being judged for being too “liberal.” At the same time, there can be a dark side to the intellectual world. People tend to view faith as basically irrelevant and stupid. This did make me feel quite uncomfortable at times, but at the same time my worldview was being stretched and challenged and changed.
In my fourth and final year of university, while writing my honors thesis in math, I decided to take some religious studies courses as my electives. I already felt somewhat disillusioned by my conservative evangelical faith, and I thought it would be interesting (and a little rebellious) to get a very different, more liberal perspective on the Bible. I figured that the courses would be easy too, since I had excellent Bible knowledge. I took two or three courses, all of them taught by the same man, a former evangelical pastor who had lost his faith after trying—and failing—to explain away the discrepancies in the Bible. I loved the new perspectives on biblical interpretation and the openness I was allowed to have in my questioning, but I hated the assumption that the next logical step was necessarily to renounce my conservative faith and become, at the very least, a “liberal” Christian. Those religious studies courses forced me to confront what and why I believed.
As I began the process of reframing my faith, I continued to do so in the way I had done my entire life—I read. A little book called Churched by Matthew Paul Turner was absolutely pivotal in turning me back from the edge. In my second year of college, I stumbled across the novels of Madeleine L'Engle. I read them voraciously. I had never before read books that had such a huge and interconnected view of the universe. I felt my world expanding in leaps and bounds, and I was even more astounded when I realized that L'Engle was a Christian. Here was a woman whose world was nuanced, who didn't just see things in black and white, and she still believed in Jesus! So when I was going through my crisis of faith, I turned to L'Engle's writings again, but this time I focused on her theological and devotional writings. The Rock that is Higher, in particular, stands out in my mind as a book that was just what I needed at the time.
I also read C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Timothy Keller, and Greg Boyd. While I didn't necessarily agree with all they said, it was an indescribable relief to truly understand that I wasn't alone, that there were others who had confronted the same questions that I had faced and had decided that faith in Jesus as the risen Son of God was a viable, good, and right option. There was another way of looking at things, a middle road somewhere in between fundamentalism and liberal Christianity. I had believed this middle road existed for a long time, and all of these writers were helpful in showing me how to articulate what I believed. I also can't stress enough how I couldn't have gotten through this without my husband who has been there with me every step of the way, talking and working things through with me. God also brought other people into my life that were safe and helpful to talk to.
It wasn’t until later in my journey that the topic of evolution finally came onto my radar. Growing up, it went without question that Genesis 1 was meant to be interpreted literally, though I do remember seeing some old earth creation materials in my home. I also remember reading a Chick Publications tract that purported to debunk a number of early evolutionary finds, as well as things like carbon-14 dating. I of course accepted it at face value and thought the whole issue was a done deal. I had no idea about the scope of all the work that has been done on evolution and the pretty much indisputable evidence there is for it. I honestly just believed what I had been told and that it was "only a theory."
My youth pastor gave a talk on young-earth creationism once. All I remember from that talk is that the moon doesn't have enough dust to justify an old age. I had read stories about high school students who stood up to their teachers and told them that evolution was wrong. I was absolutely terrified that I would have to do something like that. I respected my teachers and had a very deep horror of being laughed at and at being seen as foolish. By that point, I had been introduced to and had accepted the concept of microevolution, but the idea that all life had evolved from a common ancestor remained unthinkable.
In her writings, L'Engle touched on the fact that faith and science don't need to be, and in fact, shouldn't be in conflict. This was a very new and extremely exciting idea for me. I started to see that the Bible is not a science book and shouldn't be used as such. L'Engle didn't really go into the practicalities of how to reconcile the trickier theological issues; she focused more on how science and faith explored two different, but valid, types of truth and how God's creation was vast and wonderful. For L'Engle, the creation story was about humanity's longing for home and for their Creator. It was a good starting place for me. I could accept Genesis 1–3 was not literal, without making the huge leap to evolution all at once. For the time being I could relegate origins to being one of the unknowable things in life that didn't matter too much.
I accepted the age of the universe and of the earth when I realized it is difficult to justify the assertion that God had made the stars millions or billions of light years away and then somehow made the light appear to us now, in a universe only six thousand or so years old. The Big Bang wasn't so hard to accept after that, also helped along by an article I read in National Geographic about how the universe is expanding. Then I became more comfortable with with idea of animal evolution, helped along by lots of fossil evidence of dinosaurs developing feathers. I read an article in National Geographic about whales coming out of the water for a time before ultimately returning, and I hardly blinked an eye. The idea of human evolution still made me squeamish, though, and I had a hard time reading anything about it.
Time passed, my faith was strengthened but forever different, and I didn't give much more thought in general to the creation issue. Somewhere in there, I accepted the likelihood of human evolution. I knew that evolution was and is happening, but I avoided the complexities of the issue because I could; the whole issue was steeped in a controversy I found difficult to handle. I was busy as a wife and mother, and it didn't affect my daily life. I also didn't think I knew any Christians who held the evolutionary creation view.
Children grow, though, and circumstances change. Through a long series of events, my husband, our now four children, and I left the small town church and the denomination that we had been a part of all our lives in the fall of 2014. We didn't know where we would ultimately end up when we moved, so we decided to temporarily homeschool our kids to help them have some stability during such an uncertain period in our lives. Then, I ended up liking homeschooling a lot and we decided to try it long term. As I began researching which curriculums I wanted to use next year, I realized that all of the Christian homeschool science curriculums were likely to be written from the young-earth creationist perspective. I did not want that for my kids, so I began researching other options. That’s when I discovered BioLogos. The BioLogos team helped me find a science curriculum, but much more than that, they helped me to practically and articulately answer questions of how faith and science can be reconciled.
I've only just scratched the surface of all the information BioLogos has to offer, and I am excited to learn more. I started with Ted Davis's multi-part series on the five different Christian views of creation, and I found it very helpful. Robin Collins's papers on some of the theological issues have been very helpful as well (eg. "Evolution and Original Sin"). I want to thank BioLogos for opening this conversation to those of us who want to live out our faith but also find that it's impossible to deny the evidence for evolution. Thank you for directing the conversation in such a gracious way.
My journey has been gradual and halting, and I think that that is how it is for many people. It seems to me that it would be too cataclysmic to have all of our ideas shift at once. Our minds and hearts wouldn't be able to handle it. Now that I no longer feel like I have to be on my guard, watching out for evolutionary undertones or overtones, I feel much more excited about learning about all kinds of science and teaching it to my kids. Creation is actually even richer and more complex and fascinating than it was before. The diversity and magnitude of life is just mind boggling. I still believe that God created everything from nothing, the process was just different than I imagined; more logical and less magical, but no less miraculous. I believe that God created the natural laws and for the most part he works within them, though he is not bound by them. I think that part of the difficulty for many in accepting evolution is that, as finite humans, it is nearly impossible for us to comprehend the vastness of time and the intricacies of what happened in the evolutionary process. It's hard for us to accept that in the grand scheme of things, humans are just a tiny blip, but we forget that if we accept evolution, it doesn't mean that we aren't made in God's image, or that Jesus didn't die for our sins, or that we aren't fearfully and wonderfully made.
We need to stop framing things in terms of either/or, us versus them, and black and white. It's an incredibly damaging and naive way of looking at the world. When God tells us, "As high as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9, NIV), we need to truly believe it, to see that there is so much that God has done that we are unable to comprehend. Instead of making God in our own image, we should be the images of God that he means for us to be and give praise to him and reflect him back out to the world.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/embracing-faith-accepting-ambiguity