How to start embracing God?


#1

Hi there,

I am new to these forums, and I hope I am posting this in the right place. Recently, I have been struggling with some questions related to religion and science. I am hoping you can offer me some advice. I was not raised with any belief in God. I am a physicist, and science has influenced my worldview. My wife is Christian, and has been trying to share with me. We have been going to church, and have been reading Bible passages together. I feel attracted to some of the Christian teachings, and can see that my wife gets a lot of support and strength from God. Sometimes, I feel a universe without God would be a cruel place, and I get scared when I think about it. I would like to share the beliefs of my wife, but I am still having trouble accepting them.

I have been looking into arguments for the existence of God. This has convinced me that there is no fundamental disagreement between religion and science, but has also made me feel a little overwhelmed. Every time I think about whether God exists, I get stuck on the most difficult issues, such as fine-tuning and the origin of the universe, the nature of human consciousness, interpretation of quantum physics, or the nature of morality. These issues are so complex that I find it difficult to derive any kind of certainty from them. It seems still such a big jump towards embracing the Christian God.

My wife has been very supportive, but just like myself she feels a little overwhelmed by all my questions. Her faith in God comes more natural to her, and does not require her to ask these questions. I would be very grateful if some of you could give me some advice, or point me towards sources that might help me. This seems like a place where people have thought about these things. Perhaps some of you have even been in a situation similar to mine. It would be great if you could share a little about why you are a Christian.

Best,
Guus


(Christy Hemphill) #2

Hi Guus, welcome!

I’ve never met anyone who has been argued into believing in God, but I do think that God draws people to himself and that anyone who is sincerely looking for truth will find it. So I hope we can point you in some helpful directions. Maybe some of the articles linked at the bottom of this page would be helpful? http://biologos.org/common-questions/gods-relationship-to-creation/biologos-and-christianity

We have recently been running a series on divine action that touches on some of these hard questions from different perspectives. Here is the intro page, from which you can access all the posts through the sidebar. http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/introducing-the-divine-action-series

Hopefully someone who has been in a similar place will chime in with what they found helpful.


#3

Hi Christy,

Thanks for your reply. I appreciate it. I do see your point about being argued into believing. I’ve held me beliefs for a long time and it’s not easy to change. I guess what I am hoping for is that by seeing arguments and by talking to people about their belief, I will gradually grow closer to believing.

I will have a look at the sources you recommended this evening. I hope they can help me in this process.

Cheers,
Guus


(Christy Hemphill) #4

I read this article last night and thought of you, maybe it would be encouraging. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/june/nicole-cliffe-how-god-messed-up-my-happy-atheist-life.html?share=M7cDEKiPAJs1m3ttcnJyaySDkO9vA1sD

I think we like to think that faith is a more systematic, rational process, and if we just knew the steps to get right, everything would make sense. Often it doesn’t really make much sense how people get from point A to point B, but it happens all the time. Feel free to overwhelm us with your questions. :relaxed:


(Brad Kramer) #5

Hi @Guus, welcome to the Forum! I feel so honored that you’ve chosen to share your story here.

BioLogos senior editor Jim Stump (my boss) wrote this great series: http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/series/belief-in-god-in-a-world-explained-by-science/. In it he tells why he believes in the God of Christianity, despite the advance of science.

Jim and I share a favorite book: Contact by Carl Sagan (an atheist). The book is a novel whose plot line revolves around a young scientist who cannot accept the existence of God because she doesn’t think there’s enough rational, scientific evidence in God’s favor. But she’s also obsessed with aliens, and actually makes contact with a group of them who connect with her via a special spaceship of sorts. The encounter completely transforms her. But there’s no evidence that this transformation actually happened, so nobody believes her. But she cannot deny the encounter, either, as the most real and important event of her life. In other words, the encounter redefines the guidelines for not only what is real, but how we encounter and measure this reality. And…keep in mind…this is all written by an atheist.

I used to think that Christianity was about evidence and arguments and such. But now I’m a lot closer to Christy’s position that nobody gets argued into the faith. And that’s not because Christianity is irrational, but because it is transrational. That is to say, its core is something beyond reason: encounter. I’m a Christian not because I have rational reasons for all my beliefs, or have solved all the mysteries, or have zero doubts or questions, or have utter certainty about my faith, but because I’ve been transformed by encounters with Christ—both personally and through witnessing other lives changed my him. This has left me with a deep conviction that Jesus is, indeed, the way to peace with God.

But I have a lot of the same questions as you about science and faith. And I struggle with a lot of things in the Bible. The difference between us definitely isn’t the questions. It’s about how we approach the struggle for ultimate answers. For me, I put my trust in Christ as the ultimate, personal, loving reality behind the universe, and I think he welcomes my questions and even doubts.

I’d love to continue the conversation, if you desire.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6

@Guus

Thank you for your question.

I really do not know where you are in your search. The way I see it, as a scientist you are looking for order or relationships in nature. Faith is more interested in looking for order and relationships between God and humans. We believe that God is behind both of these kinds of order and relationships.

Now it may be easier to be a scientist without believing in God, but I find it difficult in being a human without believing that a good God is behind the order and relationships between humans. I would say it is important to understand what God is all about first from the human point of view, and then from the scientific point of view.

There is order and relationships in this world, which we need to understand from both the point of view of faith and science. God bless you on your search for understanding based on faith in the order and meaning of God’s Creation.


#7

Christy, Brad, Roger,

Again, thank you for your encouraging replies. I’m thankful for this safe place to discuss. Your replies have really given me food for thought. I may need some time to process some things, but I’ll try to keep posting here as new questions arise.

I certainly recognize myself in the story of Nicole, from the article that Christy linked. Like her, I have grown to be more sympathetic towards Christianity, mostly through meeting some Christians whom I greatly respect. Also like she describes, I have been feeling very emotional lately. My wife sees this as a sign that God is reaching out to me. I do hope she is right. Maybe I will have some experience like Nicole, where things somehow fall into place. This is something I feel I cannot really control, but I can try to be open and receptive. I have been talking to Christian friends about their faith, reading the Bible with my wife, and trying to learn more about Christianity in general. Sometimes, I feel that I am moving closer to accepting Christianity, but there are also times when I feel that’s just wishful thinking. As you remarked, it’s definitely not a straightforward process.

I very much recognize what Brad says about ‘transrationality’. Often when I talk to Christians, I can feel this difference in perspective. This applies not only to philosophical questions, but just as much to experiences part of our daily life. Even with my wife, we may talk about the same things, but interpret them from a very different viewpoint. I’ll try to pick up this book when I have the chance.

I have started to read some of the articles from this site that you have linked to. Those are helpful. I will continue to read, and must also allow some time to let them ‘sink’ in my mind. I am reminded of a talk by Francis Collins, where he mentioned that he struggled a long time before becoming a Christian. I feel I should also allow this process some time. Fortunately, I have my wife and good friends, who are willing to guide and support me.


#8

So, I have read and digested a number of the articles you linked to. It really helped to make my mind more clear. I hope it’s okay for me to pose you a further question. Besides reading, I have also been trying to learn more about God through talking to Christians, and by praying. I combine my prayers with some meditation to be more focused, and I find these prayers help me feel more calm. Thinking that we are part of the Creation of God makes me feel more positive about the world around us. This quote from the article by Jim Trump, that Brad linked to, describes my feelings very well: “If our world is just matter in motion in the vast emptiness of space, that’s ultimately a pretty gloomy and dismal place. Maybe it’s true; again I doubt that I can prove to you otherwise. But even if it is true, I’d prefer to live my life living as much like a Narnian as I can, looking for the Overland”.

Although I agree fully with the quote, I still find it difficult in practice to change my frame of reference from an agnostic to a Christian one. Perhaps this is just a gradual process. I hope that as I pray, and spend time to learn more about Christianity, I will grow more into it. Still, I would like to ask about how you maintain a Christian perspective. For example, Brad mentioned encounter as important for being Christian. Perhaps you could explain a little more what you mean by this? I realize this may be different for different people. Still, in my situation, where I am trying to accept God, I feel it would help me to understand better how other people see this.


(Christy Hemphill) #9

For twenty-some years my father has hosted a weekly discussion group at Illinois Institute of Technology for Chinese post-doc students who want to explore Christianity and simultaneously practice conversational English. Almost none of the students come with any experience with a Christian worldview, it is all new to them. Many of the students who have participated in this group eventually come to faith in Christ, but most of them do so over the course of several years, and they do not describe their experience in typical Western Evangelical ways of “making a decision” or having a “conversion experience.” A lot of them talk about trying out new ways of thinking and viewing the world, until one day they say they realize they own the new way of thinking and they see they have been profoundly changed. They talk about seeds of truth taking root and growing in secret for a long time until one day, a flower blooms. So I think for many people, faith is a gradual process, not a moment of realization, and I think you are doing exactly the right things to be open to that process.

As far as maintaining a Christian perspective, personally it has been very important to have close relationships with Christians. I know a skeptic would say this is necessary to reinforce some kind of deluded groupthink, but since I’m all in, I really believe that God’s Spirit specially equips believers to give encouragement, insight, wise counsel, and helpful correction to other believers, and that is in fact one of the main roles of the church community. It is the community of believer’s job to be the tangible presence and voice of Christ to people. Although you can always find plenty of examples of how any given church has screwed this up terribly, I have lots of personal examples of my church doing its job very beautifully.


(Albert Leo) #10

Hi Guus

Christy is correct when she says that (probably) no one is going to “argue (you) into believing in God”. There is a good chance, tho, that some of the responses you get on this Forum will convince you the He cares about each of us and ‘makes Himself known to us’ in quite different ways. In my case, being a Cradle Catholic and attending a parochial school for 8 years, I was thoroughly ‘indoctrinated’ at a tender age. However, in pursuing a career in science (Ph.D. in physical organic chem., U. of Chicago) it was tempting to believe that science had all the answers. But persisting in my Christian Faith only because NOT doing so would hurt my mother’s feelings would be somewhat hypocritical. Being an honest agnostic would be preferable. Perhaps you have felt that way.

But I was lucky. For some reason God chose to make his presence known to me in ways that I cannot deny, but neither can they constitute ‘scientific proof’. I experienced one such incident as a 19 yr. old infantryman in France in 1945, which I shared in a previous post with @Find_My_Way
aleoAlbert LeoJan 22 Find_My_Way
Find_My_Way:
In any case, to believe God had ANYTHING to do with your survival is to assume that you were/are more important than your comrades.

Ben, I cannot claim to understand what happened to me (and WHY) the night in Jan. 1945 when fragments from a rifle grenade busted a hole in my skull. In itself, that might not have been fatal. Prompt medical help probably could have saved me. But I was a scout a mile into German held territory and 100 yards ahead of the rest of my squad. But they made no effort to save me, even tho they had the automatic weapons that would have kept the lone German sentry cowering behind his wall for safety. So if I had lost consciousness, bleeding profusely on a zero degree night, my chances of survival were zilch. I needed somebody to help me–someBODY. But there was no BODY. The doctors who treated me later said there HAD to have been somebody. It was utterly impossible that I stayed conscious, but I did and I packed snow on the wound which helped staunch the blood flow. But I was still utterly ALONE. I don’t think anyone can imagine how that feels–utterly alone–unless you have experienced it.

I didn’t pray to God to save me. In fact I was sure this is how it felt to die. But I felt that I was not dying alone, even tho there was noBODY there. Of course I did not die. And now, 71 years later, I know for certain that I was not alone–then or now. I cannot prove it scientifically, but I KNOW. It is frustrating that I cannot pass that sure knowledge–both to you and to Patrick. In different ways, it might add something positive to your lives. Regardless, my best wishes for you both.
Al Leo
Guus, this experience of mine may not provide much incentive for you to accept Christianity, but it surely solidified mine for holding onto it. On another post on this Forum (Miracle of the Panel Truck) I related how God ‘spoke’ to a colleague of mine (Prof. Eric Lien) who was in a situation similar to yours. He was an agnostic, while his wife and kids were Christian. This post is already too long, but I can provide you with the details of this ‘miracle’ if you are interested.
God bless,
Al Leo


(Terry Powell) #11

Guus,

Being an engineering major, philosophy minor and an atheist, I didn’t believe in God until I was 30. My wife and I had moved into a new house and a lady down the street invited my wife to lunch. As part of their relationship my wife became interested in God and wanted to visit the woman’s church. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of my wife becoming interested in God, but knew that if I didn’t at least entertain the idea that I would eventually separate from my wife due to incompatible views. So, we went to church. After service my wife talked to the pastor. He invited us into his office and asked me who I thought Jesus was - the promised Savior, fully human and fully God. I said I didn’t know. He asked me if I would take a Bible and read the Gospels and decide for myself. I said I would, and he said he believed I would. I spent the next week forcing myself to read the Gospel of John - having difficulty believing the miracles, etc. The next Sunday my wife wanted to go back. As I was walking down to find a seat, it was as if God said to me, “Everything you have read is true.” At that time I experienced an assurance / conviction that what I had read was true. Later I committed my life to Jesus. From that time I have never not been convinced that God is real. That was 35 years ago. I have experienced several times when God has spoken to me, seen and been involved in physical healing, and known God’s presence. I can testify that Romans 8:16 is true, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

It all starts with who you consider Jesus to be. Is He a real person? Is He the promised deliverer from Genesis? Is He God incarnate? Christianity is not about embracing the idea of God, but actually having a living relationship with a living being. You can’t prove God’s existence through scientific experiments, but you can begin by believing God’s testimony and the testimony of others. If you truly want to know God then you will find Him - He will reveal Himself to you. His intent is that you become whole in your entire being ( body, soul and spirit ) - become fully the creation He designed from the beginning.


(Peaceful Science) #12

@Guus, thanks so much for for sharing your journey with us. I admire your willing pursuit of God.

It is really wonderful that you have found that God can be compatible with science. He is compatible with all that science teaches about our world. It sounds, too, like you are wanting to build a confident faith. Your focus on prayer and conversations with Christians is a good first step.

I want to echo @tpowe by asking you also, have you ever considered Jesus? In our scientific world, it is normal to look to science to lead us to God. However, we know from Scripture, that God comes to us another way. He comes to us through Jesus.

This is important, I think, to understand the “encounter” of which @BradKramer talks. I think we encounter God through Jesus, both as we read about Him Scripture and eventually encounter Him alive in our own lives too.

To explain a little more, God makes Himself known to the world is through the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This is the “one sign” (quoting Jesus) that God offers to prove that He exists, is unimaginably good, and wants to be known.

Of course there is evidence for God’s existence in nature (as you have seen), but without Jesus it is hard to fully understand that God is also good and wants to be known. As good as the evidence in nature is for God, compared to Jesus, it is weak.

Remember, the Resurrection is a “sign:” a miracle with public evidence to which we can point (both inside and outside the Bible) when we ask “why” we know our faith is true. There are over 100,000 relevant texts. There is a whole academic field devoted to studying 1st Century Palestine. There are a few holdouts, but even those that reject the Resurrection agree that there is compelling evidence for it. It is without doubt the most substantiated ancient miracle. For example, look at this remarkable dialogue between NT Wright and Sean Kelly (chair of philosophy at harvard) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsKv9uX8rwE. I really reccomend NT Wright’s masterpiece “the Resurrection of the Son of God”. And for those with short attention spans, this article: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm.

A more simple book on the topic is More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (though NT Wright is much better). Of course, you could just dive in and start reading the Gospels (I’d start maybe with Luke?).

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Blaise Pascal,

'We know God only by Jesus Christ. Without this mediator, all communion with God is taken away; through Jesus Christ we know God. All those who have claimed to know God, and to prove Him without Jesus Christ, have had only weak proofs. But in proof of Jesus Christ we have the prophecies, which are solid and palpable proofs. And these prophecies, being accomplished and proved true by the event, mark the certainty of these truths and, therefore, the divinity of Christ. In Him, then, and through Him, we know God. Apart from Him, and without the Scripture, without original sin, without a necessary mediator promised and come, we cannot absolutely prove God, nor teach right doctrine and right morality. But through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, we prove God, and teach morality and doctrine. Jesus Christ is, then, the true God of men.

I wish you blessings on your journey. Thank you for sharing it with us.


(L Davison) #13

Hello,

I have not much to add to what Christy said which I think is very true. The only small thing that I would add is maybe a bit more “negative.” As much as it is always good to look at what is positive in Christianity itself, there are so many articles, texts and books that it can bend the mind. One way that you can challenge the mind without bending it is to look also at some of the things that science cannot explain. The neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall found that some heart transplant récipients took on the memories of the donor. Mainstream science rejects this possibility, but if it is true, what does it say about reality? There are many areas where documented experience challenges the current scientific view of life. This does not prove any of Christianity’s claims, but it can challenge the mind to think in different ways. This is what helped me. My mind was so indoctrinated with the “Western” way of seeing things that it took me years to challenge myself out of it.

Good luck!


#14

Hi All,

Thank you so much for your replies and advice! I have been thinking a lot about what you wrote and it really helped me. @Christy, your post was very helpful. I now realise that to better understand Christianity, I should not just try to learn about it, but also use it as a way of viewing the world. This is what I’m doing now. It still feels a little new, but I feel positive about it, and I hope that over time my conviction will grow. I decided to join a Bible study group, and my wife and I will try out a different church, since I like the way of thinking of the pastor there. I think these things will help me to explore more the Christian worldview.

The point made by some of you about learning more about Jesus was also very helpful. My image of God (insofar as I had one) was very abstract. Reading about Jesus, and thinking about the practical implications of His teachings, makes it more personal and real. Through learning about Him, I am gradually understanding better what it means in practice to be a Christian. I have been reading the Gospel of Luke with my wife, and am also reading ‘Mere Christianity’ by CS Lewis. @Swamidass , I will certainly look for a copy of “the Resurrection of the Son of God” as well.

@L-Dav, I see your point about challenging yourself out of your ways of thinking. Many people (myself included) tend to emphasize what they think they know, but you are right that there are many things that we do not know, and maybe never will know. As a theoretical physics student, I often felt that the more I was learning about it, the better I realized how little we really know. I find that thought by itself already reassuring in some way. I think it does also help me to be more receptive to other ways of seeing things.

Finally, thank you also for the personal stories. It is encouraging to hear about some people, like @tpowe, and the former colleague of @aleo (from the Miracle of the Panel Truck post), who have been in a very similar situation to my own. As you said, experiences are personal, and it’s difficult to convince other people with your own experience. But I still take the experiences of others seriously, and reading yours was very encouraging for me. I feel much more confident now about growing in my faith.


(system) #15

This topic was automatically closed 6 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.