So, before I sat down to write my weekly post, Andreas, Ashton, Michelle, and I spent a few hours talking about God, arguments for and against His existence, and the implications thereof. As it was getting really late, I mentioned to them all that I needed to write my blog post, and they jokingly suggested that they could be guest writers for the week! Upon considering it though, I decided it would be fantastic. So, these are the very basic, quickly composed thoughts on God by your friendly neighborhood English teachers in Beijing:
Andreas is 19, from Norway, and is spending a gap year teaching English before heading to Florida State to study engineering. Fun fact: he was in a bee-keeping club in high school.
Yo folks. My name is Andreas and I’m working with Shelby at Dandelion this year. I’m an atheist because I haven’t seen any evidence of God’s existence (God defined as the creator and sustainer of our world as portrayed in The Bible). I’m not choosing to be – it’s simply a matter of not being convinced of the opposite. So this is point number one – I don’t believe in God. Number two (this a little longer): I think believing in God sometimes makes the world a worse place to live in. I can agree with a lot of values expressed in the Bible: I think loving each other is a good thing, I think killing is bad and that lying generally isn’t cool. This I agree with because my reasoning says it’s fairly logical. I want the world to be a better place (defined as more people being happier), and I think killing is getting us the wrong way. I also think this is something most Christians can agree with, even if they didn’t know it was the word of God. My problem pops up when the Bible promotes values I disagree with, like homosexuality. I also think this is a value many Christians would have problems supporting if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s written in the Bible that it’s bad. Homosexuals can live a perfectly happy life, not doing anything wrong to others, being super kind people, yet God turns the thumb down. Based upon what’s written in a book, often lacking other logical arguments, Christianity makes life for many of these folks very hard. If people were solely to rely upon their own reasoning, it’d be possible to discuss with each other, change stands in facing better arguments and together come up with the best path to take for our world. It’s hard to argue against something if the counterargument is that it’s right ‘cause it’s written in a book. Number three: I hope there is no God. In other words: the God portrayed in the Bible is not a God I want to have as the ruler of our world. If he really is superior and has control of everything, why cause millions to lose their home in the Haiti earthquake? Why let young, good folks die every day, though not willing to let Hitler have a small heart attack? Really: why allow natural disasters at all? I see no excuse to allow this to happen if you have the power to stop it. So my conclusion is that God if existing must either be evil or very ignorant, and I have no desire for either.
Michelle is 22, from South Carolina, graduated from Harvard with a masters in Education, and is volunteering here while applying to PhD programs. Fun fact: she Chinese American and speaks the languages of both countries fluently. Lucky.
I am finding it difficult to put into words why I believe in Jesus without sounding, as I can hear Ashton and Andreas saying in the back of my head, fluffy, emotional, irrational. As a young adult, I have see friends and colleagues – inquisitive, rational, and brilliant as they come – struggle to reconcile their faith with their desire to live an inquisitive, rational, and brilliant life. In this short space, I can only point to three things that have driven and sustained my faith – the God that I have encountered in the Bible, among His people, and in my own personal experience. First, though, I need to make a clarification. The burning, spiritual questions that my friends have had seem less important to me. I can deal with an omniscient and brilliant Creator breaking his own rational rules of order in order to make a point. (Perhaps I might feel that he could’ve made a point to stay within those rules, but who I am to give him advice?) My biggest question has always been, in this order: Does God love people? And then, does God love me? The God that I have encountered in the Old and New Testament is a God that love fiercely, disciplines tearfully, and extends boundless grace. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I find specific, merciful commands to love the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. Though we live in a world full of pain and brokenness and it is easy to forget, I believe in a God that does not forget those who are lost and hurting. And the stories that we have been left with are each a testament to this God’s abounding grace – not that David’s adultery was excused or that Tamar’s proposition and deceit of Judah was accepted, but that He loves broken and sinful people and redeems them so that they are remembered as “a man after God’s own heart” and as one of the five women specifically mentioned in the line of Jesus. Second, I have encountered Jesus in brothels, classrooms, and darky, dingy alleyways. In my short 22 years, I have only met a small number of people, but each one’s story, whether they recognize it or not, reflects both the ever-lingering presence of sin and the hope and joy of grace. The time that I spend with people convinces me more and more (after all, this is a self-narrative) that our world doesn’t so much lack a loving God as it has a surplus of sin. (And if faith convinces someone that they have the responsibility and are able to, with God on their side, begin to rectify the brokenness that they see...well, why not let them? Actually, the ethics of service is a topic that I shouldn’t get into this time, but maybe Shelby will let us guest-post again!) We live in a broken world with broken systems created by broken people – I am fairly certain that God is looking at the way that we treat our women (and our men!), our children, our strangers, our widows, and our orphans and He weeps. But in brokenness, I have also found a deep, abounding grace. I have seen lives changed, relationships restored, and people set free from the chains and demons that have kept them captive. Third, while I know my narrative has focused on my single story and I am the first to admit the limitations of using personal narrative to make an apologetic point, I believe in God because He has shown up for me. There was a time in my life when I felt lost, worthless, and did not want to believe in this God that I did not feel loved me. While we need both, heart knowledge is often so much more important than head knowledge when it comes to our own personal faith. I dared God to prove me wrong and He did, not once or twice, but continuously and regularly for a year. There are times when I feel very close to God and there are times when I feel very far away. There are questions that I find very difficult to answer and stories that seem too painful, too heartbreaking for a loving God to allow unfold. During those times, I remember these three things, and at least so far, I have been able to live – perhaps even more so – a very inquisitive, rational, and hopefully brilliant life.
Ashton is 20, from Oklahoma, and is studying linguistics at Dartmouth University. He wanted to make sure I mentioned that he's handsome. Fun fact: he won the 1994 Oklahoma baby pageant.
I've been a Christian, and more specifically a Catholic, for ninety percent of my life, that is, if you can count the more formative years of my nascence. Having been born and raised in the conservative Midwest the atmosphere of Christianity was ubiquitously comforting yet, undoubtedly more apparent in hindsight, absolutely stifling. I went to a Christian school, prayed incessantly, and dragged my family out of bed every Sunday morning despite their wails. I coordinated religious retreats, evangelized until my larynx waved the white flag, and spent every remaining moment volunteering in my local community. One of the perks of living in such a homogenously Christian community is that you never have to think too hard.In school I asked difficult questions, and received God works in mysterious ways. At home I asked difficult questions, and received God works in mysterious ways.(If you'd like Ashton's email, he'd love to give it to you - just shoot me an email to ask for it!)
The waitress, the track coach, the dentist, they all agreed when it came to difficult questions about Christianity: God works in mysterious ways.
Fast forward to me embarking upon my own college adventure, my very own Romansbuildung complete with prototypical angsty existential crises and the allure of absolute catharses alike. However, as I began to ask these same questions about my faith there was nobody nearby to assuage my inquiries with the ever-convenient God works in mysterious ways. Rational thought’s panacea. For once I had to answer these questions myself and, one by one, I discovered there was no simple answer that wasn’t an ad hoc amendment or deus ex machina, a name I never quite justified to myself us anything but ironic.Fast forward to me typing this and Shelby asking me to wrap it up so she can go to bed. Here is me wrapping it up: I don’t believe in a supernatural deity. I don’t believe in supernatural anything for that matter. I would love nothing more than to believe again, but as it stands there are too many rational inconsistencies for me to temporarily suspend logic, too many unanswered questions. Please, prove me wrong.
And then there's me.
I have, of course, grown up with a family who believes that God is real, involved, and loving. But at this age, I know that my beliefs are not governed or controlled by my family's. Now, I believe for myself that there is a God and that I can know Him personally for a lot of reasons, a few of which are these: 1) The very beginning and literal existence of the world, the universe, or anything physical without God has never been explained to me in a logical way. I have done my best to contrive how it could be explained, and I cannot see how science ever could or will be able to attempt to explain the first basic existence of anything. 2) Allowing a God and supernatural seems to be the most logical, clean explanation of morality, general consciousness, apparent design, and the desire for purpose in humanity. 3) I know Him personally, not just by grasping information about Him, but by being changed, being in relationship, and being a disciple of Jesus. 4) As Pascal's Wager has mentioned, it makes more sense to believe in a God and risk being wrong than vice versa. Yet I simultaneously don't think I'm wrong because of the first three points, and many more. Jesus gives meaning and fulfillment to my life and being now, and gives me freedom with Him when I die. I know that I don't have all the answers, and I know that I may never have all the answers. But I will continue to do my best to know God better and better, and portray Him accurately to others, so they can know Him too.
Think about what you believe. Whatever it is, it is important that you know why you believe it.
Also, no nasty comments from anyone, please? Thanks.