I am a complicated individual. I don't think I consciously choose to be - I just am. I over-think and over-analyse everything: even my tendency to over-think and over-analyse everything. I cannot help but see the flip side of the coin, the counter-argument, the validity of another perspective. I am slow and even reluctant to give definite answers or propose watertight solutions, and as such I often find myself floating about indecisively, even aimlessly.
I am also a very sensitive individual. Whether or not it is 'right' or 'commendable' I don't know, but I am deeply moved by the words people direct at me. A couple of days ago, for instance, an atheist friend of mine who sometimes reads what I write sent me a straightforward text message: 'I am sorry, but I cannot relate to what you write about at all.' I don't know why that bothers me so much. I feel no compulsion to convince or convert her. She is an intelligent individual whose own journey in life has led her to currently conclude that there is nothing beyond the biological. I respect her point of view because I respect her human journey, and I think the feeling is mutual. But for some reason it still unsettles me that someone I care for find nothing of relevance in that which is of utmost importance to me.
My complex, intellectually leaning nature makes it difficult for me to be a spiritually attentive individual, for I struggle to 'descend with the mind into the heart' as the Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse said. I am naturally inclined to ask 'but why?', and even the answers such a question open up tend to come under the scrutiny of my always inquisitive mind. I guess part of the reason that I am attracted to creative individuals such as artists and musicians is the fact that they show me that a life of feeling can indeed trump a life of thought, but more often than not just as I feel myself being moved I step back and say: 'Wait a minute, what is this thing moving me, and why in fact am I moved by it?'
I guess that is also the reason why I understand and respect my friends who are atheists and agnostics. Although I do not share their same conclusions, I understand very well the thought processes that leads a person to logically conclude that there is no God or, as is more often the case (even though some of my atheist friends will not admit this), if there is a g/God then such a b/Being is unknowable. Cheap and crafty apologetic tricks don't hold much water against the intricate and thoughtful processes that leads a person to conclude that even if there is a God, such a being is beyond our knowledge.
I guess I would've been an agnostic too had it not been for this deep and undeniable pull in me that witnesses to something greater at work within me. Some people who believe in God argue for the validity of their faith based upon external reasons. I don't even want to mention examples because in the final analysis they all seem trivial and open-ended, depending on what side of the argument you choose to defend and what side you choose to discredit. After a while it is no longer the truth that is sought. What is sought is the reasonable defence of the predetermined choice we have made, leading us around in intellectual circles that always move but never truly bring us anywhere. In this system of thought something like agnosticism and faith are worlds removed, but I disagree. In my experience I have found that agnosticism and faith are closely related, separated by a mere hairsbreadth.
There are probably many words I can use to describe this slight difference between a thoughtful unbeliever and a thoughtful believer, a miniscule variance that in time can evolve into a chasm so big that the two worlds seem completely irreconcilable, when in reality the two worldviews are closer related to each other than any of the warring camps are usually willing to admit. The word I want to use is the word 'awareness.' What separates me, for a lack of a better word, from my atheist friend is not our shared humanity, our common desire for love, acceptance and life in its fullness. What makes us different is my belief that something beyond the merely biological and measurable is at work within this world, at work within my soul.
To call it a belief is somewhat misleading, because it implies that I had a great say in the matter. I know some people describe their faith as a choice they made after they objectively and stoically scrutinized the evidence. That's fine, who am I to discredit their experience? But for me faith is fundamentally an awareness of something - or someone - I cannot escape. In the Psalms David says something along the following lines: 'Where can I flee from your presence? Even if I make my bed in hell, still there you will find me.' In the gospels Jesus is recorded as saying: 'You did not choose me, but I chose you.' In my experience faith is not so much something I choose to have, as it is the awareness that I have been chosen, an awareness that something or someone beyond me is at work and even at home within me. This something or someone, which to me is best described not as a fully transcendent impersonal force but as the free-blowing Spirit of a personal God, is an attraction and influence that I cannot escape even though I often choose to.
To be a person of faith, therefore, is not to have reconciled all the intellectual loopholes and ambiguities shared by people of both belief and non-belief, but to have awakened to something deeper at work within our own lives. In this context even commonplace words that are often an intellectual offense to non-believers (and shall I add 'thinking-believers' as well) such as obedience or sin are fused with a new meaning, measured not by ticking all the right boxes or conforming to the right set of rules, but by having the sensitivity to be attentive to the divine life at work within us and the courage to act accordingly.
As a person that is naturally sceptical rather than naturally curious, I find even my own explanation of faith and awareness a bit spurious. But what I cannot do is deny my experience of the inescapable Other, which for me manifests best not according to a religion but according to the man Jesus Christ, the one who said with confidence and poise: 'If you have seen me, you have seen the Father also.'
It is with this in mind that I want to echo the words and desire of A.W. Tozer:
'Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us. The revelation of God to any man is not God coming from a distance upon a time to pay a brief and momentous visit to the man’s soul. Thus to think of it is to misunderstand it all. The approach of God to the soul or of the soul to God is not to be thought of in spatial terms at all. There is no idea of physical distance involved in the concept. It is not a matter of miles but of experience … It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence. We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.'
As such, my faith - my 'pursuit of God' for a lack of a better phrase - is not about appeasing or impressing some remote deity through whatever ritual or religion, nor is it to deny my reason in order to cling to unexamined beliefs, but about awakening to the accepting presence that is always at work within my soul. As C.S. Lewis said: ' The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.'
My atheist friend calls all of this 'Christian nonsense.' If that is the case, then it is the kind of nonsense I find really hard to escape. My only escape would come from denying my deepest intuition and mustering up a belief that leads me to conclude that biology - flesh and bone a blood and cells - is all there is to me. But that would require more faith than what I am capable of at current, and as such I hope she will forgive me for remaining an infidel.