A crisis of faith can strike anyone. My wife is having a difficult time right now with her understanding of God, or as they put it in AA, her “higher power.”
I understand her frustration. She feels God has been capricious, perhaps cruel, in the events of our lives. We longed for children, she was barren. We adopted a child, took him home the day after his birth, and he died at three and a half months. We adopted two more, hoping to grasp our dream of raising children to carry on our values, our world view. They are both mentally handicapped. They are incapable of being who we wished they might be.
My wife feels punished. She thinks God should intervene in people’s lives, especially when people are trying to do the right thing, helping others, such as adopting orphans.
Oddly enough, though I have experienced those same life frustrations, my faith seems to grow stronger every year. What makes it especially odd is that I have this scientific bent to my nature. I read as much as I can, gobble up information on physics, geology, natural history, astronomy, quantum mechanics. I'm not a scientist, I know very little, but I try to learn as much as a lay person can. And all the science I digest does not shake my faith. Instead I see God in His creation all the more clearly because of the things I read, the things I learn.
My faith doesn’t spring from seeing the wonders science reveals. My faith doesn’t spring from reading scripture either. It just is.
My life has gotten pretty screwed up.
I have no idea where it is going, what will happen next. I harbor great anxiety over my future, over decisions I need to make each day. And though my faith tells me I need not be anxious, my faith isn’t quite strong enough that I drop the concerns I carry.
But my faith does not waiver.
Why is that?
Some time ago I resolved to stop caring what people in church thought of me as I worship. I shut my eyes, told myself that it hasn’t anything to do with anyone else, and let it all fall away as I turn my mind, and my heart, to praying the words I sing, imagining my God watching me, enjoying me, as I open my heart to Him.
I think that is one reason my faith has grown.
During those moments of worship I open my heart and I sense just a little of eternity.
There have been other times when eternity drew near. Those moments are with me always, and because of them I cannot give up my faith.
I was trying to explain this to a friend today.
I asked him to imagine time as having two dimensions. It is a little strange to try, but I think I can do it. Imagine that instead of being dragged along with the passage of time, being carried by that unrelenting stream that carries us in the direction of entropy, we could step away. We could step aside and remain in a particular moment for as long as we like.
Imagine we could turn around and face away from the line of time all together, and gaze across a smooth glassy plane that has no boundaries, no edge, no end in any direction. That one could turn and walk beside the time line, gazing into any part of the existence of the universe, both in time and in space. “When” would cease to have meaning.
I suppose there was a “time” when all there was to experience was that plain, that austere prairie of eternity. The trinity was there, existing in a reality that stretched everywhere and nowhere. That the only part of it that made it something was the existence of God Themself. A trinity of thinking, loving, existing I AM... A being so much the essence of love, the tangible deification and expression of Love, and They desire(d) to expand that experience, to fill all, to fill eternity, to be eternity.
For that two dimensional plane of eternity powerful beings were created. Beautiful souls capable of sharing that love, giving that love, “moving” and “being” in eternity. Powers, and dominions, and angels, and principalities. Their existence unmarred by strife, longing, death, corruption. Their existence a steady existence bathed in the central glory and glow of their Creator. Powerful, smooth souls gleaming and reflecting, love, community.
Time did not/does not/will not pass, for there is not/was not/will be no restriction to it, all of eternity existing all at once.
Until a thread was stretched and pulled up from that surface and lain across that plain. A constriction of eternity into one dimension. One end of it tethered to eternity, to the mathematically pure two dimensions of time, the other laid out a hundred billion or more years and flattened into nothing. One end the tight, bright beginning of the universe, the Big Bang we like to call it, and the other the smooth, cool evening of entropy, billions of years ahead of us, when all things lose themselves in expansion and quiet, cooling dissipation.
Imagine the wonder of those beings, those august mighty entities of eternity as they gaze(d) upon that line laid upon the plane of their existence. They could move alongside it, see the formation of the laws of physics as the hot plasma of raw matter cooled enough, held still enough to embrace electrons, and each other... forming hydrogen, helium, and stars.
They watched the stars dance into simple round galaxies, and grow, and die, and in dying their immolition creating more complex, heavier materials, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen...
Did some of those eternal beings with souls smooth and clean, created to reflect Love and Beauty and Glory, move along that strange line upon the plain and wonder? Did they glide along it a dozen or more billion years and see how worlds settled out of star dust and marvel(ed) at life?
It must seem(ed) a miracle, a great wondrous spectacle, to behold things tied to that line, that stream of entropy. It must have seemed so different to gaze upon mortality... plants, animals, creatures and things in corners of the universe consuming and procreating and dying.
It must have been a wonder to see Them nurture gardens and set creatures in them, to see how they moved and interacted and relied upon each other in a complex web of life. The complex web of ecosystems adapting to changing environments, of the rain of meteors, of ice ages, and of volcanoes. Watching as an atmosphere of carbon-dioxide cleared to one of nitrogen and oxygen. Watching as the age of green things ruled, and oxygen spiked so high insects grew to enormous proportions. The gritty reality of a limited universe filled with things that relied upon each other in complex ways. To note how the wolf is connected to the elk, the elk to the trees, the trees to the beaver, the beaver to swamps, the swamps to meadows, the meadows to flowers, the flowers to butterflies, and to watch those butterflies knowing they rely upon the wolf.
Amazing to watch the Lord let the systems of worlds age, settle, become used to each other. To watch Him place human-like place keepers in the world, the australopithicenes, proto humans, allowing them to hold the niche in nature, letting the ecosystems settle into their rhythms, waiting for the wonder that would bring texture to eternity, the mixing of souls with living things.
Then He did a most marvelous thing. The Lord God made Man, pushing tiny slivers of eternity out of the two dimensions of time, into the hearts of living beings so they could sense it, so they could carry fragments of a greater reality within their breasts and sense the larger truth that there is more than their narrow path, that thread through eternity. He gave them souls.
From within that thread, from within the thin line of time, I'm blessed to imagine a reality of greater proportions. It seems amazing to think of powerful eternal beings gazing upon us from outside our own thin existence.
It is amazing that I have this sliver of eternity within my own living body, this soul, and that it senses there is so much more than I can ever know from my books on science.
What can I offer in return for this amazing gift? All I have. I offer the devotion of a soul that sorrows and longs and grieves and loves and has choices. I can take the mysterious gift of free will and set my love in it and carry the strange experience of living a life along a single line of time. I can take with me into eternity the gritty roughness that comes from living among a species that can be selfish and self-serving and greedy and cruel and experience pain and let that soul bring texture to eternity.
Why do I believe in God? Why has my faith stayed when it could have turned to questioning whether or not God is capricious and cruel, or steady and loving?
I think I haven’t much choice about my faith.
I experienced eternity once.
March 15th, 1993.
I was walking in Molalla River State Park, before dawn, grieving over the death of my son.
The full moon was sinking, the air had that strange hush as nature holds its breath at the approaching dawn. The stars were sparkling through a sky gathering unto itself a color impossible to describe, a rich, dark violet tinge over velvety space.
I dropped to my knees in the hurt and anguish of lost dreams and the aching void my son had left and I heard Him.
I know my ears did not receive any sound, that there was no physical movement of His words streaming through air, but all of nature, the moon, the stars, the dark shadows of trees, the large river flowing by, the grass and dirt beneath my knees, all of it thundered silently with His words: “I KNOW.”
That instant my heart leapt, that sliver within me connected to eternity, leapt. For that instant I knew eternity. That moment took no time at all, and it lasted forever and ever and ever.
I carry that moment always.
I have no choice about my faith.
I experienced God Themself and I have no choice, for all the rest of this mortal life, but to believe in Him.