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A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:41 am
by Sleetster
Since my diagnosis of colon cancer I have struggled with my faith. I just finished writing about it and had intended to post it to my caringbridge journal. I talked to my mom about it and she has me reconsidering that. She is concerned that it will unnecessarily make my kids distraught. I feel like I need to get it off my chest and just get it out there, so I am posting it here for you. I have not gone through and proof read it yet, so there may be some spelling and/or grammatical errors. Please let me know if you think it would be too much for young teenagers are perhaps just now exploring and claiming their faith as their own. Thanks for being there for me and for providing this outlet for my feelings.

A Question of Faith

This is a difficult subject for me to address. Partially because I am embarrassed to admit that my faith in God is not as strong as so many of you have proclaimed it to be. In fact my faith is weak. Weaker now than it has ever been. It is difficult too because that which I have held on to with waxing and waning strength throughout my life has been put to its biggest test ever over the past three years. I have said - and I still believe - that it is good and healthy for one to question one’s faith and to put it to the test. I don’t believe you can claim your faith as your own until you do this and convince yourself that what you believe is true. For me, this has not resulted in having stronger faith in God, but rather I am left with the knowledge that it is impossible for me to claim that God exists. I cannot claim that God does not exist either, for to believe with certainty that there is no god requires just as much faith as the belief that He does exist. My weakness in faith goes both ways. I cannot say the God exists, nor can I say that He does not exist. And yet, I must still be holding on to something, for I continue to capitalize God and the personal pronouns I use when I refer to Him. If He exists, then I can at least show Him that much respect.

What is faith? Essentially it is a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. That’s where the problem lies for me - no proof. Some may argue that all the proof I need is right outside my window. Others may say that the proof I have been looking for is easily acquired at the local Christian bookstore. Still others will give testimonies about how God has affected their lives personally and try to explain how wonderful He is and all I really need to do is believe in Him and the accept the gift of absolution from sin through Jesus Christ.

When I look out the window, I can see the point that many try to make regarding how the complexity and balance of life itself is proof. How the whole world, and indeed the entire universe is so wonderfully made. How the properties of chemistry and the laws of physics all work together perfectly to sustain life. How life itself is a beautiful dance of complex chain reactions that allow us to adapt to changes in our environment and to heal ourselves without even thinking about it. It is perfectly balanced, and life is good. The odds that this could all be the result of a random series of events are so astronomical that it is impossible to believe that it could be anything other than designed by an almighty God. However, we are talking about the entire universe. We are literally talking about an astronomical number of possibilities, and when you factor in the passage of billions of years for these things to randomly occur, it is no longer beyond belief.

I can walk into our local Christian book store and find hundreds of books on the subject of God and faith, but perhaps the only one that holds any proof would be the Holy Bible. It is after all, God’s inspired word. The difficulty I have with this is that I would be relying on the bible to prove the existence of God, but I would first have to believe that God exists for this to be His inspired word. You see the chicken-and-egg problem this poses for me. I have to believe in one before I can believe the other. And what of all the other world religions that claim that their proof is held in their texts on the subject? All you have to do is take a look at The Big Religion Comparison Chart to see that there are at least a couple dozen world religions with memberships over one million people. Each of those religions will have members that believe that their religion the truth and that their god or gods - or lack of a god - are true and that their texts contain proof of that. What we believe and have faith in are largely determined by the environment in which we were raised. A Christian home will raise generations of Christians, an Islamic home will raise generations of Muslims, and so on. There will always be people who convert from one religion to another, but for the most part what we believe is what we have been taught to believe. I am still heavily influenced by Christianity in my analysis of faith and the bible has some compelling text that comes close to being enough proof for me. I am not going to quote any specific text, but I refer primarily to the prophesies of Isaiah regarding the coming of the Messiah and the the fulfillment of those prophesies by Jesus Christ. The purported fulfillment of those prophecies has the hook in my mouth, but it has not yet been set.

I have several friends who have a strong faith in God and seem to have absolutely no doubt about His existence and His love for all of us. I also have many friends who do have some doubt, yet still manage to not only keep their faith but also feed and strengthen it. As a child, my church attendance as exposure to God was sporadic at best. It wasn’t until I started attending a Lutheran school for Junior High that I started getting regular exposure to God and learning more about Him and the bible. After that I went to a Catholic high school, but throughout that time I still did not go to church regularly. That did not happen until I was an adult and married to my beautiful wife. I have now been a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Templeton since about 1995. I have met and made many wonderful friends, who I love very much. I love seeing them at church and sharing hugs with them. I have heard many testimonials over the years about the greatness of God and how He is still working through us today. I have heard of His modern day miracles and how He has changed peoples lives so profoundly that they have given up their occupations and moved their families to other countries to minister to people in great need. I have stood in front of our church and given children’s sermons. I served three years as a deacon; two of those as moderator. On May 17, 2009 I stood in front of our congregation and gave my own testimony regarding my acceptance of my nomination to be a church elder. On May 18 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Not long after I began to seriously doubt my faith.

So here I am, not knowing what the truth is. I still pray, though the nature of the prayers has changed. Mostly they go something like this, “I don’t know if you’re there God, but if you are please help me to see you and to know you,” followed by whatever other petitions I may have. My faith is weak, so I ask all of you who have stronger faith - no matter what your religion is - to pray for me to know the truth.

One of my favorite books in the bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It is not a long book, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with it I will quote it here in it’s entirety from the New International Version.
1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of these is love. I had always assumed that faith was the second greatest, but I have recently come to believe that hope is. Hope is very powerful. It gives us the strength to carry on, to keep fighting. I hope to beat cancer. I hope to see my children grow into responsible adults with integrity. I hope to see them graduate high school and college, to get married and have children of their own, and for them to be happy. I hope to celebrate my 50th anniversary with my wonderful wife.

Yes, my faith is weak but my hope is strong, and I hope to have a strong faith again some day.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:19 am
by mm66ny
I do not think this would be too much for teenagers--at least not any more so than dealing with a parent diagnosed with cancer. You want them to come to their own conclusion based on arguments from all sides, not just one that supports the existence of god. Otherwise, they're really not making a choice.


Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:56 am
by dianetavegia
I think it's a very honest piece and you might be surprised to find that your teens have already figured out that you're unsure what you believe.

I'm a very strong believer and I could spend hours explaining what Paul meant about love and how James (the half brother of Jesus) talked about faith without love but this is something between you, your heart and God. I think you spoke openly, honestly and from your heart. You might want to add a 'disclaimer' at the end asking your friends who are strong believers to give you some time to work this out on your own.

I would be honored to pray just as you asked!

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 12:07 pm
by jennyjojjr
Alot of people seem to lose their faith when bad things happen. People frequenty go thru a why me, if I pray enough God will heal me, God doesn't exist because I got sick, or because he didn't heal me, whatever. Then I see people praising God for their miraculous cure. Personally,I don't think God is Santa Clause, nor do I think he can stop us from getting sick, or heal us from disease. Why would he pick and choose? It's easy to believe when everything is going well, but harder when things go wrong. We're meant to get sick, suffer and die, and we do not get to choose when. I think you should ask yourself why you feel this way before you let your kids read it. If you're asking these questions about God because of the cancer, what message are you sending them-that life is supposed to be fair? That if you are a good person nothing bad will happen to you? jennyjo stage 3 May 2011 surgery, folfox x 12.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 12:18 pm
by KimT
I have nothing useful to add. Just that I am praying for God to show Himself to you in a mighty way.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:13 pm
by Sandy gma
Wow, this is very heavy and very heartfelt. I hardly ever post here but I will now. I understand what you are saying completely. I am not the colon cancer patient, my daughter is. But I have been praying and have begged everyone around me to pray. My own faith is faltering and I realize that. And I tell God in my prayers and ask him for forgiveness and understanding. I think it's perfectly normal for any reasonable, educated adult to question his/her own beliefs. Some never do and that is okay too.

My belief system has evolved dramatically over the years and sometimes I feel it is a far cry from the Protestant Christian Sunday School blind faith I had as a child. I could go on and on but won't because I don't want to open myself to criticism and judgment. But I really do understand what you are saying. I do not have the answers. I don't believe any of this is part of "God's plan," nor do I believe any of the other God-related platitudes.

I do believe there is more than just the physical world and our bodies we live in now and it is because of "God." I believe physics and chemistry and evolution are "how God did it." I pray to God even as I question what he really is. I ask Jesus for guidance and understanding. Your faith is still in there, inside you. You've just temporarily lost your connection to your higher power. Just keep praying and having others pray for you! That's what I do for my daughter.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:11 pm
by mm66ny
This may come off as harsh, and I wouldn't normally get into something like this, but since you are asking:

Why is it that now you are struggling with your faith, only since your cancer diagnosis? Did you struggle after 9/11? Did you struggle after the post-Christmas tsumani wiped out over 100,000 people? Do you struggle every day when you read of all the bad things that happen to good people?

Why only now? Because this happened to you? Why is it different than anyone else's tragedy, such that this is what it took to shake your faith?

It shouldn't make a difference.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:25 pm
by Sleetster
I have questioned my faith for a very long time, but it wasn't until I was faced with my own death and the thought of what comes after death that I really thought that deeply about the existance of an immortal soul. I do not think that I would want to live for eternity even if it is heaven. Right now I would rather that I simply cease to exist when I die. It has nothing to do with bad things happening to good people (or evil people for that matter.)

Life is not fair and I do not expect that good people will ever be free of bad things happening to them. My loss of faith is simply the result of the line of thought I took in contemplating what awaits me after death. I did not struggle with my faith like this following any of the disasters you mention because they did not force me to look at my own death like cancer has.

It makes a difference. I am not the noble person you want me to be.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:05 pm
by esk2poo
I hear you and will pray for you. For me, my faith has been strengthened. I have almost died twice in my life and have no fear at all. There is great peace that comes over you at the end, no pain. I am actually looking forward to it. The only thing I think that sucks is my family, wife, and 2 little girls will be left here to suffer. Yes there is joy. The sky has never looked bluer to me and the spring birds have never sounded more beautiful and that is what I am going to be focusing whatever time I have left here. God does not inflict this pain or disease and you have been around the church long enough. And if I am wrong, then it doesn't matter either if I rot in a box. Won't know it.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:38 pm
by jgall
Sleetster wrote:It makes a difference. I am not the noble person you want me to be.

I usually refrain from any thread related to people's religious beliefs, but for some reason i feel compelled to comment here. I just want to say don't be so hard on yourself. Since the dawn of humanity people have struggled with the very questions you are struggling with. You are not alone. I believe it's part of the human journey to explore this question and discover/formulate your beliefs/life philosophy. I generally do not discuss my beliefs/journey on an open forum but am willing to discuss via PM.

As for the question about your kids...only you know them and what they can and can't handle. I would just say remember that someday they will likely have the same questions (if they don't already), and knowingly or not may draw from you as an example in how to deal with it. My best to you on your journey.


Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:15 pm
by mm66ny
Sleetster wrote:It makes a difference. I am not the noble person you want me to be.

I think my question to you came out the wrong way. I wasn't judging you, just giving you food for thought. Sorry if I came across like that.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 6:42 pm
by hannahw
I think most people question their faith at some point or another. I don't think the reasons for questioning can be characterized as better/worse, valid/invalid. We all have our weaknesses, that's part of being human. Acknowledging those doubts takes strength.

To my mind, reflection and skepticism are healthy. In all liklihood your kids either have doubts about their faith, or at some point will have doubts. Sharing with them your own questions might actually start a really empowering dialogue for all of you. It seems like sometimes people bottle doubts up for fear of being seen as weak or somehow wrong for not being certain. Then when someone admits to their doubt, it's like to gives everyone else permission to be honest about their own doubts. I think it's perfectly fine to be open and honest with your kids. IMO, it's nice as a teenager, when you're at that point that you're trying to forge your own identity and figure out what you believe (spiritually and otherwise), to have your folks engage you in weightier topics. What your Mom might see as possibly causing your kids undue worry might actually be you acknowledging the elephant in the room. Bring this subject up with your family probably removes barriers and opens communication in a positive way.

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 7:13 pm
by lohidoc
A heartfelt post and thank you for sharing. I hope you don't mind if I point out that nature and evolution are not random events. Nothing exists in nature that does not have a purpose. Nothing about it is random, it is based on mutations, a very small number of which provide a survival benefit and which therefore become dominant in the species, sexual selection and genetic drift. Whether you choose to believe that behind this there was a God who designed it all, or whether evolution itself is a sufficient explanation on its own is entirely up to you and you are entitled to your beliefs.

As to whether you should share your doubts with your teenage children - well, the teenage years are a time of questioning, of exploring the world and their place in it. They may not share those thoughts with you (what teenager does) but you can be sure there is much contemplation and searching going on in their minds. No doubt your cancer is a major component in this. Your post is thoughtful, sincere and intelligent. To share it with your children would be a great compliment to them and could deepen the relationship with your children and how they cope with your illness. Most of us, at some point in our lives become curious about our parents - what kind of people they were, what did they think and feel. I think that if you were to share your thoughts with them they will be pleased to know, if not now than later in life that their parent was an intelligent and thoughtful person who questioned himself and the world around them. I wish that my own parents had left me something like that.

Good luck!

Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 9:16 am
by deb1223
David, first of all I lifted you up in prayer. It seems to me that as much as you have done for the church you have never had a real personal relationship with God. It is a wonderful experience to know that whatever happens to you, he is there. He never promised that life on earth would be an easy one. Second, if you have raised your children in church one of the ways they will cope if you pass away is knowing that you are in a much better place. It would be so much kinder for you to let them have that peace than to destroy that thought for them. Thus, leaving them with the permanent image of just rotting in a grave versus the essence that was you being in heaven, with only a shell left behind. Also, with them being teenagers why would you want them to think that there is no God. No God, no worries, we can do whatever we want.


Re: A Question of Faith

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 10:16 am
by jdepp
Sleetster wrote: Please let me know if you think it would be too much for young teenagers are perhaps just now exploring and claiming their faith as their own.

I say share it. You want them to know the real you, not some idealized version. Not only that, but what comes across in your reflection are not any particular arguments but your seriousness in treating them. In the context of American culture, nothing you've written is strange or particularly threatening - your kids will hear & think all of that and plenty more. What is valuable is that this particular configuration of arguments represents you as you really are now -- and you are an impressive person. You are careful, balanced, thoughtful, ethical, authentic. God or no God your kids will benefit from having a document that shows it.