Sundays bring out the feels and reflections and vulnerability, right? So, here’s my moment for today: “Fitness is not a great god and it will fail you.” I saw that quote from @faithrxdlongisland on Instagram and it really hit me because if I’m completely honest, without realizing it, I made fitness my god for a long time. NOW I realize though that fitness is a gift from God. Many years ago, God gave me the gift of fitness as an outlet — a healthy outlet for processing through the anxiety and grief of losing my mom. I truly thank God for that because as a result, I emerged healthier and stronger (both inside and out) and not in and of my own strength but in and of the strength, grace and mercy of the Lord. All that I am, all that I have, every good thing is a gift from above— James 1:17. The Lord gave me this body and I believe it’s a blessing to be taken care of—taking care of our bodies is a way to honor God, our creator, and I believe it’s an act of worship. I’m grateful for the gift of my health and never want to take it for granted. I’m grateful for the ability to exercise and move my body. I’m grateful for my gym. I’m grateful for my outlet. And I will not waste the gifts. All the worship and credit goes to the Gifter and not the gift — Thank you Lord!
Thank you Lord for laying this on my heart as we prepare to begin a new work week.
I share in hopes that it brings you the same peace, comfort and fresh perspectives it brought me. And I also share this as a personal "note to self" so that I can come back and read this as a reminder when I let my human nature get the best of me.
Job stress -- it's something that just about every employee can relate to, no matter what your field of work might be. I wholeheartedly love what I do and find great purpose and meaning in my work, but there is just no such thing as completely stress free work. Stress is part of the human condition, but we can deal with it in healthy ways. That doesn't mean that we always will. Sometimes, unfortunately, we allow it to get the best of us and make the worst of us, but we don't have to. We may not be able to completely avoid moments of frustration or stressful situations, but we can step back in those moments and pause to remember our purpose, refocus our mindset, and redirect ourselves towards a spirit of serving and working with love -- as unto the Lord.
The verse below has been impressed upon my heart continually over the last two weeks. I can be slow on the uptake, but thankfully the Lord is persistent.
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24).
A new attitude and perspective for work:
Remembering our purpose: God uses the talents of you and me in our everyday jobs to provide, care for and serve humanity through the work that we do. Serve with love.
Refocusing our mindset, hearts and attitudes: When you work, let your work ethic say, “I work for the Lord.” Don’t compare or concern yourself with the work ethic of others. Doing so can be a source of frustration and stress. We are only responsible for the quality of our own work ethic.
Redirecting our need for validation: We all seek and desire validation -- to feel valued, recognized and appreciated -- to feel that we make a difference, but often we get caught up in seeking it from the wrong sources. The only “well done” we need to seek is from the Lord.
Everyday is an opportunity for our work to mean something more, and that greater meaning is about the spirit we bring to the work that we do. Regardless of what you’re doing, always do your service -- all things, as unto the Lord. Take this job and LOVE it!
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
The question of God’s existence is probably a universal question that most of us have wrestled with at some point in our lives. I can recall that some of my earliest memorable thoughts as a child dealt with this question...almost as if the question was already part of my consciousness from the very beginning of my life...a God-shaped void in my mind and heart that I was born to fill...that we were all born to fill. But, if God exists, then what’s with the hiddenness of God? He’s not entirely hidden. The Bible tells us in Psalms 19;1 that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”, but you might be wondering why God can’t just drop us a big sign in the sky and say, “hey, here I am!" I’m being a little facetious, but in all honesty, many of us have had similar thoughts. I’ve pondered this thought and honestly, I’m glad that He hasn’t made His existence known to us in such an overly dramatic way. Why? Firstly, we’d freak out. I don’t think most of us could handle such a scenario and also, a lot of us probably still wouldn’t believe. For some of us, no amount of “revelation” will ever be enough because honestly, I don’t think all of us WANT there to be a God. Seriously though, I’ve given a lot of philosophical thought to this and I believe that for God to remove all aspects of His “hiddenness” and to reveal Himself to us in some undeniably, dramatic fashion would take away the beauty of faith, which is a choice, and thus removing all hiddenness might be a form of coercion. God does not want to coerce humans into belief. He doesn’t want to coerce us into a relationship with Him either. We have choice and freewill. That’s a beautiful thing. For example, my husband chooses to love me. I wouldn’t want him to feel coerced to love me. So, to remove the possibility of coercion, God has to have a certain degree of hiddenness, but He has revealed Himself to us in certain ways. I believe we have an innate desire to seek and know God’s existence...that’s why it’s such a huge topic of discussion and debate...in a sense, this universal, innate desire to ponder and discuss God’s existence might actually be a cosmic pointer to God. God has given us just enough to know what we need to know in order to “find Him” if we want to find Him. I believe if we are honestly and earnestly seeking, then God will honor that and He will find a way to reveal Himself to us in a personal way. How He reveals Himself to me might be different than the way He reveals Himself to you. Throughout my faith journey, I have struggled at times with doubts and spent a lot of time either racking my brain over these questions or just ignoring my questions hoping they’d eventually go away if I stayed busy enough with life and other pursuits. The ignoring part always nagged at me because if it’s all true like I mostly believed in my heart, then it’s far too important to ignore. I identify with the sentiments of the man in Mark 9:24 who said, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief”. Seems paradoxical. How can you believe but not believe? It is possible to have both faith and doubts. The Bible has many examples of people of the faith struggling with doubts. This is nothing new. Faith is not required to be perfect. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a statement of faith in and of itself while at the same time being an admission and confession that our faith is far from perfect. If we genuinely seek God’s help to strengthen our faith and to help our doubts and unbelief, then He will honor that. Throughout my season of doubt, I read many books, listened to smart speakers on both sides of the fence and pondered and pondered, but one day, seemingly out of nowhere the lights just came on so to speak...God flipped on the light switch and there He was...He gave me the certainty that I craved...I found my greatest evidence for God’s existence after a long season of doubt and it had been right under my nose for years...everyday at work...packaged neatly inside the chromosomes I analyze daily as a cytogenetics technologist. It’s as if peering through the microscope, God was waving back at me shouting, “do I need to spell it out for you because that’s pretty much what I’ve done with a simple yet so very complex four letter alphabet.” DNA--the information molecule of all living things--became the proof that convinced me beyond a doubt that God IS real and to quote ex-atheist Anthony Flew, “super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature”.
Prior to this, I think I was mentally paralyzed and overwhelmed by the idea that I needed to be able to find satisfactory answers to ALL of the questions I had relating to science and faith and the questions are MANY. The funny thing was that God chose to answer all of them for me by answering just one.
The Bible tells us in multiple places that evidence for the existence of God can be found through His creation: through the vastness of the universe (Psalm 8:3-4) and through God’s general revelation in nature (Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-21). We could lay out a striking list of evidences for design based from science, such as the evidence for design which can be found in the laws of the universe and the fine tuning of the physical laws for life -- the precise mathematical relationships found in the laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws of motion, or the laws that govern the atomic orbitals...or we could lay out how human consciousness provides evidence for God’s existence, and the list goes on, but the focus of this blog will be on one thing only: DNA. This is the one question God answered for me which in turn answered all other questions.
You don’t have to have a science background to appreciate the main point of this blog, so don’t get bored and stop reading too soon, but first, let’s get through some brief background information on DNA. You’ve probably seen pictures of the DNA double helix -- in 1953, the discovery of DNA existing in the form of a three dimensional double helix was made by Watson and Crick (names you might recall from biology class). DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the hereditary material in humans and almost all living organisms. Here’s a fun DNA factoid, if you stretched the DNA of just one cell all the way out, it would measure about 6 feet long. Obviously, it exists in a very supercoiled state and is packaged neatly inside 46 chromosomes found in the nucleus of our cells. These chromosomes are what I look at everyday at work. The information in DNA is stored as a four letter “alphabetic code” made up of four nucleotide bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). This “basic” code tells each cell how to grow, function, and reproduce.
Four years after Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA as a double helix, Crick proposed “The Sequence Hypothesis”. This hypothesis provided the general principles for protein synthesis.
(“Defining the Genetic Coding Problem, 1954-1957”) Click HERE for source webpage.
This is where things get absolutely fascinating. The four chemicals that run along the interior of the spine of the DNA molecule (called nucleotide bases as mentioned previously) function like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in a section of computer machine code. The arrangement of the bases provide instructions or information for directing the construction of protein synthesis. Proteins are long chain-like molecules that fold into specific 3 dimensional shapes. They’re formed from smaller subunits called amino acids (there are 20 different amino acids that can be part of proteins). Proteins are like the toolbox in the cell...there are many different tools (different proteins) in the cell, and each one of the protein tools performs a job according to the specific 3-D shape or form it possesses. Proteins do many important jobs in the cell...they are the workhorses of the cell. The precise sequencing of amino acids determines the folding and the function of the protein. This property is called “sequence specificity”. The function of the whole is determined by the arrangement of the parts. This was a critical insight by Crick. The sequential arrangement of the amino acids determines the type of protein constructed. The sequence specificity of the amino acids in the proteins are derived from a prior sequence specificity from a specific arrangement of the nucleotide bases --the information -- along the spine of the DNA molecule. Re-read and digest the previous sentences because it makes a critical point. Crick’s hypothesis was eventually confirmed and as a result of that, scientists have been able to characterize the gene expression system or how the information in DNA generates a protein.
Not everyone is a science geek, so here are other analogies that we can all relate to and appreciate. There are other things besides proteins that have sequence specificity. For example, human language is sequence specific. Words are sequence specific. Sections of computer code are sequence specific.
To visualize this in another way, consider the CAD-CAM analogy discussed in the book: “Signature in the Cell” by former geophysicist and college professor Stephen Meyer, (p.120-121).
“Computer-assisted design and manufacturing,” or “CAD-CAM” for short, uses digital information to manufacture various machines and products, from airplanes to automobiles to garage doors. At the Boeing plant in Seattle, engineers use CAD-CAM to direct the production of many key parts of airplanes. A CAD program is used to design some part of an airplane, such as a wing. Engineers provide specifications that enable the CAD program to produce a three-dimensional drawing, a visual display of the specific part. The engineers can examine this visual image to check that they have achieved their design objectives. The CAD program also stores the information for producing this visual display in binary code. In the CAD-CAM process, the digital information stored in the CAD program is then transferred to another computer program, called an NC (“numerical code”) interface. This program then translates the instructions from the CAD program into a machine code. This machine code then directs the manufacturing machinery—a robotic rivet arm, for example—to make the parts of the airplane. Like a production facility at Boeing or Ford, the cell uses digitally encoded information to direct the manufacture of the parts of its machines. In addition, the process of gene expression involves the conversion of information from one digital format to another before the information is used in manufacturing. In CAD-CAM, the original digitally encoded information in the CAD program is translated into another machine code by the NC interface and then used to direct the manufacture of airplane parts. In the gene-expression system, the original digital information in DNA is converted into an RNA format, which then directs the construction of proteins.”
You don’t need a science degree to appreciate that this is absolutely incredible. The take home message from this analogy is this: The cell’s information-processing system is strikingly similar to CAD-CAM technology, though it differs from CAD-CAM in at least one important respect: the cell’s information-processing system not only produces machines, it also reproduces itself.
This is mind blowing. Function requires information. If you want to give your computer a new function, then you have to give it a new code or a new program or new software. It’s the same for biological systems. As Richard Dawkins pointed out, "The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal."
So, the big underlying question is: where did the programming or the software -- the code (DNA) come from for biological life?
Leading evolutionary biologists are openly doubting and questioning the creative power of the standard random mutation/natural selection mechanism that we’ve learned about and been taught in our science and biology textbooks. There’s a website with a growing list of scientists who have signed the “scientific dissent from Darwinism”: click HERE for the webpage. They are recognizing that randomly changing the DNA “bit strings” is not going to be an effective way of generating the required information to begin life or to sustain the complex processes of life. DNA is like a software program. Code and information generally always arises from programmers or intelligent sources. If you have a software code and you begin randomly changing the 0’s and 1’s in that computer code, then you are going to degrade the information you have long before you generate a functioning new program or operating system. This applies to life. It’s a big problem and a legitimate reason to express skepticism for the long held ideas of random, unguided processes.
You don’t have to understand the structure of DNA to understand that there is a big enigma. The mystery of DNA is this: where did this information come from in the first place? Where did the DNA molecule come from and how did it “acquire” this complex, precise sequencing described by Crick that allows it to direct these mechanical operations? This enigma is closely related to the question of the origin of life itself.
“The question of the origin of life turns out to be the question of the origin of biological information.” Bernd-Olaf Küppers (German Biochemist)
What is the origin of the information necessary to produce life?
In the very simplest forms of life, we have the undeniable appearance of design. We’ve already discussed the analogy with computer codes. Bill Gates puts it this way: “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” As previously mentioned, we know that computer software contains specified information that comes from programmers. We know that specified information in general, like the letters that have been specifically sequenced to form the words that are arranged in a specific sequence to form the long run on sentences in this blog have arisen by design from an intelligent source (yes, that’s a reference to me as being an intelligent source and it’s okay if you laughed). On the enigma of the origins of DNA, we can explain it as arising from chance and undirected, random processes or we can explain it as arising from directed, orderly processes resulting from apparent design. Chance may be able to produce a little bit of information, but as the amount of information required increases such as that required for the origin of complex, information rich DNA--the information necessary to produce life-- randomness and chance events are just not going to get the job done. To believe that such complexity arises from pure chance and randomness requires more faith than that of a mustard seed. If you reached into a scrabble bag and randomly pulled out letters, eventually you might form a word, but are you going to construct meaningful sentences that lead to meaningful information by using such a random process? Natural selection and mechanical mechanisms seem to be incapable of explaining the origin of the information necessary to produce life and the complex machinery of the cell. To quote, information theorist and physician Henry Quastler, “the creation of new information habitually arises from conscious activity.” (Quastler, H. The Emergence of Biological Organization, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1964). Whether we are considering the headlines of a newspaper, sections of computer code, text books, Morse Code -- when we go back to the source of information, we find an intelligence behind it, not a random, undirected process.
“Cells contain miniature machines, complex circuits and sophisticated information processing systems--exquisite nanotechnology that in any other realm of experience would immediately, and properly, trigger recognition of prior intelligent activity.” (Dr. Steven Meyer, from a letter he wrote to Nature magazine after his interview for an article the magazine printed about the growing number of university students taking interest in researching the theory of intelligent design)
The more we learn about DNA, the more compelling design becomes. Since Watson and Crick’s discovery, we’ve learned and discovered so much more. Since then there has been the Human Genome Project. I recommend reading “The Language of God” by Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. In the book, he explains his journey from atheism to faith and argues that faith and science are compatible. In addition to the Human Genome Project, we have also had the Encode project: (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements). Basically, this follow up to the Human Genome Project discovered that what we used to think of as “junk” DNA, the non-coding regions of the genome, are actually known to be functional...and are not junk. For example, what we previously thought of as “Junk” DNA has been found to act as an operating system with automated error correction and gene regulation. A better explanation from the NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine on the Encode Project summarizes it this way:
“The approximately 20,000 genes that provide instructions for making proteins account for only about 1 percent of the human genome. Researchers embarked on the ENCODE Project to figure out the purpose of the remaining 99 percent of the genome. Scientists discovered that more than 80 percent of this non-gene component of the genome, which was once considered “junk DNA,” actually has a role in regulating the activity of particular genes (gene expression).” (Click HERE for the source webpage)
If we did not know what we now know about DNA and if we still believed as German evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel stated in 1905 that cells are just simple “homogeneous globules of plasm”, then it might be plausible to continue to explain away the origin of life as the result of blind, random, chemical reactions, but I don’t think we can continue to hold “faithfully” to “believing” in undirected, materialistic natural processes as the explanation for everything we now see, know and understand regarding the complexities of DNA and for all of life.
What is the best explanation for the origin of DNA and for the mind boggling specificity and complexity of DNA? I think design and intelligence can only be behind such an intelligent process. Is the idea of intelligence really so unintelligent?
Why is it considered unintelligent to consider intelligence behind the origins of life? There is the idea that intelligent design is faith based and thus not science; therefore, we do not have to consider the case for it. On the contrary, I think there is a compelling, evidential argument for it and that it should be considered. If intelligent design should be dismissed because it’s faith based, what about the faith required to believe that everything discussed here arose from fully undirected natural processes or by mechanisms of random chance? Science is not without a requirement for faith. At the heart of science is that scientific ideas are testable and that they must actually be tested, but not everything in science is testable or confirmed by observation. There is an incorrect but common idea that faith is blind and that faith is having belief without evidence. What does the Bible say about “blind faith”? 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “But test everything; hold fast what is good.” I believe Christians are called to have an intelligent faith and to weigh the evidence. As I mentioned, we have to take some aspects of science on faith -- to quote the cosmologist, astrobiologist and theoretical physicist Paul Davies (who does not ascribe to any religion), “In science we are repeatedly told it’s the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it’s based on testable hypotheses. The problem with this neat separation is that science has its own faith-based system. Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith.”
The real issue, I believe, is a reluctance to change a long held worldview -- the spiritual or religious vs. materialistic scientific worldview, but do we really have to choose between them? Can they not coexist? I agree with Francis Collins and many other scientists who have acknowledged intelligent design and that science and faith are compatible. Science and religion are not at war -- we can reconcile them. As a person of both science and the Christian faith, I can attest that it does not have to be one or the other. I’m not arguing against science. I’m arguing that the enigma of DNA cannot be explained adequately by purely materialistic views -- it is an unanswered question in science. Perhaps the answer is so simple that we are blinded by our own “intelligence”. God’s wisdom is kind of a paradox. Perhaps we see evidence for His existence in the seemingly simple, yet highly complex four letter alphabet in DNA. A verse from 1 Corinthians 27 comes to mind: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.
Thomas Nagel, NYU professor of philosophy and law, is an atheist who cannot accept God as a final answer, and yet he echoes some theological critiques of science: "Physic-chemical reductionism cannot tell us how matter became animate on Earth more than three billion years ago; nor can it account for the emergence in our ancestors of consciousness, reason and morality.” Nagel also says, “The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes…The current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense." (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 5)
I think that part of the issue is not only a reluctance to change a long held worldview, but there is also a strong resistance to acknowledge the possibility of a realm beyond our senses. It’s not a “reasonable” position to hold these days. I believe that the traditional forms of sensory, empirical, and materialist knowledge provide us with only a partial picture of how we can come to know and understand our world. I believe it is short-sighted and even arrogant to assert that there is nothing beyond what we can experience with our five senses -- that there is nothing beyond nature (supernatural) or that there are not properties of our world that are different from the physical world we experience. If my intelligence is just a result of subatomic particles dancing around and my thoughts are only products of the physical process of neurons firing, then what even is the basis for me entertaining thoughts like these? Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions. The world of human consciousness is beyond the physical. The topic of consciousness is a rabbit hole for another post. We could go in so many different directions, but re-centering back to the heart of this post...
My stance is this...the best explanation for the origin of DNA, the fundamental aspect of human life, is the result of the operation of intelligent design. To be clear, when I say “intelligent design”, I personally mean God. I’m not talking about aliens and I have to clarify because some people might acknowledge evidence for intelligent design but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are theists -- they might ascribe to the “ABG” (anything but God) option of intelligent design. I believe in God, a personal God. As a Christian, my stance isn’t a shock, but my stance isn’t just a thoughtless product of what I grew up hearing and believing. For me it wasn’t a position that was easy to adopt simply because I grew up in church. My faith has certainly been challenged and tested by my natural analytical and skeptical nature, but it is anything but blind.
For more background on my faith journey and personal testimony, please check out my blog: “My Faith Story: Gaining by Almost Losing” Click HERE to read the blog.
What can we be sure of? What can we know with certainty? We can be sure of what matters most and I know that much with certainty. Much though, will still remain a mystery and will never be fully known on this side of things. Until we have our answers, we can be assured of a truth Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) Our knowledge here is incomplete, imperfect and obscure, but we are to be focused on the pursuit of faith, hope and love. “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13).
I found a quote that I had scribbled on a sticky note during my season of doubt. Unfortunately, I did not write down the source to give proper credit, but I think it’s worth sharing: “Regardless of the tradition that we come from, God is most often a word that we use to try to speak about what cannot be spoken about. Just like a single wave cannot contain the entire ocean that gives rise to that wave, a human mind cannot contain the infinite in which minds arise. But if I’ve found anything to say about the unspeakable ocean of mystery that we call God, it is that there is no distance between you and IT.”
For the universe owes its origin to Him, was created by Him, and has its aim and purpose in Him. To Him be the glory throughout the Ages! Amen. (Romans 11:36)
I close by encouraging further thoughtful, careful examination of the question -- the question of the DNA enigma which is also the question of the origin of life itself --- every thoughtful adult owes it to his or herself to consider the evidence without just passively swallowing the majority worldview for fear of ridicule. We know that information (in the form of DNA) runs the biological show, the question we face is: what or WHO is running the show behind the origin of that information? Science has not been able to answer that question, but through science, we can see where the evidence leads. What does the language of DNA communicate to you?
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God. (Hebrews 3:4)
From Fragile Faith to Robust Trust
It’s been placed on my heart to share my faith and I’m going to do it in a very unconventional way...by sharing how I almost “lost my religion”. Recently, I stumbled across a podcast on the topic of conversion and de-conversion: Why atheists become Christians and Christians become atheists. One of the guests, Joel Furches, has done a case study on why Christians become atheists. He has a BA in psychology, an MA in education, and a PhD in Behavioral Analysis. I found what he had to say very interesting and very relatable. In fact, it added clarity and explained much of what I’ve experienced in my faith life from childhood to present day. I also realized that what I’ve experienced isn’t uncommon.
I have never identified as an atheist nor believed in the idea of a grim, meaningless universe, but I have identified as a weak believer in matters of the Christian faith. I have always been a “doubting Thomas” type. While I have craved an unshakable faith, much of my faith life has been full of questions. It wasn’t always this way. Growing up in church, child-like faith came easy in my younger years. It wasn’t until college where I was immersed in the sciences and majored in biology that my faith was challenged for the first time. Were my beliefs and my faith just products of my childhood and thus results of my early environment or were my faith and beliefs truly my own? What did I truly believe? Could I reconcile what I was learning in science with faith? Were the two mutually exclusive? Did I have to choose? Are our brains hard-wired to ask these kinds of questions...questions of God’s existence...is this restless desire to know if God exists actually evidence in and of itself that God exists? This desire to know seems universal among people who believe in God, among people who do not believe in God, and among people who don’t take a stance either way...it’s a question I’d say all of us have contemplated at some point in our lives. Even among people who passionately argue against God’s existence, God seems to take up a lot of their mental real estate. I’ve always found it interesting that atheists seem to spend as much thinking about and debating about God than people who do believe in God. If something does not exist, then why is it such a massively discussed and debated topic? Why is there a universal desire to know or discuss God’s existence? What if that universal desire is actually a cosmic pointer to God’s existence?
So...many...questions. You get the idea.
Moving on...as an analytical thinker by nature, questions always came naturally to me, and while my church environment had always been one where intuitive, emotional needs were met, my intellectual needs were not always met. Hard questions didn’t seem encouraged and any level of doubt or uncertainty was seen as evidence of disbelief, weak faith, or “backsliding”. I felt shame for my internal questions and doubts and kept them mostly a secret. For a while, I placed my difficult questions on a back shelf in my mind. I hoped they’d disappear, but they plagued me until I began to deal with them. As a side note, I found my greatest evidence for God’s existence years later and it had been right under my nose for years...everyday at work...packaged neatly inside the chromosomes I analyze daily as a cytogenetics technologist. DNA--the information molecule of all living things--became the proof that convinced me beyond a doubt that God IS real and to quote ex-atheist Anthony Flew, “super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature”. I’ll share more on that part of my story in greater detail at another time in another post, but if you’d like to read more on that topic, check out “The Language of God” by Francis Collins.
Over the years, I reconciled some questions while leaving others as works in progress, but there were other glaring issues in the church environment that bothered me such as gender roles in the church (women’s roles in leadership and ministry) and the typical religious stance towards the LGBTQ community. (Those are two topics that I’d love to dive more into in separate posts at another time). I had yet to find a church that was truly inclusive--many claimed to be, but inevitably, there’d be a bait and switch. I didn’t want to attend a church where EVERYONE wasn’t lovingly and completely accepted because the Jesus I follow welcomes EVERYONE. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
There weren’t always issues...we visited some great places that just didn’t feel like a fit. Eventually, we grew more sporadic with church attendance, and after growing completely disillusioned, we fell out of church for many years. We would visit a church searching and hoping to find a fit and that “reconnection” that we craved, but we’d inevitably find ourselves disappointed. I honestly reached a point of apathy...a place that I didn’t want to be...the place where you feel almost nothing at all. There was a name for what was happening and I didn’t even realize it. I was on a journey of deconstruction and I didn’t even know it. Thankfully, I never reached a fully deconstructed state and was in more of a disaffiliated state, meaning I didn’t just drop my faith all together and declare myself an agnostic or atheist, but I dropped away from the church and became disillusioned, yet I maintained a hope (if only a sliver) in rebuilding my faith.
How did this slow process of “dismantling” or near deconstruction happen? It didn’t happen overnight, and I didn’t even realize it was happening while it was happening. Hindsight truly is 20/20. Insight from Joel Furches’ case study shed a great deal of light on what I and so many others have experienced. My deconstruction didn’t start in college. College was merely a trigger. The groundwork was being laid out well before that. Interestingly, Joel Furches mentions that it is well recognized that deconverts seem to come almost exclusively from fundamentalist backgrounds. I don’t want to mention my specific background in terms of denomination because I don’t want this to seem like an attack against a particular denomination, but I’ll just say that I can check the fundamentalist background box. Joel Furches identified five specific features common to the backgrounds of most individuals who deconvert. He mentioned that every person profiled in his study had at least one of these 5 features. I can identify with most of them. I will mention a few of these features that I specifically identified as part of my religious background “setting conditions” which provided underlying stressors that contributed to my almost deconstruction. These are not listed in any particular order. Also, of note: as I mentioned, I didn’t realize so much of this until later. It’s so difficult to see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of it, but with hindsight we can often see so much more clearly.
I listed 4 out of 5, but these are the 4 that I personally identified as relatable to my background. These are setting conditions that create stressors from which most deconverts emerge according to Joel Furches’ study.
These 4 setting conditions progressively creating stressors overtime combined with the trigger of having my faith intellectually challenged for the first time in college are what led to my near deconstruction...a slow growing process that went on for years (and yet I wasn’t even aware it was happening until I emerged from it and looked back).
People who find themselves in a process of deconstruction might have different background conditions that led them there. And this doesn’t only apply to deconstruction. Maybe you never accepted Christ or never turned to God to begin with because of similar issues or roadblocks to faith. Maybe you’re turned off by churches or so called Christians in general. Unfortunately, many people have had negative experiences in churches and sadly, no one does a better job of hurting Christianity than the people who call themselves Christians. Bad Christians sadly happen to good people, but not all churches are the same and not all Christians are bad apples. Or maybe, for others, the only message they’ve received about Christianity is the one they’re getting from the media where Christianity is seen as criminal televangelists who take people’s money, or maybe it’s the so called Christian leaders in the media who spew out illogical, inhumane, intolerant statements or hateful rhetoric that violate Christ’s greatest commandment--to love, but none of this represents Christianity. Many people who find themselves in this situation (disillusioned with faith or the church) are often unaware that there are other Christian traditions/churches where they might find a home. But there is hope. There are places out there...and I’m sharing my story to encourage you to keep searching if you are in this place of uncertainty or disillusionment with church and faith.
We occasionally visited new churches, but we struggled to find our place. I was craving a space where I could ask hard questions...a space where doubt was not a shameful word...a place where doubt could spur growth and where questions were welcomed. I was craving a safe space for all...a loving, authentic, truly inclusive community offering sanctuary and the open, welcoming arms of Jesus to all. I was craving a space where worship wasn’t a production, or a performance or a concert but where worship felt like connection and communion with God...a place where I could feel God’s presence. Did such a place exist for me to find? I mean after all, no church is perfect. The church is made up of imperfect people, so we can’t realistically expect too much, but I felt like what I was searching for wasn’t asking for too much. The Lord knew my heart. Even with my lackluster faith and half-hearted attempts to return to a relationship with the Lord...He was faithful to me and honored what little bit of faith I had and He amplified what little bit of desire I had. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
It all started with an invitation to a new church that was doing a new thing. I didn’t act immediately on the invitation because honestly, I wasn’t expecting much...I was sure it was just going to be more of the same. But then, I visited the website and I really loved what I read: “Team Jesus, with a dash of quirkiness” --- “a diverse, creative church”. It piqued my curiosity, so I watched a couple of sermons online, and I loved it. We started visiting with our best friends who were also searching. Then, I attended my uncle’s annual Christmas party, and in conversation, almost at the same time, we said to each other, “I found a new church!”...”really?, wait!! me too!!”...”Where?!” Almost in unison, we both replied, “Parkside Church”. Of ALL the churches in Charleston, we were talking about the very same church. Okay, this can’t be an accident. This church was old but new at the same time. It’s located at the historic Saint Barnabas and I encourage you to visit the website to learn more: https://www.parksidechs.com
So here, I was. Here I am. From near deconstruction to reconstruction...from fragile faith to a more robust trust (always a work in progress)...the faith I returned to was different from the faith I had grown disillusioned with. How different? Well, for example, just to quote word for word from their FAQ section on their website: “Who is Welcome” the answer: “Everyone. No, really. Everyone. Many of us at Parkside Church had negative church experiences before becoming a part of this community. Being a truly inclusive community is near and dear to our collective heart. No bait-and-switch. No exceptions.* *We mean it.”
And they do mean it. WE mean it. We’ve recently joined as members and I haven’t been this excited to attend church every Sunday in a very LONG time. I love the way Pastor Colin digs, teaches and preaches from the Bible, always bringing the context into the teachings and diving into the original Hebrew and Greek. Worship at Parkside brings me to tears of peace, love and joy every time--I can feel God’s presence. It’s truly a special place and God is present and at work in the community (not just the building) of Parkside. It feels authentically real...something I haven’t felt before. It feels like I belong...it’s like coming home. God has never been more real to me. If you’re thinking, “wow, I didn’t know you were such a Jesus freak”, honestly, neither did I, but Jesus is AWEsome. Research has determined Him to be the most historically significant, influential and written about person in human history, but He’s so much more than that. I am literally awed by Jesus, who is God’s ultimate expression of love for us, and I am awed by the ultimate fulfillment, joy and life changing experiences that He brings to those who encounter His radical love. Get to know this counter-cultural Savior who served and ministered with a heart for the marginalized of society and rejected religiosity based on rules and championed, instead, the idea that everyone is redeemable. That’s something I can get behind and so I believe Jesus is well worth following!
I’m so thankful Christ reignited the cooling embers of my faith into a growing passion. After a long season of doubt and near deconstruction of my faith, I have returned and fallen more in love with Christ and the church than ever before and it is thanks firstly to God and also to Rev. Colin Kerr and Parkside Church.
Are all of my questions answered? No, but I know they are always welcome and up for discussion. The purpose of questions is to know the truth, and questions can lead to a deeper, stronger, more robust faith. Using relationships as an analogy, think back to the beginnings of a relationship to someone you’re close to (a close friend, partner or spouse). Questions are what propel relationships forward into intimacy. In order to truly develop a strong, genuine faith, we must cultivate an environment that allows for genuine questioning. After all, God gave us minds and He doesn’t “mind” us using them. Christianity is not a prop for the weak minded. There are many brilliant, well-educated thinkers who have embraced God and Christianity. Francis Collins, director of the NIH and leader of the Human Genome Project is one such example. Christianity does not call us to be mindless or to bury our heads in the sand. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, and MIND. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:36-28) God is far beyond anything we could ever possibly conceive of or fully understand, but this is not to discourage us from seeking to understand God. The more we understand God with our minds, the more we love Him with our minds. I believe that some of us are just “wired” that way. I read an interesting book, “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas, which outlines nine spiritual temperaments or pathways to God (ways of relating to God). Think of it as a type of personality test in how we most naturally relate to God. In reading the book, I discovered that two of my strongest, most predominant spiritual temperaments or ways that I relate to God are through nature and intellect. Naturalists connect to God and may feel closest to Him through the outdoors and intellectuals connect with God via learning and stimulation of the mind. It makes absolute sense why I feel connected to God every time I’m in the middle of the forest observing nature or surrounded by the beauty of the mountains or why I feel closest to Him when I contemplate science and the intricacy and complexity of life and the universe. Our path of worship and how we connect with God isn’t one size fits all. After all, God has uniquely created each one of us with different qualities, personalities and temperaments so it makes perfect sense that these differences would be reflected in our worship and how we relate to God.
In closing, on this side of life, we cannot know everything and some questions will remain unanswered. While God can never be exhaustively understood, I do know that He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently...and for me, that is finally enough.
Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Wherever you are on your journey...seeking, questioning, contemplating, doubting...I’m always here offering a “safe space” to talk and contemplate over coffee (or mimosas).
Striving to build more than just muscle...seeking to grow in faith while building strength and wholeness of the mind, body, and spirit through Jesus Christ.