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The faith of unbelievers

Plenty of people say they would believe in God if they "knew for sure." Amelia explains why skeptics don't usually find God when they go looking for Him.
Not everyone believes in God, but we all believe in something.

When we think of "beliefs," we often think "religious beliefs." Consequently, people who don't believe in God or in the teachings of any one religion might assume that they have no beliefs. But it's not possible not to have beliefs.

Basically, beliefs are our ideals of what's important, our perceptions of what's real or powerful, and our concepts of which things we perceive to be good or bad. Beliefs come in many forms. They can center around the things that some people hold out for, like good health, happiness, love, success, and luck. They can be based on ideas about things like intelligence, hard work, strength, and talent. They can involve seeking comfort from things like friendship, money, material possessions, and medicine. Even though we probably don't think of them this way, these things are all beliefs. They represent the ideals we chase, the directions we turn for solace, and the hopes to which we cling against all odds.

Then, there are also the so-called nihilists—people who believe in nothing. Nihilism isn't an absence of beliefs, though. It's a belief in, literally, nothingness. Everyone believes in something, even if that something is nothing.

The problem with beliefs like these is that they eventually let us down.

Nothing in the world is infallible. There are things that science can't explain and medicine can't heal. There are problems that education can't solve and intelligence can't comprehend. Health and physical strength eventually fail everyone. Willpower and self-control often vanish in the face of temptation. Hard work doesn't always pay off, and the fruits of our efforts don't last forever. Friends leave, relatives betray, and relationships end. Even love, the way the world defines it, sometimes comes to an end. It's not possible to be happy all the time, and there are certain kinds of unhappiness that nothing we have or want or are can fix. Money and material things aren't everything, and they often cause a good deal of our problems. Self-esteem, coping strategies, and relaxation techniques don't change reality; they just dance around it. As for nothingness, what can come out of it other than precisely nothing?

No matter how strongly we believe in things like these, at some point we'll always end up wondering what went wrong. Faith in the wrong things always lets us down.

Faith that disappoints.

Everyone trusts, everyone hopes, and everyone believes. The only difference is "in what." The reason that we all have faith, even if it's misdirected somewhere other than toward God, is that, deep down, we all know that we're inadequate in at least a few ways. On our own, each of us is incomplete in one sense or another, and as humans we feel the innate need to search for something to make things better—something to complete us, fix us, or fill the aching hole inside of us. The need to believe is human, innate, and immortal.

What we believe in, though, makes all the difference. If we fully trust in something or someone to make life seem worth living, and then that thing or person ultimately lets us down, the psychological outcome of that let-down can be devastating. Suddenly, we realize that we don't understand things anymore; everything we once knew seems to have shattered. It's the kind of let-down that, if strong enough or experienced frequently enough, can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

In difficult moments, we might find ourselves wondering: "What's the point in having faith in anything if it's ultimately going to let us down?" However, faith itself isn't to blame. It's not wrong to believe and hope and trust; we just have to make sure we're not believing and hoping and trusting in things that will ultimately fail us.

Only God never fails. It's impossible to see this or understand it if we don't first believe it, but God never fails. Our faith in Him may fail us frequently, but God Himself never disappoints.

If we're all going to end up believing and hoping and trusting in something no matter what, shouldn't we believe in the only One who will never let us down?

Believe and see.

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
— John 20:29

Some people say they don't believe in God because they can't see Him and don't know for sure whether He's here. But can we see electricity? If we're not electrical engineers, do we "know for sure" that it exists, or do we just blindly believe? What if we never had plugged anything in, never seen anything that anyone else had plugged in, and refused to believe them when they tried to convince us it was real? Would we still believe so readily? We believe that electricity exists because if we look with the expectation of finding it, we can see evidence of it all around us. We would find evidence of God everywhere, too, if we looked.

The problem is that we don't always look. Some of us refuse to believe that seeing God is possible, so we don't even bother to try. We're so desperately thirsty for real peace and real love and real joy, so afraid to lose what we've never been able to truly find, that we often don't look to the only One who can give us all those things—and so much more. Meanwhile, though, we're often willing to drink from every other cup we see; we place a tremendous amount of faith in secular advisors of all kinds. Some of us are even open to taking leaps of ungodly faith, trusting in psychics, reiki masters, aura cleansers, shamans, and witch doctors. Whether any of these cups leaves us feeling temporarily satisfied can vary, but our thirst will always return, always leaving us more parched than we were before. What's more, any type of "help" that can be gained from the occult isn't actually help; it's a perceptual lie that carries with it life-threatening spiritual danger. Some of us are willing to risk even this, yet we're not willing to open our hearts to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And what a shame that is.

Recall the story of the Samaritan woman, whose thirst couldn't be satisfied by the things of this world (John 4:7-42). Like us, she returned again and again to comforts that, in the end, still left her needing something more. Like her, we'll never find true fulfillment until we turn to Christ the Savior.

Seek and ye shall find.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
— Matthew 7:7

If we wanted to find God, we would. Christian faith isn't a fantasy. It's not some "crutch" to support weak people. It's not a psychological consolation to make us feel better about the many things that are beyond our control. Prayer is our vehicle for an actual relationship with God, and Christian faith paves the roadway. God is real. He's here. He's everywhere. It's not a fairy tale. If we believe in Santa and look for him, we're not going to find him. If we believe in The Tooth Fairy and look for her, we're not going to find her. But God is real; if we believe in Him and look, we're actually going to find Him. It's impossible not to.

The only catch is that we have to look the way He tells us to look. We can't look for God in impossibilities—in the things we wish were true, in thoughts of how we'd make the universe work if we had been the ones to create it. We have to take reality as it is. In time, with God's help, we'll gain understanding about why things are the way they are; it all makes sense to those who are willing to trust.

Life disappoints us sometimes, and God allows us to face those disappointments, but that doesn't mean His love has failed us. If we have the correct kind of faith, we'll understand that The Lord has a well intended purpose behind everything, even the things we can't understand. We might not always know what that purpose is, but we can learn to recognize that it exists. In God's love for us, He gives us understanding. With His help, we can even look at the disappointments that have fallen before us and realize that we were blessed to have faced them.

But how can we expect to receive God's help or His gifts of understanding and wisdom if we're convinced that they don't exist? We don't want to "waste our time" believing in God if He's not going to make our lives better—but it's precisely because we don't believe that we fail to see Him guiding us every step of the way.

Someone once said to me: "I don't believe in God, but I don't disbelieve either." He wanted to keep an open mind and discover the truth for himself. He didn't want to be convinced by a person or a book; he wanted to be swept off of his feet by an experience that would give him absolute certainty. The longer he waited, the less he believed. Last I heard, he was still waiting.

Making the right choice.

In life, it's possible to be on the fence about many things. We can be neutral, we can wait to make up our mind, or we can spend our whole life in indecisiveness or unknowing. When it comes to faith in God, however, there's no such thing as being neutral or not knowing. If we have even the tiniest drop of doubt, it cancels out all traces of hope and trust. Doubt is the same thing as disbelief. If we have an attitude of, "If there's a God, He'll show me," we're setting up a situation that, very likely, will only disappoint us. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we look for blessings that we don't sincerely believe we'll ever see, we then don't end up seeing them, which confirms our initial doubts. The vicious circle of skepticism only makes itself stronger as we chase our way around it; at some point, we have to choose whether we're going to believe in God or not. And it is, in fact, a choice.

The choice to believe or not is ours, but the reality that God exists is eternal. Our disbelief doesn't make it untrue. Moreover, somewhere along the road of life, whether in youth, old age, or in the moments of physical death, every single one of us ultimately comes face to face with the realization that God is. We all cry out, "O my God!" at least once in life and honestly mean it. Why spend a whole lifetime, until then, fighting it?

Hope and trust in anyone or anything else will always leave us short of true happiness. Other kinds of faith promise unlimited rewards in time only, offering us nothing for eternity—only the opportunity to decompose in a grave. Christ, on the other hand, promises us the entire kingdom of heaven—the whole world while we're still here, and so much more when we've departed from here. And, while we're walking around on earth, busy trusting in His promise of salvation, God is also busy blessing us with everything we'll need until then. God is the real meaning of love, and real love never fails. Never.

There will always be opportunities in life to stop and change directions, and there will be many alternative directions in which we can travel, but only one will truly be what we need it to be—what we urgently crave in the deepest, most private places in our souls. We might be fooled time and again by false senses of happiness, false teachers, and false gods, but we'll always keep searching for the One whom our hearts know that they need. The longing we feel is a natural part of being human, and so is the lifelong search to fulfill it.

Whether we ultimately find God or whether we place our faith elsewhere is up to us. But before we decide not to believe in God, we owe it to ourselves to consider a few things:

Is there truly nothing missing from our lives?

Can we handle everything, even the unfathomable that could potentially come our way?

All of these forces, concepts, and principles in which we trust, hope and believe—are they really everything we need them to be?

Answer honestly.