Eight o’clock British literature class always inspired dread and longing in me. Dread because I only ever read half of the week’s assignments, skimmed the other half, and expected to be the first one called upon no matter how hard I tried to avoid Dr. Moore’s gaze; longing because I couldn’t wait to receive Dr. Moore’s feedback, usually praise, of my written responses.
This week I’d be getting back my commentary on Thomas Huxley’s “Agnosticism and Christianity,” a text I’d actually read. However, I didn’t expect to get my usual praise. My written responses could not have been considered thoughtful or analytical, but rather they were pitiful admittances of my own ignorance and confusion.
Sitting on my bed earlier that week, trying to tune out the arguing of my roommate and her boyfriend, I had read Huxley’s bold declarations:
Now I, and many other Agnostics, believe that faith, in this sense is an abomination; we do feel that the disagreement between ourselves and those who hold this doctrine is even more moral than intellectual…we [Agnositics] have not the slightest objection to believe anything you like, if you will give us good grounds for belief; but, if you cannot, we must respectfully refuse, even if that refusal should wreck morality and ensure our own damnation several times over.
Wow. Damnation. That Huxley surely was a serious fellow.
A Perfect Storm
At this same time, I was taking Introduction to the New Testament, a class seemingly user-friendly to a young, naïve, churchgoing girl like me. But this class was anything but faith-friendly. This class seemed to have Huxley himself, disguised as a Methodist pastor, teaching from the front podium.
Much of the class is a blur now. I just remember the first day the professor led the class through a series of questions and answers that went something like this:
“Why do you believe in Jesus?”
“The Bible tells me so.”
“What makes the Bible the authority?”
“The Bible says that all scripture is inspired by God.”
“How do you know this?”
“Where’s your proof?”
“Well, then, how do you know?”
This first day was followed up with classes dedicated to the study of problems in the transmission of the Bible—scribes adding to or taking away from the original texts; the Academy of Yaveh, a group of rabbis who sat down and decided which books to include in the Old Testament; Gnosticism, a mystical approach to spirituality that denounces the Old Testament; and the authenticity of Jesus, similar to all the shows on TV you see evaluating Jesus as simply a historical character.
Halfway through the semester I traded in the textbook and desperately began reading “The Case for Christ.”
All the biblical criticism coupled with Huxley’s demands for grounds for belief left me reeling intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Fear weighed heavily on me because I had lost all sense of truth. If God could allow me to lose my faith so easily, did He really ever exist? Where were my grounds for belief? Did I have any? It seemed that all the grounding I had—all Scripture is God-breathed—had been fragmented by a devastating earthquake called a liberal college classroom.
I didn’t want to be a stupid Christian—one who just relies on faith as merely a cop-out. I prided myself on my intellect, and in my eyes, my knowledge needed to match up with my faith. I kept telling myself that as a Christian I needed to nail it all down. Put everything in its proper place. Have my beliefs defined and supported, written down in a little black detective’s notebook that I could whip out at any time and say, “Here it is. This is God. I have Him figured out. I. Know. It. All.”
Looking back now, I so clearly see God shattered my element of pride through this experience.
You Don’t Have to Understand Everything
A fundamental question my college class spawned was this: How can I be certain that over thousands of years, the accounts of God and Jesus have been passed down accurately so that the Bible I now hold in my hand is absolute truth?
And my answer is to humbly admit I cannot place my faith in any man—not the original writers of the Bible, the religious leaders who may have decided which books to include, or the scribes who copied and translated it. Every man is fallible.
But God is not.
He is perfect in creating, sustaining, perfecting and finishing what He has started, using whatever means He chooses—humans, nature, angels or the Holy Spirit.
God used that period of doubt in my life to bring me to a right knowledge of who He is and who I am. He is the all-knowing—not me. He is perfect in wisdom—not me. He has all knowledge—not me. And because of this, I now bow in awe of Him and echo these words from Scripture because I know them to be true:
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal. He humbles those who dwell on high; he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.” Isaiah 26: 3-5
In class that day, my commentary on “Agnosticism and Christianity” was passed back. And on the bottom of the page, in green cursive, Dr. Moore had written, “It took me years to understand that I didn’t have to understand everything—or be afraid of any truth I might discover. God will always be bigger (and deeper and taller) than we imagine him.”