I know of no word that describes someone like me.
“I’m agnostic,” I said out loud one day to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. It felt wrong; what was I doing? I’ve believed in God my whole life. In fact, I still do. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, so agnostic isn’t the right word to describe me anyway. And yet, “Christian” feels equally ill-fitting; it carries within it implications that don’t describe me either. I acknowledge Jesus’s divinity and redemption from sin, but have little certainty about everything else. About whether he’s the only way to heaven. About whether hell is a real, literal place. About whether my gay friends with spouses are living in sin.
I recall a Facebook post from a seminary friend a few days ago: a friend who is writing a series on his blog about common theological dilemmas, and he attempts to solve them with apologetics. He is smooth, certain. Confident. Everything I used to be, but can’t feel anymore. And to make matters more complicated, the “answers” he offers aren’t really answers for me, but rabbit holes leading to more questions. I ask him what he thinks about C. S. Lewis’s thoughts on apologetics: that there is no bigger threat to the Christian faith than attempting to answer the unanswerable. I send him a link to another friend’s blog post, about how apologetics are for those already “saved,” not for the “lost,” curious to know his opinion.
His response is swift and assertive: “You either believe or you don’t. If you don’t believe, then you’re not a Christian.”
I don’t have the words to explain that it’s not that simple: that the heart can want to believe, but the brain can’t. Can you make yourself believe in something for which there is no evidence? Can you make yourself believe in concepts that seem to go against your sense of morality?
I want to explain that we can’t choose our beliefs the way we choose what to have for lunch. We believe in what makes sense. We believe based on evidence. Is there not some loophole for the person who wants to believe, but struggles to make it happen?
I’m not sure how I can claim to still be a Christian if my best answer to difficult questions from atheists is “I don’t know.” I picture the reactions of my former college Bible study leaders, who chided me over missed “divine appointments” because I was too introverted to make the first move. That’s what “I don’t know” is: a missed opportunity to share the gospel, even if the words are rote and the message feels stale. But at least “I don’t know” is the intellectually honest response. Wouldn’t pretending to have my faith together be breaking the commandment to not bear false witness?
If I’m full of doubt and still want my old faith back, then perhaps I’m a terrible agnostic. I may have what my friend Laura calls “the heart of a Jesus follower with the brain of a skeptic.” But there’s no box to check off on a Pew Forum survey for that.
I still read my Bible and I still pray. I still attend Bible study at my church, still hoping for answers. I don’t expect this will gain me any “points” with God, but I hope it shows I’m still trying, that my heart is open to new knowledge and whatever else he might have to show me. I think I’d truly be finished if I decided, right here and now, to give up altogether; that this Christianity thing is a farce and a complete waste of time. I’m not there yet. I hope I never get there.