Fathom Mag

My atheist professors were normal people and somehow that made it worse.

Searching for answers beyond reason.

Published on:
October 15, 2018
Read time:
3 min.
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I didn’t understand my faith until I almost lost it. 

Growing up with morning Bible stories and nightly prayers, Christianity was always just there. The whole thing came so naturally that it didn’t really require faith. I didn’t have to believe in God. He was as real as the Sunday morning donuts the church gave out every week. 

Still, I wanted to know all there was to know. I studied scripture and tried hard to develop the right theology. I learned good Christian doctrine. I found answers and knowledge, but I still had no faith.

My professors were just normal men and women who weren’t convinced about the whole God thing, and somehow that was worse.

This only got tougher as I got older. I’d sit in philosophy classes with sweat running down my forehead as professors brought up arguments against God’s existence. They were never militant or angry like my homeschooled-self expected them to be. They were not terrible, immoral human beings. My professors were just normal men and women who weren’t convinced about the whole God thing, and somehow that was worse. 

Honestly, I never expected my classes to challenge me. I prided myself on my open-minded approach to “engaging culture.” I thought reading thinkers who disagreed with me set me apart from other Christians, that it gave me an edge I could use to convince people that I really knew my stuff. I restlessly gathered information and read books and articles from various perspectives, balancing it all with writings on apologetics and debate videos and believing all this would equip me to take on the intellectual world. 

The pursuit felt so noble at the time. I thought I would be the one that finally heard people out and lovingly walked them to the truth. Now I’m not sure that those were the real goals. I think I just wanted to prove that I was not being fooled, not just to other people, but to myself. I never read or discussed with the intent to listen. I did it to fight, and when you’re always ready to fight, when you’re always looking to defend something, you start feeling like you are the hero of the story. If I can say the right thing, find the right answer, connect the right dots, then I’ll convince them of the reality of God. My faith rested on how much knowledge I could acquire. 

I even began believing that God needed me to do all of this for him. I searched harder for the answers because I thought that’s what Christ wanted most: for me to know. It drained me, and I started wondering if I would ever stop questioning. Other arguments became more convincing. Some of their points left me speechless, nervously pacing around my room looking for the answer that would silence that doubt forever.

Around this time, the apologetic books stopped helping as much. Conversations with peers became more specific. We no longer talked generally about something like ethics; we’d get personal. They would ask about the Christian ethic, my ethic, and tell me they were not convinced. 

I started questioning it too. Did I really care about people? Have I misunderstood love? Were my beliefs even ethical? The burden of proof weighed heavy on my shoulders, and to relieve it I’d just search for holes in the thinking of every argument I encountered. Even when I found some, the questions would not go away. I searched for ways to tighten my grip, to save Christ from slipping through my fingers so my faith could remain in my hands. 

I searched for ways to tighten my grip, to save Christ from slipping through my fingers so my faith could remain in my hands.

My last semester took the most out of me. Each of my six classes pushed me further and further into uncertainty. I started losing the energy to fight and began seeing that thought and reason alone would not lead me or others to Christ. I felt defeated, sure that I had reached the end of the road with Christianity, but something still held me. There, in the tension between what I knew and what I could not know, I began to rest.

At first, I didn’t know why it felt okay, and I didn’t trust the uncertainty. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard calls this the leap of faith. It is not thoughtless, nor unreasonable. It is beyond thought and reason. As he writes in Fear and Trembling, “faith begins precisely where thinking leaves off.”

This was the reality that I was missing. All those years, I searched for answers that I thought would lead me to God. They took me far, but they could never take me all the way. Encountering the truth of God requires faith. It calls for a leap beyond what we can understand. The Apostle Paul writes that the righteous live by faith, not by reason or skilled debate or by having every right answer. They live by faith. In 1 Corinthians 13, he tells believers that in this age, we only know the truth in part; we see dimly in a mirror. For too many years, I tried to bring clarity to the world, to see it in full. I wore myself out pursuing a knowledge that is simply unavailable right now. While I hold onto the hope that one day it will come, I have learned to rest in beauty of this tension, treasuring its mystery and having faith that there is more to see.

Joseph Honescko
Joseph lives in McKinney, Texas with his wife, Ginny. He teaches High School English and serves as the editorial director of The Grounds Journal where he regularly writes about literature, art, and faith.

Cover photo by Val Vesa.

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