Sunday, November 20, 2005

What Do You Believe When You Don't Believe Anything?

Function: nounEtymology: German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing -- more at NIL1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

By the time I was 30 years old, I had spent a lot of time deciding what it was that I believed.  I decided that I believed nothing.  I did not believe that God existed, but neither was I confident that he did not exist.

I worked as an engineer.  My work relied on a system of ideas about how the universe works.  Yet I felt that those ideas seemed to be under constant revision.   Relativistic mechanics replaced Newtonian.  Quantum physics seemed to raise all sorts of troubling questions.  At any given time, we seemed to have an understanding that worked to help us in a limited way, but it was never settled and unchanging.  So I used the prevailing scientific beliefs to do my work, but there was no sense of security or finality about those.  They gave me no sense of purpose.

I married and I divorced in the decade before my 30th birthday.  I had thought that perhaps love was something that could bring purpose and meaning to my life.  But the love I had was frail and easily destroyed by my own selfish desires.  I felt powerless to sustain it.

I had begun to drink heavily.  I was obsessed by the song “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd.  The following lyrics described the condition for which I strove:

There is no pain, you are receding.A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.You are only coming through in waves.Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re sayin’.When I was a child I had a fever.My hands felt just like two balloons.Now I got that feeling once again.I can’t explain, you would not understand.This is not how I am.I have become comfortably numb.

I looked for the right combination of alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, and tranquilizers that could bring the relief I so desperately sought.   There were moments when I felt that I had come very close.  But they were increasingly rare.

I sought companionship and found some solace there.  I filled my days with work and entertainment.  I spent little time alone.  I sought comfort with friends, girlfriends, and chance acquaintances.  There were time of hilarity and times of profound sadness.  

I found that it was impossible to live consistently within my “unbelief system”.  I said I believed nothing, but I carried on my life, my work, and my leisure as if it were important to do so.  I found no reason to ascribe to any particular set of morals, and yet I retained a strong sense that some things were wrong and others were right.

In the midst of all this confusion, I found Barbara.  She will have to tell her own story.  But I can say that she must have been nearly as confused as I was.  Otherwise I very much doubt she would have agreed to marry me.  From the first night I met her, I felt quite certain that it was important to stay with her, but I do not think I could have explained why.  It may be the closest thing I had to faith in anything in those days.

Barbara and I were wild.  Since those wild times involved her and others whom I love, I choose not to recount them.  We were wild and tossed by the winds of circumstances and emotion.  Yet today I am sure that God’s plan encompassed it all.  I was simply unaware of it.

I had abandoned all hope of knowing truth.  Even the idea of truth itself was suspect.  I had abandoned all hope of knowing God or even of knowing whether such a being existed.  I abandoned some morals and embraced others. Nonetheless, I felt that all morals had no basis other than my choice.  

There is a bumper sticker that says “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace”.  I did not know peace.  The closest I could come were moments of being comfortably numb.  Those moments became very rare indeed.  Moments of torment and fear became common.  I thank God for that pain and terror.  It is horrifying to think that without it, I might have continued to live an empty life.  No direction.  No purpose.  No hope.  It was the pain and the fear that drove me to seek help.  It was God himself, who used the consequences my foolish life to bring me to the point of despair that was necessary before I could abandon the idea that I was the judge of what was right and what was wrong.  I had tried so hard to reject the lies that I was taught as a boy, that I had rejected the idea that anyone but me could ever know right from wrong.  Now I understand Eve, very well.  God commanded her and Adam to avoid a single thing in the paradise they lived in.  Satan lied to her, and she chose to believe the lie.

Genesis 3:4-5 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
4The serpent told the Woman, "You won't die. 5God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you'll see what's really going on. You'll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil."
I chose to believe the same lie.  Thank you, God, for loving me enough to bring the pain into my life that enabled me to question that lie.  Even as I wrestled with the pain, you spoke to me.
God spoke to me, and said, “I am not your concept, you are mine.”  I thank you God that I came to realize that you are the beginning and the end, not me.  You are the way, the truth, and the life.  And there was only one way I could come to you.
That is a story for another time.

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