I think it’s common for people who are interested in spirituality to change their views. I probably don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the number of times my beliefs have changed during my lifetime. It makes sense, really, that if an infinitely wise God exists (who is unfolding our lives, as I believe is the case) that He would cause us to experience and understand things in different ways as our lives develop, all as part of the game of life He is unfolding.
The feeling of certainty in spiritual matters is an interesting phenomenon. We can be absolutely convinced of the truth of a certain idea, and then in either a short or long amount of time, change our views so we are absolutely convinced of an opposing position. Perhaps you have had the experience of watching a debate, and felt your beliefs go back and forth as the debaters each present very convincing arguments for opposing positions. I’ve had this experience many times (watching debates is one of my favourite hobbies).
There’s something I find disconcerting about watching someone hold to a certain belief unswervingly, even though I do respect people when they are passionate enough to defend a particular position in debate. I often wonder, “Well, can’t you see where the other person is coming from? And isn’t their view just as valid?”
This is one of the things that troubles me on my own spiritual journey. I can see the validity and sense in a number of arguments that are directly opposed to one another. One example of this is the deity of Jesus Christ. I understand and appreciate Christian arguments which support the deity of Christ, and I understand and appreciate Muslim arguments which deny the deity of Christ.
The subject of the alleged deity of Christ is a matter of such gravity theologically that I find it deeply troubling that I can appreciate both Muslim and Christian views on the subject. I do not want to commit either way, for fear of being incorrect, and yet I consider how it could be possible that one of the two faiths is absolutely correct on the subject, and the other is in error.
It’s possible that I could spend the rest of my life studying the Qur’an and the Bible, and go incredibly deep into the relevant issues, learning all the original languages, studying manuscripts and reading scholarly books which aim to shed light on the subject. But I fear that however deep I were to go in my explorations, there would be convincing arguments on either side of the debate.
I understand why religious people might defend their particular faith identity at all costs. I have been a very passionate evangelical Christian, and have been rock solid in my defence of the Christian faith at times. But after studying the sacred texts of other religions, I have felt just as passionate about positions contrary to orthodox Christianity. The question we all want to answer (well, I’m guessing I’m speaking for the majority of readers of this blog) is “How can I be right with God?”. We all fear suffering, and desperately don’t want to go to hell, and this is what motivates us to take a hard line in matters of faith.
I desperately, desperately, want to be right with God and not go to hell. This is the motivation behind so much of my writing, both on this blog and in my books. The thing is, to commit to a particular faith position is to take the risk of being incorrect, and as I have already indicated, the gravity of committing one way or another is a risk which I currently feel is so enormous that unless I discover a knock-down argument for a religious position which enables me to make a lasting decision, I will have to maintain a level of caution and open-mindedness.
There are many spiritual seekers who don’t commit to a particular religion, but that’s often not because they deeply fear God (as is the case with me), it’s because they don’t believe in God, or haven’t read the Scriptures of the Abrahamic religions. Many people who say ‘Jesus was just a great moral teacher’ haven’t genuinely engaged with the New Testament and so haven’t experienced the incredible power behind the words of Jesus which are cited in the Gospels (and the arguments made by Paul and other New Testament writers). In a similar way, many people dismiss Islam without having read the Qur’an.
I think some people don’t commit to a religion because they don’t want to put themselves in submission to God; they want to hold on to a kind of egotistical power they feel from being able to do whatever they please without the rules and rituals of religion. But a true appreciation of the existence and attributes of God makes the question of religion, and more specifically the dilemma of whether to affiliate with a particular religion, of the utmost importance.
There are some matters related to religion that I have felt certain about for many years. One is that in reality there is only one God. Another is the reality that God is in control of everything that happens. These two beliefs shape my theology, but they do not settle the predicament of which religion I should commit to.
I wonder whether it is acceptable to God that I don’t feel I can commit to a particular religion. Different people reading this will have different views on that, depending on their personal biases. The hope that I hold onto is that God is merciful and will answer my sincere prayers for guidance and direction, whether that means committing to Islam or Christianity or taking another theological position.