Lets be like Thomas; doubt and certainty in one

I wasn’t always a Christian. I first came to know Christ at age 14 and was heavily involved in the church, eventually assisting the vicar with the services and I also did a lot of Bible readings for the services. But something happened when I was about 18 that led to a lot of questions but very few answers, and I was in quite major financial trouble. By 22 I made a decision to sort out the problems and eventually walked away from the Christian faith. But I never stopped questioning and challenging and after moving to Oxford in 2008, I got to know a Christian couple who went on to become very good friends of mine and came back to Christ in their front room. My whole faith journey has been built on asking questions, expressing doubts, challenging views, getting answers then repeat. So it will come as no surprise that my favourite character in the Bible is Thomas.

I like Thomas but I was being taught that we don’t want to be like Thomas, because Thomas doubted Jesus and that doubt is the enemy of faith. How much of that is actually true though? Did Thomas really doubt Jesus and are we really expected to have no doubts at all in order to have faith?

The main story that seems to have earned Thomas his reputation is in Johns gospel, specifically chapter 20 verses 19-31, but this isn’t the only passage where Thomas is asking questions. In John 14, when Jesus is telling the disciples he’s off to prepare a place for them, Thomas pipes up “Uh, Lord? We don’t know where you’re going so how can we know which way?” Jesus gave him an answer,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him

Now, when Phillip, one of the other disciples chimes in with “Show us the Father that will be enough for us” Jesus reacts very differently; Phillip is given a serious rebuke, “How can you ask such a question? Don’t you know me? Believe me when I say I am with the Father, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” Keep that last bit in mind “believe on the evidence of the works themselves” because we’re going to come back to it.

Thomas also makes an appearance in John 11 which covers the death of Lazarus; Jesus is telling the disciples that he needs to go back to Judea. The disciples are like “You’re joking right? They tried to kill you last time and now you want to go back?” This is a justified reaction to be fair but Thomas, the doubter, the one we’re not supposed to be like, steps up and says “Come on guys, let’s go with him so that if he dies, we’ll all die with him”. It seems that Thomas was going to make sure that Jesus didn’t die alone. These 2 events capture Thomas perfectly; expressing doubts and asking questions but also showing complete faith by being willing to stand with Jesus no matter what.

So lets bring all this together as we look at John chapter 20. Verses 19-20 says;

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord

So Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his side and then they believed. Now, we know from verse 24 that Thomas was not with the other disciples so he’s not seen Jesus since he died on the cross. We pick the story up at verse 25:

The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Who is Thomas doubting at this point? He’s doubting what he’s being told by the other disciples and again, you can’t really blame him. Living in the first century under the rule of the Roman Empire, he’s know enough about crucifixion to know that unless they get a pardon, whoever goes up on that cross isn’t coming down alive. He has enough knowledge of biology and experience of life to know that dead people stay dead. So what has he asked for? Nothing more than the other disciples got; to see Jesus, to see the marks in his side and his hands.

So verses 26-28:

A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

What an affirmation from Thomas; my Lord, my God!. Thomas didn’t come to that place despite his doubts, he got there because of them. He was honest about his doubts and Jesus let him face them, allowing him to believe on the evidence of the works themselves as Jesus said back in John 14. The evidence that Christ had risen was him standing in front of them. Now, we don’t have that, we don’t have Christ physically standing before us which brings me onto verse 29:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

We haven’t seen Jesus physically risen as I said, but what do we have? The Gospels. John tells us in verses 30 and 31:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Luke says something very similar in the opening of his account. Now this can lead to the question “how do we know the Gospels are reliable”, and my response is “Yes, great question. Let’s look at that and have a discussion”. This leads onto other questions about the Bible because there are so many translations and interpretations, and we need to check what we are being told. This brings us onto the last passage I want to look at briefly which is Mark 16 verse 14:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Now, this passage is slightly contentious because it is part of verses 9-20 which don’t appear in early manuscripts and pretty much all Bibles have a footnote or some disclaimer saying as such, so that raises a set of its own questions. But who is Jesus referring to specifically when he said ‘those who had seen him’? The other disciples? The women at the tomb? All of the above? Does this mean we should automatically accept what we’re told regardless? This seems very dangerous as one US pastor found out when he took verse 18 and went with it without question;

they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The pastor was ultimately bitten by the snake and died from the poison. We humans are flawed, our understanding is never 100% correct 100% of the time. We have to question things, otherwise we can end up doing things that are incredibly harmful to ourselves and others. It can also lead to great social changes. It was doubting the then current understanding of scripture that led William Wilberforce to lead cry’s for the slavery laws to be abolished. It was his expression of those doubts that caused others to take another look at scripture and then join the cause.

So what is Jesus talking about in that passage in Mark? I don’t know, it’s one of those things I wrestle with and what is our journey with God if not a wrestling match? Plus, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t know’ because faith is not an expression of certainty, it’s an expression of vulnerability. It says ‘I don’t know if I can do this, but I know you’re with me Lord.’ It says ‘I can see all the pain, all the injustice, but I’m holding on.’ Too often we’re told questions and doubts are signs of spiritual weakness. They really aren’t, they lead to a richer spiritual experience and understanding as we explore and walk closer with God. Certainty is no guarantee that you’re with Jesus. Peter was certain in John 13:37; he said “I’ll lay down my life for you” and Jesus said “Really? When it’s all said and done you’re going to deny me 3 times.”

I found a quote from Archibald Macleish, who was an American poet and Librarian of Congress which says, “Religion is at it’s best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at it’s worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.” When Jesus said, “how can you take the speck out of someone’s eye when you have a plank in yours”, he was about asking us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our faults. How can we start doing something as huge as looking at our faults if we’re not even willing to start the process of doubting what we currently believe about certain things? Doubt is an inevitable part of that process. To quote Claus Westermann;

Where God’s words penetrate a man’s life and are taken seriously there are certain to be struggles and remonstrations and defeat; doubt and temptation also inevitably occur.

There are always things we are going to be certain of though. I’m certain in what I’ve said to you today and that doubting is not wrong and that nothing is beyond reproach. But doubt is not the same as unbelief, it’s a state between beliefs; so if you find yourself doubting, know that you are in good company and that it’s perfectly fine to be there. Jesus will be in there too, as he was with Thomas and as you walk with him with your doubts; and God is not going to be angry with you. Be ready to go places you were never expecting to go and be prepared for some conflict as you end up somewhere different to someone else. Doubts are only dangerous if we make them something to be ashamed of and we insist upon remaining distant from those who doubt and hold different beliefs. Like a splinter, pretending it doesn’t exist or thinking you are wrong for having one isn’t going to solve the problem and it can become infected if not treated.  Making people ashamed is the easiest way to get them to leave their doubts unchecked.

One final thing before I wrap this up; Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit before ascending. How can it be allowed to move, work, guide, show us something new, if we cling so tightly so our certainties and reject anything that contradicts them? It is through doubting that we grow, that we can walk closer with Jesus. Doubts are what make our faith our own, are what lead us closer to truth. It is impossible to be concerned with truth unless you’re genuinely open to the possibility that what you currently believe is wrong. There’s no 2 ways about it.

There’s so much more I want to say but I will end with this. I had my doubts, I still do and if I hadn’t explored them and wrestled with them, and still do so, I wouldn’t be a Christian now. We saw with Thomas that yes, he had his doubts but he was still willing to die with Jesus and that’s what ultimately happened to him when he was killed in India spreading the gospel. This is what we are supposed to be willing to do. I think we could do a lot worse than to be like Thomas. His doubts didn’t get in the way of following Jesus, and neither did they go away afterwards, indeed they were part of what allowed him to make such sacrifices because he explored, he doubted, he learned, he grew through those doubts and ultimately came closer to Jesus as a result.

 

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Maybe we deserve to be treated with suspicion

So in a recent article on Premier, Andrea Williams from the Christian Legal Centre is quoted as saying “We are seeing a worrying trend, whereby Christian parents are being treated with suspicion because of their faith” and my immediate thought was “well, maybe we deserve to be”

Looking through the articles I’ve shared on the Facebook page, the majority have been along the theme of the mind bogglingly stupid things Christians have done and come out with. From trying to restrict the rights of same-sex couples by banning them from marrying or adopting children and then disciplining churches who stand for equality, to completely ignoring modern science and history regarding…..well, everything pretty much and trying to get our religious views into law to force onto everyone, topped off with details on disciplining your wife and covering abuse claims; and these are just the ones I can remember. Is it really a surprise Christians are treated with such suspicion?

Now I know there are many instances of Christians not doing these and it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, but maybe we’ve reached the tipping point where our lunacy is outweighing any good we are doing. Even if it hasn’t, things can’t simply be swept under the carpet simply because they’re inconvenient and/or we don’t want to listen.

Maybe we deserve the contempt we get and if that isn’t sobering then perhaps we deserve even more.

Quick thoughts on the banned Lords Prayer ad; Part 2

So a couple of weeks ago the DCM (Digital Cinema Media) blocked an advert depicting the Lords Prayer from being shown in cinemas, and I penned some thoughts on why that was the correct decision and not a breach of free speech or an example of persecution. The controversy just won’t die down though and has been fanned into life once more with the news that cinemas are showing a short film which depicts animated Hindu gods; and once again Christians have whipped themselves into a frenzied mob including one very misguided Christian who put this together

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I say they’re misguided, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it manipulative because this picture leaves some out some very key facts which when known, really make this whole controversy another example of the Christian persecution complex.

First off, the Lord Prayers ad was not a short film depicting people praying, it was an explicit advert for the website justpray.uk. The Hindu film is not an advert so the comparison is false. If you’re looking for a similar Christian example, it’s much closer to the movie God is not Dead which was not banned and shown in many cinemas. Indeed the only criticisms that were leveled at  it was the scathing reviews on how horrendously atrocious it was (and yet somehow it got a sequel)

Secondly though and linked to this, as it’s a film not an advert the decision to show it lies with the individual cinema companies themselves not the DCM as they themselves have stated. So the Christian anger isn’t just misguided, it’s aimed at completely the wrong target anyway.

If Christians want depictions of prayer in movies, there’s no shortage of them. Heck even Day After Tomorrow has a small poignant scene of the President praying in a chapel, not to mentioned Noah and Exodus. If they want Christian characters in movies or Christian movies in general, do what the makers of this Hindu film did and make one; just make sure it’s better quality than the aforementioned Gods Not Dead.

So it’s very much ado about nothing and another case of where people need to stop and think before brandishing the pitch forks.

How blowing the questions wide open (with the help of some heretics) saved my faith

synchroblog

(This post is part of the synchroblog “What Saved Your Faith?” hosted by Ed Cyzewski to celebrate the release of his new book, “A Christian Survival Guide.” Get the book free today only!)

I’ve written about this previously over many blogs, so my answer has been cobbled from these, but it’s a question that comes up often; mostly from Christians who’s faith seems to be falling apart before their eyes. Hearing the stories of those who have come close to losing their faith, only to come out the other side again can be very inspiring. I hope my story does the same for someone.

If I were to answer this question directly, I would say that those who were considered heretics were the people who helped to save my faith and make it stronger. I’ve never been particularly scared to ask questions, or to challenge the views of others and express my own. Whilst I am very determined, I try to remain open to the possibility I am wrong, though I can be stubborn. An infinite being such as God is never going to be explained properly by my finite mind, so I try to keep it open. Discussions with atheists regarding religion, faith and evidence for God always left me feeling challenged but inspired, and therefore, I’ve always tried to take on board what I was being told.

But none of this really prepared me for my encounters with those regarded as religious fundamentalists. From the beginning I was bombarded with scriptures and was told the ways I should interpret them. Because I was still learning about the scripture, I took what they said as gospel and went with it. Difficult topics, like Genesis, sin, and hell, I went with what I was learning from others. But as time went on, questions began to come to my mind. What about evolution? Why would a loving God send people to hell? In my usual manner, I asked these questions to the people who I was discussing these issues with. Sufficed to say, the responses I got took me by surprise. Same scriptures but with the added “why are you questioning God?” in there for extra spice. “It doesn’t make sense to you? You just need more faith!!!” Wonderful! I just need more faith. How do I get that if I can’t ask questions? “Well you’re not asking the right questions!” Yeah, well that’s less than unhelpful, along with being overly aggressive. I retreated into my shell and just hoped it would all go away.

Something I heard Michael Ramsden once say kept coming back to me; “If you have doubts and you leave them un-answered, they will erode under your faith until eventually it all collapses.” It got to the point for me where that’s exactly what was happening. I couldn’t reconcile everything I knew with what I was being told. I risked losing it all, but according to some, I already was by sending people (and myself) to hell with my theology. What this talk did though was show me that it’s perfectly acceptable to have questions and ask them, and slowly, my confidence and my curiosity grew once more, and my need to ask questions returned.

During one of my Google searches regarding homosexuality and the Bible (it turned out that it was a huge topic for many so I wasn’t alone, which felt good), I came across an article by Rachel Held Evans, titled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation”. Lovely article which really demonstrated love for others. This resonated with me, this was what I was looking for. When I did a search for more of her work, turns out not everyone saw it that way. Many of the searches came up alongside the word heretic; “a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church”. This made me nervous. Was I a heretic for agreeing with her? I’d already been told I was going to hell, maybe this would just seal the deal.

As I researched more topics, more names starting popping up; Justin Lee, Richard Beck, Peter Enns, Derek Flood (who I will come back to), Jeremy Myers; each Google search revealed them to be considered heretics. But the more I read their work, the more they made sense to me. Not only with the points they made, but with the diversity of the questions they were asking. These weren’t people afraid to ask questions, they openly did it and confronted head on many of those who would rather they were quiet. They had opened up a whole new world to the one presented to me before, yet it was a vaguely familiar one as they vocalized the questions I had been suppressing. They took a lot of abuse for it, but they persevered. To this day, I still don’t know how. But in it I began to see the vaguest of ideas of what the Bible was getting at and more importantly, what it meant to be a Christian.

So with my confidence back, I adopted my usual grace of a free falling safe and dove in. I rediscovered what I’d lost – my relationship with Christ. That difficult, slightly odd but totally unique relationship I have with Him.

Everything became different as I learned to embrace the relationship once more, I tried to look to Him for answers and see things as He does. I have my quirks because He gave them to me. If I was expecting a smooth road from there on out, I clearly hadn’t learned my lessons from the past.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I refer to Derek Flood a lot. I can say that his book helped to save my faith. As I mentioned previously, in the early days of my faith, I was influenced by people like Ravi Zacharias and Michael Ramsden, but their interpretation of the cross, (that it was about the pouring out of God’s wrath onto Jesus) really didn’t seem to settle with me; it didn’t sound like the God I knew. Previous issues regarding Genesis and the whole inerrancy issue were coming back to the forefront as a result. The work from the likes of Peter Enns and John Walton were helping me with these issues, but I couldn’t understand God and His wrath. It wasn’t until I read Flood’s book that I began to understand that the cross was about restoration, not wrath. Until that point, what I was coming to understand about heaven (courtesy of NT Wright’s work), were just words that sounded great, but I had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Flood’s book acted like a pen joining up the dots, not just about the cross, but about virtually everything that I couldn’t reconcile. It blew away my fears, and I felt a freedom and a peace that I hadn’t had since that night at my friends house.

When you’re in the middle of working through something, and you have all these voices telling you conflicting things, having people you trust who you can go to can really help you to find a path, but in the end, I had to work it out for myself. When relying solely on other peoples opinions, you run the risk of simply being blown about in the direction of whatever author you happen to be listening to at the time. Also, your understanding isn’t really your own – it’s your understanding of somebody else’s point of view. Your faith is effectively somebody else’s. It is a fine line to tread, but there is a difference between being influenced by someone and saying “this is true because they say so”. It isn’t wrong to listen to others, it’s how we learn, and it certainly gives a great starting point. It may even result in a massive breakthrough like Flood’s book did for me.

Looking back, the people I mentioned (and countless more I’ve missed) have helped shape my outlook on the Bible and my faith. These “heretics” have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. They blew wide open the questions and dared to go down roads many deemed too dangerous. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything, but it encourages me to think differently about things and to be confident when doing so. You can’t do any of that without support, and I’ve not always had that from churches, so I often have to remind myself that it is ok to take a step back. It’s also opened my eyes to a great many things, I still have lots to learn though, and lots to work on, but at least I feel more confident to walk alongside Christ once more.

 

What saved your faith? Write a blog post answering that question and then visit this post at Ed Cyzewski’s blog to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide.

What I’ve learned from my time away from social media

I can’t avoid social media – Facebook being the only way I can keep in touch with people probably didn’t help with that, but every article has links to the sites social media sites and buttons to link articles to social media. It has become the easiest and most popular way to share and obtain information.

I felt I was missing out – During my hiatus, it occurred to me that the reason I was on social media so much because I was afraid I would miss out on something. With so much content around, it is hard to keep up and I felt I had to keep up or I was missing out. So I ended up pretty much spending every moment on Twitter just to feel part of getting the news out.

I want to be at the front – I also wanted to be one of the first to get information out, so everyone would come to my Facebook or Twitter for the information, to be regarded as being at the forefront. I feel I have so much to share, and that to do that I need to be at the front of wherever I am, be it social media or church. It really gets to me when I feel I don’t get given the chance.

I’m jealous of Micah Murray – Well, not Micah Murray specifically, but those who have large fanbases and get thousands of views per post whilst I struggle away in my little corner of the interweb for little reward. I would write a post and get my usual dozen views and a few weeks later someone writes a post on the exact same subject and it’s all over the internet; so yes, I get jealous, even though I know they’ve worked at their craft and reaping the rewards and fair play to them for that.

I tried too hard to be a blogger –  I write my views in a blog from time to time, but sometimes I tried to be deep and clever and thought provoking because I thought that’s what bloggers should do. Being a blogger is a cool sounding title, I wanted to call myself one but it’s not what I do or who I am. Learning is good, and I have lots to share, but blogging regularly probably isn’t the best way for me to do it. There has to be a reason, sometimes it felt I was blogging just to get ahead of the curve or because I felt I had to because everyone else would be.

I work just as well from the back – When I stop worrying about whether I will be noticed, and just get on with what needs to be done, I seem to have more confidence in what I’m doing; that or I just feel more relaxed because I’ve stopped worrying about trying to climb the popularity tree. During my first facilitation session with The Great Men Project, the teenagers didn’t really listen to me so my partner did most of the talking. That allowed me to listen to what was being said, pick out a couple of statements that were missed by others and turn them into a question to keep the session going.

I’d split my life – I have a personal FaceBook page and one associated with this blog. What was happening was that all the “religious” articles would go on the blog page and everything else would go onto my personal page. I’d almost split my faith from the rest of my personal life. Oddly, it’s not much of an issue on Twitter since the account for my blog has pretty much become my personal page now. In my personal life, I think I have a better idea on when to talk about my faith and when to leave it out of conversations, but mix it

I want to be Jason Bourne – Or a world champion darts player, Batman would also be cool. Why I imagine these things I have no idea. I also play out conversations and scenario’s that are unlikely to ever happen; either to be ready or to imagine me actually being the winner. This is probably why I keep myself so busy, to stop this happening (past scenarios haven’t always ended well)

My confidence can quickly turns to arrogance – When I get confident and relaxed, I have a tendency to over state what I can do. I can get a bit aggressive which just makes my confidence sound like arrogance; probably because it is. It’s been a while since I felt confident, sometimes I forget it needs to be reigned in.

Battles are never far away – Life sometimes feels like a maze with no solution, and there are no shortage of people who want to line up and remind you of that. Then there’s the challenges that this maze and those in it provide and since there is no solution, the battles are endless……but we fight not because we can win, but because it’s something worth fighting for.

Still very unsure about church – I think I’ve found one that’s more a style I’m used to, but I keep finding excuses not to go. Eventually I’ll go and wonder what all the fuss was about, I’m not quite there yet though, and I’m a little nervous about being treated as a puzzle to solve or worse.

I think I just miss Jesus – I struggle with being in silence, reading…..praying. My relationship with Jesus is like my relationship with my friends; haven’t seen them for a long time, speak occasionally but still friends and need to have a proper meet up.

I do what I criticize others for – having read a lot of blogs from a lot of people and organizations, you get an idea for what people write. Now, if I see anything from The Gospel Coalition (for example) I just don’t read it because it’s likely to just get me very angry, ever since that “gag reflex” article. I find myself doing that with others as well. I’ve tried to have a stance of giving people the benefit of the doubt, to treat arguments on their merits, but as soon as I see articles from certain people, I’m just not interested.

I’m in a pretty good place – Maybe it’s the lots of sun that we’ve had recently, but despite of the above (or possibly because of the above) I feel I’m in a good place at the moment. I’m not broken, I have issues to work through sure so I’m probably a little cracked, but a mosaic is basically pieces of cracked material.

Lets talk about sex

Doctor: “There is a powerful biological drive, at times almost impossible to resist. Species are driven by these urges in order to survive”

Kes: ‘But isn’t that why we have minds? To look beyond biological urges, to consider the consequences?’ 

Star Trek Voyager, Season 2, Episode 4 (first aired September 18th 1995)

 

Sex. It’s everywhere; movies, internet, TV, adverts.  It’s also pretty fundamental to the survival of any species since you can’t make more of your kind without it (though with technology anything is possible I guess). It’s probably why the desire to have sex can be very strong, especially when the hormones are in full flow. This, according to some Christians, is the sole reason people (and boys in particular) are having sex; they just go with the hormones. Added onto this is the notion that girls are tempting the boys with sex, and suddenly it’s all the girls fault. I don’t want to overplay it but social pressure to have sex is immense on teenagers nowadays. It’s considered weird to be in a relationship and not be having sex, and it’s weird if you’re not having non-committal sex if you have the chance. The rules aren’t exactly the same for men and women. If you’re a man and you sleep with loads of women, you’re perceived to be a stud and looked up to. If you’re a woman and you sleep with loads of guys, you’re perceived to be a slut and looked down on. The response of some Christians to this situation is to suggest that chastity until marriage is the only way to go, and that any girl who doesn’t is used and tainted. Very much gives the impression that sex within marriage is going to be amazing even if it’s your first time, and that a woman’s value is found in their virginity.

Are these really the only options we have to offer? Sleep around or be hidden away until marriage? Blackmail celibacy or make them feel like discarded trash? By absolutely no means. For starters, a persons worth is not measured by their virginity. Sex, whilst an important part of a relationship, is not the be-all-and-end-all. I’m not married and I’m not a virgin. Do you think I have nothing to offer my fiance?  Trust, respect, love, friendship, commitment, loyalty; these are the basis of a relationship, these are things I can offer. This doesn’t mean I simply give away sex as a side. When I first had sex, it was something my girlfriend of the time and I talked about beforehand. We talked about what it meant and why we wanted to do it.  It wasn’t a rush of hormones or her being a temptress, it was a honest open conversation between 2 people who loved and respected each other. Imagine that. If you’re expecting it to be mindblowing first time out then, unless you’re very talented and a natural, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Our first time was a little awkward and stop/start, and I have no doubt the first time with my fiance (who will be my wife then) will be the same. Men just aren’t going to be like James Bond right off the bat, and women aren’t going to be either. Like most things in life, you get better with time, practice and experience.

Julie Gianni, a character in the movie Vanilla Sky said “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not!”  If we just look at the mechanics there is a huge amount of intimacy required which may suggest the character is on to something. I’m not going to go into too much detail (I’m too shy for that) but think about how vulnerable a woman must make herself in order for man to enter her. Think about how a man has to be ready before he even gets to be allowed to do so. As John Eldredge poetically put it in his book Wild at Heart:

“The man comes to offer his strength and the woman invites the man into herself, an act that requires courage and vulnerability and selflessness for both of them. Notice first that if the man will not rise to the occasion, nothing will happen. He must move, his strength must swell before he can enter her. But neither will the love consumate unless the woman opens herself in stunning vulnerability. When both are living as they were meant to live, the man enters his woman and offer her his strength. He spills himself there, in her, for her; she draws him in, embraces and envelop him. When all is over he is spent; but ah, what a sweet death it is.”

Some may have issues with the suggestion in the quote above that sex is more about the man, that’s fine, but I think overall it shows the level of intimacy involved when 2 people have sex. That closeness is bound to have an impact on someone psychologically.  Hollywood, the internet; all often give the impression that sex is a consequence-less act, and we like to think that we should have what pleasure we want and have no consequences, but life rarely works that way. Even if people want to underplay it, having sex is a big deal.  People may also have issues with the religious undertone of “living as they were meant”, as well as the spiritual connotations of “making a promise even if you don’t” but as Bonnie Fuller wrote; You don’t have to be religious to be religious about thinking you deserve to wait for a man, who cherishes you and might want to spend a lifetime with you.

Teaching the value of sex is not a bad idea, I fully encourage discussions about the full meaning of having sex. Teaching that it’s for marriage only (if you believe that it is) is not a bad idea. Hooking the idea that if they have sex before marriage they are worthless onto it is blackmail and has devastating consequences. Teaching girls that if they had sex it was their fault for tempting the man is just nasty. Teaching that the man is simply a slave to their hormones is offensive. Dealing with having sex can be hard enough without having that heaped on them too, especially when it’s not even true. Saying no is hard, hormones and pressure are a potent combination, add in being in love and it’s even more powerful. We need to be alleviating pressure not adding to it. Surely a better way would be education about what sex means and involves and helping them develop a sense of worth that is based on just who they are, not what they do or don’t do. If you want to ground that worth in being a child of God, then absolutely go for it, but God won’t love them any less or value them any less if they do have sex outside marriage; and neither should you. I think you’ve also got to trust them to make the right decision and go about it in the right way.

I don’t regret not waiting until I was married. I made a clear decision with the girl I loved and we went into it fully knowing everything involved. Yes talking about it can be awkward and may get some sniggers or the stiff upper lip treatment, but it needs to be talked about and it needs to be done in a far better way than it is now. As Proverbs_8 on Twitter put it; “The saddest form of encouragement is the kind that uses shame”

Build the commonality, then discuss differences; picking my way through my recent Twitter conversation

It’s still amazing to me how one comment can cause a ripple in the force of the internet and before you know it, everyone’s jumping in the topic ends up on the other side of the planet. It does reveal a lot about people and how discussions are carried out though, as well as raising some very difficult questions.

On Twitter this week I read a post that read (and this is exactly how it was put):

Ive SEEN 100s HEALED of CANCER and OTHER PAIN and DISEASES JESUS HEALS EVERYDAY ASK PRAY BELIEVE

To which my response was:

and when he doesn’t heal you?

Why God does not heal people, or leaves it a long time before he does, has always been a difficult point. Some of the responses to my question involved Gods timing being perfect and that he has a plan. This suggests its part of Gods plan for people to suffer and wants them to. This is just grotesque on many levels, and is in no way related to what Jesus taught. Another response was about our sufferings now are nothing compared to the riches of heaven. Whilst I believe that God will renew and heal the world and rejoin it with heaven (both combined are Gods kingdom), we’re still left with the issue of suffering now. This is one of the main reasons cited by atheists as to why they don’t believe in God. I can fully understand why this is, and I think that some of the responses do nothing but treat peoples suffering with contempt and simply dismiss it. I get that we’re trying to understand it, but lets not make it less than what it is and/or trivialise it.

Things got interesting when atheists started weighing in on the conversation. Sadly though, the conversation very quickly degraded into an insult slinging match. The main comments were that all religious believers were delusional and stupid and suggesting professional help; one went as far as saying that the only way they could believe what Christians do is to have a labotomy or a tumour. What came to mind on this was the fact that despite some atheists believing that belief in God is some kind of mental illness, there is no effort or even talk about getting it classified as one. For all their bluster, they don’t seem to be taking much action against something they feel people can and should be cured of. One of the things they cite is the claim made by Christians that God speaks to them. This conjures up ideas of actual voices similarly with schizophrenia. This is where Christians don’t really help themselves or assume far too much. Christians do alot of talking about hearing God, God speaking to them, putting things on their heart etc, but what exactly does this mean? As a Christian, I absolutely believe that God guides and inspires people. I also believe that sometimes we attribute things to God that did not come from him. How do we tell the difference? Great question, I’ll come back you when I have an answer. Rachel Held Evans wrote a great piece on Chrisitanese and how it’s often used as a barrier, as well being concepts that some Christians don’t even understand. The point though is that with a few exceptions, no Christians claim to hear voices when they say God spoke to them and claim God told them to harm others; this could be one way to tell the difference, when did Jesus command people to harm others? Those who believe belief in God is a mental illness may point to a clinical definition of schizophrenia which includes;

Delusion – Unusual beliefs not based on reality which often contradict the evidence

They will claim it is not based on reality and contradicts evidence and therefore is a delusion.  Professor Andrew Sims, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leeds and Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, wrote a book titled Is Faith Delusion in which he argues that faith is not, indeed cannot, be a delusion. He writes:

I started with the question, is faith delusion? I spent some time looking at precisely what delusion is in psychopathology and then measuring religious faith against it. I concluded that faith, of itself, is not  and cannot be delusion, although people frequently have delusions that include religious and spiritual content. I covered briefly various other abnormal phenomenological states and found that, although those with religious belief may well experience them, faith was not causative. I also looked at the nature of personality to assess whether faith could be construed as a product of abnormal personality. Although variations of personality affect the manifestation and self-experience of belief, religious faith exists independent of personality. Finally, I examined the phenomenon of faith, observing its cognitive, affective and volitional aspects. This process has been carried out from the perspective of descriptive psychopathology.

When it came to the tone of the conversation, some responses by Christians didn’t exactly help matters. Telling someone they’re demonic is not the greatest negotiation tactic. Some of the things they came out with also made me scratch my head. Things like:

“i know,but she doesnt have a heart at this moment for God.She will need to be humbled b4…she will want God. But if you want evidence…he provides that. It is a 2way relationship…not a myth”

There’s just seems to be so much arrogance to that statement. It is like calling yourself humble, if you have to call yourself it then you’re not. Michael Greens statement sums it up:

Some Christians really do give the impression that they have arrived and that all the rest of us are just struggling in the dark.

They give this impression when dealing with other Christians too. The response was spot on and really hits on something that has crept into Christianity:

the problem is, he assumes anyone who isn’t Christian doesn’t have a good heart.

Absolutely, this seems to be a massive assumption within Christian communities; that atheists can’t be good people. This is just utter utter nonsense. The statement about not having a heart for God was followed up about them being angry at God. Atheists not angry at God, you can’t be angry at something that you don’t believe exist, but many seem to be angry that there are people who believe God exists. This is just weird that people get visibily upset at the thought that someone believes something they don’t. I get being angry at the actions of people that they claim is in the name of religion, but insult those simply because they believe something different? Oh yes, very enlightened. Also, I didn’t have a heart for God when I became a Christian and every single person has the same choice I did; say yes to God or say no. Quoting scripture at an atheist to prove a point is just a waste of time in most circumstances. Not because they’re not willing to listen, but they don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. It’s like trying to prove a point by quoting the Koran to a Christian; same thing.

Inevitably the question of evidence came up and this didn’t go much better. Claims from Jesus is the evidence to Jesus didn’t exist were thrown about; and accusations that no evidence was provided even though links to what the evidence is were posted less than a minute earlier. It does seem sometimes that the ones who scream the loudest about evidence, are the ones least interested in it. There were 2 really interesting statements made on this. One I’ve heard expressed in various ways from both atheists and Christians, and that is if there was evidence you wouldn’t need belief. This is straight out the Richard Dawkins textbook, and completely misunderstands what belief and faith are. We believe things when we have reasons to, when we have had enough evidence to persuade us. As W.H Griffith Thomas wrote:

[Faith] affects the whole of man’s nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.

Even a glance at the dictionary shows that the concepts of belief, faith and evidence are linked. The Christian faith may be wrong, the evidence for it may not actually point to its truthfulness, but it simply is not the case that it can’t have evidence purely because it is a faith. I was given a slightly back-handed compliment when I was told not to give up my reason as I will eventually see religion for what it is. Whilst it was refreshing to hear an atheist acknowledge that a Christian can be reasonable and rational, they still seemed to struggle with the fact that reason and rationality are reasons people are not atheist. Atheism probably makes about as much sense to many Christians as Christianity does to many atheists.

Looking back through the conversations, I’ve realised that it went all rather predictably. Some atheists think Christians are mentally ill, some Christians think atheists are immoral, both seem to think faith and evidence are enemies and the internet really isn’t the place to hold discussions with people you don’t know; especially about such an emotive topic as religion seems to be. Something atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said I think is very true:

Unless you’ve got commonalities, you can’t really discuss things. If you’re just talking completely past each other, it gets kind of boring. It’s where you share an awful lot then things get really interesting

I have many atheist friends, and we discuss religion quite often; but we know each other, we share other interests. When you don’t know them, it’s easier to keep people at a distance and caricature and mock them than it is to make the effort to get to know them I guess. That just doesn’t make for a conversation that goes anywhere.