“God’s mysterious ways.” If you grew up in the church like I did, you’re probably familiar with this concept. It’s the box where we like to put all the things we’re not sure about. All the pieces that don’t seem to fit together with the rest of what we know about the world.
Do you wonder why God would allow so much evil in the world? Put it in the “God’s mysterious ways” box. Not sure why God would give us so little evidence of His existence? Just shove it in the box. We can’t work out the whole puzzle because we can’t see all the pieces. But God can. So, when we find the pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere, we can just put them in the box and let God deal with them.
Growing up, that’s what I did. I was a curious kid, so when I would come across something about God or the Bible that didn’t seem to add up, I would first wrestle with it and try to find answers. As much as I wanted to find the truth, however, what I really wanted was to find evidence that supported my truth. So, I stacked the deck in my favor by only reading Christian apologetics books like Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ and Josh McDowell’s A Ready Defense. (As an 8th grader, I was not yet aware of confirmation bias).
Even with my one-sided approach, however, I still couldn’t fit all the God pieces together. I saw a lot of holes in the apologists’ explanations. As hard as I tried, I just wasn’t persuaded by many of their arguments. Nonetheless, I was still so convinced that God exists that I kept my faith that all the pieces must fit together. I didn’t know how, but I was sure that they did. And since putting all the hard pieces into the “God’s mysterious ways” box left me with only the easy pieces that fit together nicely, my puzzle looked neat and coherent and obvious. I didn’t think anyone could genuinely doubt it.
Until I did.
It started when I was 23. I had just graduated from a Christian university and was starting graduate school in philosophy at the University of Arizona. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by more atheists than believers.
At first it was easy to hold onto my faith. My belief in God still seemed justified from my perspective. But then something happened. As I got to know my atheist friends and colleagues, I began to look at my beliefs from their perspective.
I started taking out all the things I had put in the box and looking at them in a new light. And I realized that from their perspective, all of the pieces that I had shoved in the box—some of my deepest beliefs about God—looked completely crazy.
A man was born to a virgin 2,000 years ago and is supposedly the Son of God?
Even though he was supposedly God, he had to die in order to save us all from our sins?
He was killed and then supposedly came back to life three days later?
I had been taught at such an early age that God exists that all these things seemed normal to me. If you’re sure that God exists, it’s easy to believe crazy things about him. After all, if God really is God, then of course He could be born to a virgin, walk on water, come back to life after three days, and forgive all our sins. Easy peasy.
I had always been satisfied putting these things in the “God’s mysterious ways” box. But then I began to wonder, what if there is no box? I had always just assumed there was a God box because I had assumed that there was a God. But what if I hadn’t started with this assumption? What if I hadn’t been raised in the church and taught to believe in God at an early age?
The only difference between me and my atheist friends and colleagues was that we started in different places. When I came to philosophy, I already believed in God; they didn’t. So, when we examined arguments for and against the existence of God, we had very different points of view. We actually saw the arguments differently. “God works in mysterious ways” seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation to me because I believed that God does exist and that He does work in mysterious ways. To those who didn’t already believe in God, however, this explanation seems like a cop out.
I began to see their point.
I put myself in their shoes and thought about how I would view this response if I didn’t already believe in God. Since my belief that God exists was so ingrained in my worldview, it was difficult to know exactly how I would perceive things if I didn’t believe in God at all. So, instead, I imagined what I would think about these arguments if they referred to a different god, one that I was certain was made-up. Suppose someone who believed in this made-up god made the same arguments that I made about my God. What if I questioned them about a particular belief of theirs that seemed crazy to me and they just responded that their god “works in mysterious ways”? There is no way I would be satisfied with this explanation. It’s not an answer unless you already buy into the story.
Which made me wonder: What if I was wrong about God’s mysterious ways?
Even worse: What if I was wrong about the whole thing?
This is Part 1 in a series on faith and doubt. To read Part 2, click here. There is much more to this story. If you don’t want to miss the rest, you can subscribe to my newsletter for updates and exclusive content!
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*Photo credit: https://www.lifeofpix.com/photo/misty-forest-2/
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