As I was out running errands today, I was wondering how it is that there is a new stain on the carpet every single day without me ever witnessing anything getting spilled. But since that’s irrelevant to the topic of this blog, I’ll tell you the other thing I was thinking about: how I would explain my current faith to myself back when I was an atheist. Faith in the unseen was such a baffling, foreign concept to me back then. If I could go back in time, how could I ever convince 25-year-old atheist Jen that 31-year-old Christian Jen had not totally lost her mind?
Obviously, it wouldn’t be difficult to make a logical case for belief in some sort of designed universe or god-like force. Though Old Me might not have agreed, I wouldn’t have thought that New Me was totally insane. What would have puzzled me, I realized, is how I could believe so much of this stuff. To have a dry intellectual acceptance of a Creator is one thing; to believe in every single teaching (including all the “crazy stuff”) of one particular church is quite another. As I drove around suburbia this morning I tried to think of a way to explain it, and the best I could do is this very rough analogy:
Imagine that you inherited a very large, complicated, old machine, and that you were in charge of using and maintaining it. Nobody knew who built it or where it came from. To keep it running smoothly, you had some tools that you’d created based on observing the machine and making your best guess about what it seemed to need. Then one day someone tells you that they have a different set of tools for you to try. They say they happen to know the guy who originally built the machine, and he created these tools to go with it. You’re highly skeptical that anyone could possibly know who created this machine; besides, the tools look rather unwieldy and difficult to use, so you dismiss the possibility of trying them. You feel annoyed that this person even offered you his set of tools, figuring that he must have had some ulterior motive for trying to get you to stop using your own perfectly good tool set.
Yet, as time goes on, you find that your tools aren’t getting the job done as well as you’d like. The machine is still up and running, but repairs you’d previously made are now causing other parts to break. New, more complicated problems are arising and you find that your tool box has nothing in it that is able to make anything other than the most rudimentary repairs. Keeping it in basic order is increasingly difficult, and getting it running smoothly again starts to seem impossible. You try some other tools that were also created by people who had observed the machine, and none of them work much better than yours.
Then you remember that that one guy said he knew the machine’s creator. You recall his tools, remember what they looked like, and realize that one or two of them might actually be just what you need. So you call the guy back and ask to take another look. You test a couple of the ones that look like they might be helpful, and find that they fit like a glove. The machine starts working better. You try another. It gets better. On a lark you even try one that doesn’t seem like it would do anything at all. And the machine gets even better. Then you notice some crazy-looking tool that appears almost dangerous, that seems like it might even break the machine if you tried it. But, since everything else works so well, you start to suspect that this tool set really might come from the creator of the machine. So you brace yourself for the worst and try the odd tool. Not only does it not break it, but the machine starts running more smoothly than you ever thought it could. It starts to do things you didn’t even know it could do!
Based on the results you’ve seen, you can easily believe that this entire set came from the machine’s original designer. It was said to have come from the creator, and every single tool you’ve tried indeed bespeaks a deeply intimate knowledge of the machine. You realize that it would be difficult for a mere operator of the machine to come up with any one of these tools, and impossible for them to design the whole set. The tools are just too perfect — yet perfect in very surprising, non-obvious ways. So even though a few of the tools are too complicated and intricate for you to understand how and why they work, and though there are still some tools that you haven’t even tried yet, you have no problem accepting the set as a whole. The more familiarity you gain with it, the more you get used to working with this new set of tools, the more it just becomes plainly obvious that all of it — even the parts that you can’t fully explain — comes from the creator.
And there you have it: one of the worst analogies of coming to faith I’ve ever heard…but the best one I could think of today. I’m not sure what Old Jen’s reaction would have been (other than to motion for the waiter to bring another gin and tonic), but hopefully I would have at least gotten the concept that when Christians accept certain elements of their religion on faith, it’s not because they’re naive or want to tell themselves nice stories, but because they’ve found that the more faith and trust they put into their religion, the more they see bold, tangible, previously inconceivable changes in their lives.
Editor’s Note: This is not a post that would have normally made the cut. However, one nice thing about having comments closed is that I can throw out thoughts that I don’t think are that great and pretend that nobody is even reading the site anymore anyway. And nobody can comment to tell me that my analogies are lame. 🙂
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