One thing that’s missing from the sidebar here at the newly-designed blog is my Why I Believe in God post. I used to keep it up there to give new readers a high-level explanation of what convinced me of God’s existence, thinking that it might even offer fellow seekers insights that could help them walk their own paths of conversion. But when I re-read it in the process of transferring my files over to the new host, I realized that it doesn’t give the full picture of how I came to believe in God.
Back then, I thought of my conversion as 100% my doing: I gathered evidence for God and Christianity based on reason, facts, and experience. I concluded that it was more likely than not that this was all true, and therefore I chose to have faith in God and his Church. The end.
It sounded right. That seemed like what happened from my perspective back in late 2006. But now, a few years later, I see things that I didn’t see back then. In fact, now that I have that objectivity that only time can bring, when I compare my old, atheistic mindset to the vibrant faith I have today, I see that what has happened within me is impossible. Seriously, impossible. It’s not something I could have done on my own.
I’d heard along the way that faith is a gift. I’d even read the part of the catechism that talks about faith, and I’d always feel puzzled about that part where it says:
In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”
I didn’t get it. At the time, I thought of experiencing God’s grace as some hugely powerful event that involves lots of drama and weeping, so I figured that that last part somehow didn’t apply to me. I’d done the whole “act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will” part, but God must have forgotten to move me by grace.
It seemed to be something that only happened to other people (like in former atheist Joan Ball’s powerful experience of instant conversion, which she describes here). I chalked it up to spiritual ineptitude on my part: even if God were to try to give me some moment of grace, I’d write it off as emotional experience, analyze it to death, dissect it from every possible angle until any power it may have contained had been killed. I went the safe, boring route that was a better fit for my engineer genes: I simply read and researched and made a purely intellectual decision.
But the more I consider what has happened in my soul (including the occasional “I can’t believe I believe this…but I do!” moments), I see now is that I could never have had the level of belief that I have today without a supernatural force acting within me. Though my beliefs are still — have always been — founded on reason, I believe at a level that surpasses reason. It’s more of an awareness of God that has seeped all the way down into the innermost recesses of my subconscious, rather than a mere conclusion I drew based on analysis. And that’s not something I could have willed my way into.
In other words, just like other converts, my conversion did hinge on the direct action of God in my life — it just looked different for me.
The way I think of it now is that every conversion follows the same basic process: you use your free will to seek God. The way you seek will be totally different than the way someone else seeks: a naturally spiritual person may have only a five-second “seeking” process consisting only of beholding a glorious sunset; a more analytical person might take years to read up on reason-based arguments about God. Whatever the process, at some point you’ve seen enough data that you become open to God. As time goes on you become more and more sincerely open to his presence, and, at some point, you reach a tipping point: a level of openness where you can finally receive an abundance of the grace that God has been trying to give you all along. And only then will you be filled with that deepness of belief that simply would not have been possible through human intellect alone.
I think of it as reaching gracepoint, a word I made up to pinpoint that first moment when a person has opened the doors of their mind and heart enough to have deep communion with God.
Different people will get there different ways, but the two things that I’ve noticed that everyone seems to need in order to reach this “gracepoint” are:
- Some reason to consider believing (anything from an unusual experience, inner feeling, compelling data, etc.)
In my case, for example, my reason to believe came from all my research. After that, I considered myself a “believer” in the sense that I thought it probable that God existed. I figured I’d stay in that lukewarm state forever. But that’s when factor #2 (humility) came in: everything blew up. Our business started failing, our finances tanked, I developed a life-threatening blood clot during pregnancy, then had another (unexpected) pregnancy right after that. It was humbling, to say the least.
I wasn’t so flip about everything. My questions about God and the meaning of life got a lot less petulant and a lot more sincere. My ego was down for the count, and I was able to seek truth without the spiritual racket of pride blaring in the background. And it was there, in one of those moments during that difficult time, that I reached gracepoint — I finally opened my soul to a point that the presence of God could flood in. And that is when I began to believe — I mean to really know that God is real down to the core of my being.
And that’s what my old piece about coming to belief in God was missing: I made it sound like it can be all intellectual. I implied that the solid faith I have now came from me alone. The truth, I see now, is that all my research, effort and experiences simply got me to gracepoint. And the rest was up to God.
UPDATE: Some readers rightly pointed out that conversion is all grace, including the seeking part. I should have clarified that better in the post. Perhaps a better explanation would be to say that the “gracepoint” moment was when the scales tipped for me to actively cooperate with grace at a much bigger level than I had before and, after that, I no longer had to put so much of my own effort into it.
I think I made the mistake in the way I phrased it because, to be honest, I did not feel God’s grace in the slightest in the seeking process. It was there, of course, but it sure didn’t feel like it. But after that tipping point, I was as aware of God as I am of the sun. Faith was just a given after gracepoint, whereas I’d had to struggle through it up to that point.