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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
143 pages
Jul 2003
Global Publishing

Surprised by Faith

by Don Bierle

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During my undergraduate and early graduate studies in the natural sciences, I was cynical about faith and religious people. I viewed faith as anti-intellectual, an excuse for a lack of hard knowledge. Science, on the other hand, dealt with objective truth in the real world. Religious faith was not truth; it was personal preference and opinion. The strongest faith was that which a believer held on to without real evidence, indeed, in spite of evidence to the contrary!

Furthermore, I caricatured faith as an emotion. It was a kind of security blanket for the less informed and insecure. These people used religion to generate a false confi dence. But I suspected that it was an illusion. In reality, I thought, there was little substance there.

It was my third caricature that revealed the most about me. I felt that religious faith was a crutch for weak people. My science associates agreed. It was okay if it helped those who were not able to handle life, but as for me, “I was very successful without it, thank you!”

But this view was not entirely adequate. It was unsatisfying and did not provide answers in my struggle with the signifi cant issues of life. I, like others, struggled with questions and fears concerning death, feelings of personal guilt, and an awareness of an ultimate lack of meaning. Clark Pinnock, a contemporary theologian, has written of what I felt at that time:

    We are experiencing... a loss of meaning in our time... According to humanism, for example, a man or a woman comes into the world devoid of any inherent worth, meaning or direction, entirely on their own. There is no larger purposive order in which their lives participate. There is no signifi cance or value for them which they do not create for themselves. They are driven logically to sympathize with Macbeth: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”1

Why was I on planet earth? What signifi cance and value did my life have? Several years ago the musical sensation, the Beatles, asked a similar question:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to—
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”2

The Russian novelist, Tolstoy, put it this way: “What is life for? To die? To kill myself at once? No, I am afraid. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? In order to die? And I could not escape from that circle.”3 It was questions like these that led me to a reexamination of the nature of faith. I came to the realization that my perspective was really a caricature — a cartoon distortion of faith, not the real thing.


Identifying the Problem: A Finite Orphan

Perhaps an illustration would help at this point. Imagine with me that nothing exists—the entire universe has vanished. We, too, no longer exist. Now let us imagine that some soil appears in this vacuum. Some may prefer to call it chemicals or the periodic chart of the elements. To indicate that it’s fi nite, we will put it inside a triangle. What is the purpose of this soil? Every answer to that question assumes the existence of something else. For example, the soil is for growing plants, or as a foundation for trees or buildings. But there are no plants or buildings—only soil. If soil is truly the only thing that exists, its purpose cannot be demonstrated.

To solve the soil’s problem, visualize grass suddenly appearing on the soil in our imaginary universe. The soil now has a purpose — to grow grass. But what of the grass? In a universe consisting of only dirt and grass, what is the purpose for grass? Some of us would quickly say, “Golf!” But there are no golfers. Others may suggest that it is for food or beauty or to enjoy its softness under foot.