Road to Royalty – The End of Me

The End of Me

Probably, the biggest contribution to my destruction came from the institution that was meant to do the opposite. Because I was born into the arms of this organization, I found that it had come to influence every aspect of my life. Thus, when I realized it might have deceived me, I was devastated. For some time, I was scared to recognize this possibility because of the far-reaching implications of such a proposal. Yet, as I purposely pursued the truth, I realized that I had to ask questions even if I knew I wouldn’t like the answers. The following questions are some of those that became foundational to my criticism of the institution known as the church.

Uncredible (January 2009)

Why has the church discredited itself?  A culture of questions demanding empirical evidence required the church to provide answers and synthesize truth with lifestyle. However, the church responded to the culture by pulling away and offering criticism from an impractical framework.

Why is the church focused on getting it right? Jesus fought against the Pharisees who were more concerned about doing God’s law the right way than about caring for other people. James says true religion is to care for the poor and the widow (James 1:27). Many in the capitalist church spend their time criticizing and blaming them for their unfortunate circumstances.

Is it better to constantly ask what the truth is, or to constantly declare to have found the truth? Without intense skepticism, one will be less confident in the truth. The skeptics question forces the truth to prove itself. Which is worse: an unanswered question, or an unquestioned answer?

If church leaders disagree on the truth, why does each one claim to have found the truth? Would it be better to agree that no one has the true interpretation of the Bible than to disagree over what the true interpretation is?

How does one construct an appropriate view of reality? Does most of reality exist apart from what one can see? If so, how does one interact with it? Is humanity’s focus on the empirical, evidence of a fall into futility? Is it even possible to live in true reality?

 

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After growing up in a micro-culture, I was intrigued by ideas from The Matrix, The Island, and Inception. These movies showed people stuck in a system they thought they understood but really didn’t know about. At times their senses and reasoning seemed to inform them accurately. Ultimately, though, even the viewer was left uncertain about what was actually true.

In the same way, there are some systems of faith that explain reality in a much more useful manner than others. Some make logical sense, others appeal to the heart, and a few make no sense at all. One principle stands throughout the unending human quest for truth: it is a search to which all are condemned and in which many will be disappointed.

Some have chosen to deny that the search exists, but the very requirement of denial is yet another proof of its existence. If the entire universe seems primed to search for truth, then it seems reasonable that truth exists. Furthermore, if this truth exists there must be clues to discovering its existence.

Finally, once it is uncovered this truth must be a source of life like no one else knows. If humanity can be mildly happy with some form of truth, then the discovery of its pure form must be one of the happiest events possible.

Having travelled through multiple cultures, both inside and outside geographical boundaries, I have noticed that everyone’s view of truth is different. This became a huge problem for a believer in objective and universal truth. In my world, every interpretation of reality that did not agree with mine must be wrong.

Like many others, I had settled down with the little piece of truth I had discovered and ignorantly claimed it to be the whole truth. I then attempted to worship this small sliver of truth without realizing there was so much more.

My limited view of truth was irrecoverably shattered when I realized that my ultimate standard of truth, the Bible, was interpreted and applied differently in different contexts. When I realized that everyone had a different picture of God, I almost gave up the idea of truth completely.

Even if truth existed, I could find no way of being sure I had found it. Although there are stupid things to believe in, they cannot always be logically identified. Even reason itself requires faith that one’s ability to reason will lead a person to a fuller understanding of truth. Thus, the quest for truth begins with an assumption of faith.

This assumption of faith is made necessary by the inability of humanity to acquire perfect knowledge. Faith steps in where knowledge is limited and allows the individual to interact with the world around him or her in a systematic, predictable way.

To the level in which faith reflects the truth of how the world functions, the individual will be successful in his or her interactions with reality. Wherever faith is based on fiction instead of truth, the interactions with reality will not produce the intended results.

Everything a person believes to be true can be traced back to a fundamental assumption of faith that determines his or her reality. Thus, the most important question a person can answer is where he or she will place that faith. If faith is a choice and this choice must be confirmed by reason that bases itself upon certain faith factors, it is a circular cycle that must be supported and perpetuated by the object of faith. This cycle either starts and ends within the individual or outside of the individual.

In Christian thinking, faith must be started and completed by God Himself. In practice, then, faith becomes a lifelong process of revelation through action that is never fully completed. The quest for a true understanding of reality requires a constantly humble, open mind. As the truth reveals itself to self-deceived people, it must patiently wait for maturity and understanding by the individual before advancing its education.

In my own life, I had never been forced to exercise faith in God because I had faith that reason could provide me with a true understanding of reality. I had placed my faith in my ability to understand my relationship with God through the use of reason. When I realized that others used faith in their ability to reason to justify their disbelief in God, I began to wonder how what I believed was any more or less valid.

Limited by my own intellectual ability, I was not prepared to accept an alternative object of faith from an academic source. I feared the common human problem of forming arguments on the basis of citations by other humans. These citations may or may not have been tested practically before they were applied as a means of identifying truth. Since faith happens in action not in definition, pure intellectual reasoning by myself or some other source could never comprehensively reveal the truth or identify falsehood.

Thus, I refused to make myself and my ability to discover truth through reason into the objects of my faith. However, I had no other object of faith by which I could determine a course of action.

My existing claim to faith was nothing more than a logical standard of mental processing. This led to actions that were inconsistent with what I thought I believed. Because I acted as if something other than what I believed was true, yet declared something other than what I acted upon to be true, I became frustrated with myself.

Something was wrong. Even though I had knowledge of God through faith in my reason, this had led to a lifestyle that looked religious, but not Christian.

Having nothing left with which I could claim to understand reality, I became completely open to having the truth shown to me by something other than me. If truth existed in some form other than that of my limited perception, it must reveal itself.

Atypical Weekend (January 24, 2010)

Lots of homework to catch up on this weekend…Way too much stuff on my mind. Don’t think I’ll go to morning church tomorrow since I was so bored last week.

Shaken Foundations (January 31, 2010)

Searching for truth; finding only trust. If it’s true, I’ll never find it, why do I long to know it with such passion? Where can I go to discern reality? I wish to escape from this prison of empiricism, but how I can find something better, I don’t know. Do I adopt the blind faith of a little child who knows no better? When the very foundations of reality are shaken, where does one turn?

No church again. I can’t bring myself to participate in something I can’t understand.

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The previous two journal entries are typical of my thoughts throughout this time period. I wrote them because I realized that someday I would probably want to look back at this time in my life and remember something of the painful experience. My frustration did not stay limited to the church. It spread to every area of my life until one day I had to do something about it. The italicized portions of this section were copied directly from the thoughts I wrote on paper as I experienced one of the worst days I can ever remember.

The End of Me (February 4, 2010)

11:00 am

I am skipping class today…. not because I want to, but because I have to. For the first time I can remember, my emotions have overcome my common sense logic and all I want to do is figure this thing out: this burden that haunts me in the day and keeps me up at night.

I don’t know if this is a test of my faith, a temptation to forsake Christianity, merely a process of growing up, or something else altogether. I have examined the foundations of my faith and found them lacking. What support is there to choose a life based on the Bible over one based on feelings or culture? For all I know, it is the best of the worst choices I could choose.

I am sick of trying to be a perfect Christian. I realize that no one ever has it all together. Unfortunately I have pursued this my whole life. Now that I realize my goal required me to become God, I am left without a clear sense of direction. Is it true that any choice I make is always the right choice for me at that time?

My desire is to somehow step back from the lens through which I view the world and try to get an objective look at reality. However, such a look serves no purpose if it is simply another matrix through which I must look. It is utterly impossible for me to escape from this prison that holds my mind captive to my nature, nurture, and environment.

All that is left is to choose which worldview to adopt. Yet, I don’t know how.

Is this choice one that each person makes arbitrarily? I feel like until now, I simply believed what was told me. Once I realized that was an imperfect way to view reality, I set about to discover why.

There is no way to discover a better option. Logic is flawed because there are so many ethical standards that could be chosen. Feelings are fleeting and often irrational. Other people are subject to the same flaws. The only other way I can see discovery of the truth is for one outside the system to directly confront my distorted view of reality.

Jesus is said to have done that. God has throughout history revealed himself….

This would be an easy choice to make if others had not already filtered what I know of this. I can see the vacuum for a God in every person. I can also see millions of options presented to fill that. Which salesman should I believe? Is the Biblical Canon the only way to learn the truth about this?

I used to know everything. Now I am reduced to being unable to know anything.

 

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Though my hand is tired, I feel like I must keep writing these thoughts – whether for posterity or just for my own benefit.

Two years ago, I knew what Christianity was all about. A right way and a wrong way existed. Of course, mine was the right way. I could back this up against anyone who confronted me. Over the past year, I have realized the foolishness of closing out all other options, realized I was wrong about many things, realized how may regrets I have from living under that system. Now I am stuck between dropping or returning to that system. I don’t know how to access any better options.

Ultimately, I realize I have a choice to make. Either God or I am going to run my life. Realizing my deprived nature and many limitations, I have chosen to have this ‘other’ in control of my life. This is supposed to have been the case all along. Yet I realize I had created my own god…using the Bible of all things. This false image of God, and a whole religious system governed my life. It all turned into a big competition of who knew the most, appeared the most perfect, or climbed to the top of the Christian ‘corporate ladder.’ While claiming Christ as my Lord, I was vying for His position.

No longer, I am both unable and unwilling to be my own God. I have to look somewhere else, but the system I would most readily turn to – the one that claims to be sponsored by God Himself – is a big lie that is much too difficult to participate in any longer.

Oh, the gravity of the situation: I need and long to claim Christ as my Lord, but cannot find how to do it without returning to a belief system that appears to have no relevance to my life. I don’t think this is true Christianity that my anger is directed toward, but American Christianity.

If we were around in Jesus’ day, members of the western church would have been more respected than the Pharisees. Not only do we have all the right answers and do our best to look perfect in whatever denomination we choose, but we also invoke God’s favor, claim humility, and ‘reach out’ to those who aren’t trapped in the church system.

I know it sounds like I hate the church, but I don’t. I love the church and sorrow for the façade that she has become in the face of affluence and a culture driven by individualism and amusement. It is respectable and socially helpful to be a Christian. How does this claim to fame make any difference in my life? This label is not what it was meant to be.

<>< 

The preceding paragraphs outline the problem that originally led me to take apart everything I had known to see if it would hold up. It didn’t, and now I feel completely lost. The lifeboat I trusted had too many holes to survive the sea of life. In fact, beyond emotional or spiritual support (a Band-Aid) it was completely worthless.

After leaving the lifeboat I was stranded on a deserted island. With nowhere to go, no way off, and knowing I must find some way to leave this isle of indecision, I simply try to survive based on what I know: the old system from the lifeboat. This resource is running low and I need to make a decision to leave the island soon. But I don’t know where to go or how to get there.

All these voices, systems, and directions promise life, happiness, etc.… I don’t even know which values I should be looking for. I am dead lost right now. I really don’t want to screw up now and do the wrong thing that sets me off-course for the rest of my life. Doing nothing gets me nowhere. I have no clue how to find the right thing to do.

The two options before me are to blindly jump on board one of these systems, or continue to search for that which I have been told doesn’t exist.

Two things I know: I must find the why behind the who I am and what I do. Second, I need to do it fast!

I am crying in disillusionment. Hoping for someone to rescue me from this land of despair.

I am at the end of myself. Somehow, I need to find something…I don’t even know what it is or if I can even find it. Heaven, hear my cry for help.

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Some people know what it feels like to reach this point: to wake up one day and realize that all of life has been a lie. This is the moment when the fundamental faith assumptions show their true colors. It is like that moment of clarity before death, when a person finally understands the meaning of life. Only, this moment does not come with a promise of death.

Instead it welcomes the individual into everlasting emptiness – life with no purpose, no meaning, and no reason to choose against ending it. Those with courage enough to confront the problem imprint the thought of suicide on the memory of those who stay behind to wallow in their misery.

No hope. No future. Life becomes nothing but a failure to fill a big empty hole with meaningless moments of laughter, sorrow, joy, pain, success, and mediocrity.

The only relief from this meaningless existence can perhaps be found in the fading highs of drugs. Physical intimacy comes close to filling the void, but it is little more than a thrill that leaves the individual more vulnerable than before. In fact, it takes one of the only things that still makes sense, natural desire, and through its satisfaction forces the emaciated soul to realize its emptiness and yearn for a sense of foundation and commitment. Life becomes an attempt to escape reality.

In this condition, I stared at the water in the lake beyond the glass walls of my college library trying to understand the gnawing emptiness in my stomach that would never be satisfied by food. I wanted something. I didn’t know what. Without it, though, I did not have a reason why my life should continue. This was the isle of indecision. If there was some ultimate reason, purpose, or meaning, I hadn’t found it. My search had left me unable to find. Help would have to come from somewhere outside of myself.

Having no alternatives than to live the lie the best I could, I returned to class and wrote the following.

 

3:00 pm

Do I actually need to be asking these questions? People first fell from perfection by trusting their own judgment. Have I been snared by the same temptation? Perhaps it would be better to believe what I know with my heart rather than question what I understand in my mind. The temptation to do this has been around since the enlightenment when reason became the new god.

Is it better to be loyal to something or to nothing at all? [Now that one belief system has shattered], my inability to commit may be a fundamental problem.

<>< 

What happened next is hard to describe. As I questioned reason itself and my reasons for questioning it, I ran across an interesting thought: perhaps the first sin was the pride of man and woman in trusting their own reason over God’s truth (Genesis 3:6). Instead of faith in God’s rule, Eve decided to exercise faith in her own judgment. This led to disobedience and ultimately a loss of paradise. My struggle may be exactly the same. I have a choice to trust in what I can understand through reason, or to trust in God.

When I shared these thoughts with a mentor, he suggested that I look at a book written by a man who wrestled with the same concepts that were destroying my life. I didn’t get past the first chapter before I found a solution to my problem. In my misery, I had finally come to understand my fight between faith and knowledge. Now, with the help of a friend and a French philosopher, I would begin to discover a way to make peace.

<>< 

Reading in Blaise Pascal’s book, “The Mind on Fire” pp. 16-17 revealed the following ideas.

The misery of man is that he is lost, and cannot find the proper way of knowing simply by using his intellect…. We desire truth, but can never be sure we have obtained it…. The foundations of reason are uncertain…. Faith sees beyond the limitations of reason. We are effaced with the Christian claim and must either accept or reject it…Man is fallen but can be redeemed…Personal faith in Jesus Christ requires a wager that life will prove to be true…It is a leap of faith. Forsaking all reason, for reason can only lead a man to the cross; one must embrace the offer of salvation. Only God can give us the grace we need to make that leap of faith…. Otherwise we would simply justify ourselves by our own intellectual acceptance of the faith.

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At this moment of reading, the clock showed that 8:00 pm had come and gone. Carried on the wings of time, I had closed my eyes and found myself standing on a high mountain. As far as I could see in any direction, the ground was flat and barren. Brown rocks about the size of footballs and softballs lay scattered on the ground behind on the pathway I had followed to this place. A foggy mist hung thickly overhead and barely obscured the wooden cross that had appeared ahead and to my left. The path I followed led to the edge of a precipice. Looking straight down over the edge, I could see the steep walls of the opposite cliffs rising out of a floor of swirling clouds. Beneath their cover, it was easy to imagine sharp rocks waiting eagerly beside the rushing stream of water that had formed this gorge.

I had been here before. My footsteps stretched forever in either direction looking for some way to survive in this wasteland. I knew that the cross at the edge of the cliff was my hope, but I wondered why it didn’t help me in my quest. Every time I thought I had reached it, I found myself wandering the rocky plains once again. This time when I returned to the precipice, I remembered something I had just learned from my reading.

Reason can get a person to the cross, but no further. Pure reason turns the cross into a tripping point that sends the seeker in a never-ending pursuit of the truth. Only by the grace of God will this stumbling stone become the stepping-stone into eternal life.

Faith required stepping beyond the edge of the rocky cliff that stood for the solid and unchanging principles of logic and reason. Until I left behind what I considered to be a secure foundation, I could not take hold of the faith that was so freely mine. I did not know what this faith would be in or how it would work. I simply knew it was a gift of grace.

I knew that it was won for me by what Jesus had done. It could be mine, if I could leave behind my fear of the unknown and the security of empty philosophy that I knew.

Reason had brought me to the foot of the cross, but I could see no logical reason to embrace its foolishness. It’s as if I stood on the edge of a great chasm. Reason having brought me to the edge, I could go no further but knew my answer lay beyond. My only hope lay in throwing myself foolishly into the emptiness below. All it could be called is a leap of faith.

Forgetting all reason, for it is flawed; I carelessly and wholeheartedly threw myself into this chasm of God’s grace where I am required to trust that He will catch me. So here I am, suspended by mercy, caught up in His love and surrounded with peace. I have nothing to hold on to, yet my heart is secure. I regard all else as nothing so long as I can trust in this hope. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Apart from Him, I am nothing.

Jumping off a cliff is a decision that cannot be undone. There is no turning back. As I left the foundation of reason that had supported me for so long, I wondered what my end would look like. The clouds rushed up to meet me and obscured my view of what was to come. Then just before I became lost in their mists, a rough wooden beam wedged itself securely beneath my body. Beneath my arms, another beam reached out in either direction forming the shape of a cross.

Like a ship forcing her way out from under the deluge of a giant wave, I slowly stopped sinking and began to rise by no effort of my own. There, in between the shadows of two cliffs, I found myself suspended in mid-air. My only source of life, hope, and truth – the cross.


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