Testimony

After 15+ years of unbelief, I’ve begun to believe in Christ and wanted to share my story. This is long, but I wanted to get it off my chest.
I was raised in a nominally Christian household. My mom took me to Church somewhat regularly for a few years while I was a kid but, we stopped going for some reason. I decided around the age of 10-11 that I didn’t really believe in Christianity and it was probably untrue. Learning more about world history and other world religions convinced me that since all religions couldn’t be true, that must all be lies. My parents weren’t strongly Christian enough to really seem to notice so I never got “in trouble” or yelled at for my unbelief.
During my high school years a teacher introduced me to Ayn Rand so I went through a few years of being an arrogant Objectivist jerk. I thought technology and humankind’s intellect could save the world. My fervor for Ayn Rand died down, but I was still really into the idea of humanism. I associated Christianity with hating and disbelieving science.
Throughout and after college one thing that kept growing was my cynicism. I lost faith in human progress, human nature, and human institutions. Even if you give people new technology and science they are still the same old people. And institutions always become corrupted over time (something that history affirms). I entered a phase of existential nihilism where it seemed like the universe was a cold dead place. Couple that with my views on people, and I didn’t find much hope in the world. I reached a point where I wished some religion could be true but felt they were all lies. I wasn’t depressed (during this phase I also met my wife and was pretty happy) but I got down in the dumps if I thought much about it. My wife told me that if she had my view of the world and people she would probably commit suicide. She believed in a benevolent God, although she had fallen away from Christianity at some point in college.
At some point in college, I had abandoned my like of Ayn Rand’s ideas. Science lost its luster as I realized I didn’t find it that interesting anymore. I was much more interested in literature, art, and philosophy. As I grew older, the selflessness and humility that Jesus preached made sense to me. I just didn’t think he was divine or anything besides a great teacher. I really enjoyed the album The Black Halo by the band Kamelot which was about a character who wanted to believe in God but just couldn’t (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDubchjrz1I).
Towards the end of college I encountered two authors that would cause me to think about some things. Fyodor Dostevsky and Gene Wolfe. If you haven’t heard of Gene Wolfe, he’s a science-fiction author whose work is highly literary and often influenced by his Christian beliefs. His Book of the New Sun provided a fresh take on various Christian concepts for me. Wolfe’s work said that everything humanity had ever done to establish a utopia would always fail and would always be doomed to fail until a savior came. The idea of Original Sin and its view of human nature made a lot of sense to me. I found the worldview both authors presented as accurate, but it didn’t prove the existence of God to me. I also wondered how God could have made a world filled with so much evil.
A couple of years ago, I watched what is now the first season of the HBO show, True Detective. It really helped crystallize some things for me. One of the main characters, Rust, advocates a view that says we are all automatons cursed with self-awareness and that we would probably all be better off not having any more children and letting the human race come to an end (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8x73UW8Hjk). I went into a tailspin of melancholy for a few months. I realized that with my current philosophy, there was no way that I could logically disagree with him. As time went on, I felt happier, but every few months I’d have some days where I felt pretty sad and would navel gaze about the meaning of existence a lot during my alone time.
During this period I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I found it interesting but didn’t feel it was true due to the Problem of Evil. A year later I read it again. I realized after the second time that Lewis, combined with Dostoevsky and Wolfe, gave me the logical groundwork and worldview I needed to sustain a belief in God. God gave us Free Will and the ability to make this world a Hell if we chose.
I also don’t want to underestimate the influence my in-laws had on me. They were highly intelligent, trained in medicine and science, and serious about their religion. Their kids (my wife included) had all turned out great and they seemed pretty happy with their lives. They are two of the best people I have ever met, and it seemed like whatever they were doing worked. They knew I wasn’t religious but never treated me with anything except kindness, love, and acceptance.
Ultimately, particularly while at my wife’s grandfather’s Catholic funeral, I decided I wanted to believe. I had the logic I needed. I had exemplary people who showed what being Christian could be like. I felt a historical, cultural, and moral connection with Christianity that I didn’t feel with any other religion. It was easy for me to say “Christianity is the only religion that has any hope of being true to me.” It was time to go to Church, pray, and hope God would provide the feeling. One conversation I had carried with me for years was when I told a Mormon co-worker I didn’t feel that God existed and that I didn’t feel as if He was listening to me. The co-worker told me that he believed if a person prayed with an open heart and mind, God would take care of the rest.
So far it seems to be working. I’ve been going to Church every Sunday and have really enjoyed it. I went to an Ash Wednesday service, and I felt a sense of homecoming. I find hope in the idea that a creator cares about us, and I pray that He will forgive me for denying him, my arrogance, and the anger I’ve felt at people over the years. I still have questions about God and His will, but I am not afraid to ask and seek out the answers. I’m ready to leave my days of hating people and being angry at humanity behind me and to leave judgement to God. I will instead focus on making myself a better person and helping others. I am hoping to be baptized soon.

Testimony

My testimony is always a joy to tell. I was listening to music when a song entitled “Israel” came on, which depicts Jacob wrestling with God. This stuck my conscience as it felt like it related to me. I looked up the passage in the Bible in Genesis and felt as though something had clicked. I had not made Christ Lord over my life, I was living how I wanted to live without putting Christ first. I immediately broke down crying and suddenly heard a Bible verse in the back of my head (it was a clear man’s voice, I still cannot remember what specific verse I heard, but I remember freaking out because I knew that it was in the Bible). It hit me, all these times I have prayed and tried to hear the voice of God, I should have just been listening to His voice through Scripture as THAT is how He ultimately speaks to His people today.
I broke down, closed my eyes and for the first time in 21 years prayed with a heart of true repentance. I cried, “God, please Lord save my soul for I am no better than Satan! (paraphrase)” I immediately saw a visualization of a pitch black room getting lit up from an unknown source. It was then at this moment that I felt I understood I had been lying to myself about being a true Christian all these years. I then saw a beautiful flash of a intricate cobweb of colors while I was closing my eyes still, as that represented an “epiphany” of understanding the Scriptures as a whole and seeing the unity within Scriptures (I grew up studying the Bible, so I already knew how it worked, but never really connected the dots as it definitely being the official Word of God) all at once. It was as if I could see the Bible’s unity, represented as a cobweb of colors. I then began to weep uncontrollably and here is where the interesting stuff happens…
I lost a sense of my body. It was as if I got launched into a dream-like state, yet completely conscious. I had no sense of time, and no sense of ego. All I saw was a blacker-than-black area. It felt as though it was infinite in size, and my soul was suspended in it. I immediately saw a very clear outline of a wooden door. This door, which felt as though it was hundreds of feet tall, cracked open. It didn’t open completely, but all I saw behind the door was the brightest light I have ever seen emanating from inside. It didn’t light up the blackness surrounding it, but lit up the door significantly which was suspended in this seemingly infinite darkness. However, it did feel as though this light made me aware of the darkness surrounding it. I was in complete awe when I saw this and felt for the first time in my life that I had seen/felt God. Not knowing exactly what was going on, I just accepted it as I felt this light was trying to envelope me with its presence. I felt, at the time, that it was the Holy Spirit.
I then felt an unexplainable wave of energy (almost like an invisible wave of water in the ocean) hit me first in the head and overtake my entire body. The light from the door I saw that was cracked open entered my body. Not all of it, but an essence of its fullness, which would be the Holy Spirit. As soon as I felt this it was as if I had been propelled back down to earth. I opened my tear drenched eyes, with snot dripping on the floor in front of me, and the first word that popped in my mind was “Sword” (I also felt the presence of this word while I was looking at the door crack open, as that is where it came from). I didn’t know what it meant, but knew I had heard/felt it. I immediately got up and said to myself, “I have been regenerated!”
That was three weeks ago. I have deciphered the meaning of “Sword” as meaning the sword of the spirit. God’s way of telling me with the English language that He saved me and gave me the Holy Spirit. I have joined XEE (a gospel sharing ministry in my church), all of my depression/anxiety I suffered with for years is completely gone, my relationship with my fiance is mended completely (as she was a true Christian, and I was not, so we had many problems), and I have an unsatiable hunger for the Word of God and sharing it with others (reading multiple chapters everyday).
The funny part is that after I was “born again,” I lost around 5-6 pounds over the next 7 days, just because I could barely eat anything! Another funny thing to mention as well, is that in my past I had smoked plenty of weed, drunk plenty of alcohol, was addicted to caffeine, enjoyed cigarettes/cigars a bit too much, and even had done LSD. But NOTHING, and I repeat, NOTHING will ever compare to the infinitely pure sense of peace and purpose I felt on the day of my regeneration. The ultimate, and only true, “high.” Which I certainly still have to this day. 😉
Have a great day! 😀

Why does God allow Evil?

Why Does God Allow Evil?

That is a very important question, one that, if it is not the hardest, one of the hardest questions that people have to face.  Especially if one were to deal with someone who has suffered, for example, cancer that took a loved one, a daughter who was raped and brutally murdered, or a husband who find himself disabled and unable to provide for his family.

This question comes in many forms, variations, and nuances.  Perhaps the most difficult way to present this question is the following:

If an all-powerful, all-loving, benevolent God exists, why does He allow so much evil and suffering in the world?

Epicurus, a 3rd to 2nd BC Greek atheistic philosopher, wrote the following about God and evil:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Is Epicurus right?  Should we conclude that God is not powerful enough to stop evil, benevolent enough to stop it, and thus, cannot be called God?  Are there good reasons why God allows evil to occur on earth?

When I deal with question of evil and suffering, I do so with enormous sympathy, because although this question has an intellectual side, it also has a very deep, personal and powerful emotional side as well. I understand that many people are suffering as a result of evil.  Because of that, I treat this subject with extreme sensitivity.

Bear in mind that any response I give to this question will not undo any act of evil that you, or someone you know, experienced.  Any answer I give will not explain every single act of evil; however, it is my hope that I can explain why God might allow evil to occur.

There are two ways to look at this problem: one as the observer and the other as the participant. Cancer looks very different to a professor of oncology than a 20-year old woman who has been told she has three months to live. Either way you look at it, I hope that my answer helps you sort out any issues you have regarding the problem of evil and suffering.

There are three reasons why I believe God might allow evil and suffering to occur:

1. Love requires freedom

Upon observing the world as it is, it seems reasonable to me that love is the supreme ethic.  Our music artists often sing about it.  Our poets often write about it.  Societies champion it.  Indeed, even Jesus, when answering a Jewish lawyer on the greatest commandment, Jesus responded with the following:

 ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.

In regard to good and evil, there are four possible ways that God could have decided to create the universe:

  1. No creation
  2. A world in which only evil exists
  3. A world in which only good exists
  4. A world in which good exists, but with the possibility for evil

The question is this: of which of these possibilities allows for the existence of real, genuine love?  Let’s explore the options

The first option is no creation.  Without a creation, there can be no love in it.

The second option is a world in which only evil exists.  If love is the supreme ethic, and God created a world in which only evil exists, then in this world, there is nothing ethical, only unethical.  The supreme ethic, love, cannot exist in a world in which ethics do not exist.

The third option is perhaps the most popular.  This is a world in which only good exists.  Can real, genuine love exist in this world?  I would like suggest that the answers is no.  You see, in order for real, genuine love to exist, it requires freedom of the will.  It requires the possibility of rejection.  For example, my love for my wife is genuine only because, despite my option to reject her, I have decided, in my own freedom, to love her.  Without my freedom of rejection, I would become more like a robot, programmed to “love” my wife.  Sure, I could comply, in a mechanical way, but pre-programmed, forced love is not genuine.

This only leaves one option left.  It is a world in which good exists, but with the possibility of evil.  Only in this world can real, genuine love exist.  God has given us the freedom to either choose to love Him, and obey His commandments, or to reject Him, and to do what we want instead.  When we reject God, and choose to disobey Him, we often make bad, immoral, unethical, selfish choices.  We do evil and often hurt other people as a result of our bad choices.  Yet real, genuine love, if it is to exist, God must allow us the possibility of rejecting Him, to go our own way, and to do evil.  It is an unfortunate consequence, and a high price to pay for love to exist.

Suppose my wife and I were to bring a child into this world.  We know full well that our child could grow up to love us, and having a loving relationship with us.  We also know that our child could grow up to reject and hate us and do all kinds of horrible things.  We believe that, despite the possibility of rejection, it is worth the risk to bring a child into this world.  In the same way, God thought we were worth the risk of bringing people into this world, with the freedom to love Him or to reject Him.  God’s greatest desire is to have a personal, loving relationship with us.  This cannot occur if God does not allow us the freedom to do evil.

2. Evil builds character

Think about the greatest lessons you learned in life.  The lessons that you will carry with you your entire life and will bestow upon your children, should you choose to have any.  Were they learned from times of joy, or times of pain?  From doing right, or doing wrong?  From success, or from failure?  While I cannot speak for other people, for myself, the latter is true for each of these.  The greatest lessons I learned in life are when I was hurting, when I did wrong, and when I failed.  There are certain characteristics that I could not develop had there been no evil in the world.

If there was no pain in my life, I would not learn to forgive others.  If others were not suffering pain, I would not develop empathy, sympathy, or compassion.  if I did not make mistakes and failed, I would not grow as an individual.  If there was nothing to be afraid of, I could not develop courage.  There are certain characteristics that we simply cannot develop if there us no evil or suffering in the world.

Please do not misunderstand.  I am not condoning that we ought to cause pain, to do wrong, or to fail.  Clearly, we ought not do these things and should avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.  My point is that there are certain characteristics that God wants us to develop that cannot be developed through times of joy, from doing right, or from success.

3. Evil in the context of eternity

Evil and suffering, from an atheistic/naturalistic perspective, are typically experienced and understood within the context of our lives here on earth.  According to this perspective, life only occurs between the day we are born to the time we die.  Nothing happens after we die.  One can think of life as a line segment, the “dash” on a gravestone, connecting two important events in history: birth and death.  During this time, the best we can hope for is a long, healthy life, with minimal suffering and filled with much joy and personal pleasure.  We may be right to become angry if, given a life expectancy of 80 years, we develop cancer at the age of 39 and 6 months, with only 6 months to live.  Our death will effectively cut half of the potential of our lives.  We will have been cheated 40 years of life because of evil.

Suppose the Bible is true, and there really is life after death.  How does this change the way we view evil?  In the context of eternity, how significant is our 80 year lifespan on earth?  I would like to suggest that, the longer one lives after death, the less significant evil becomes.  If one lives 10,000 years with God in heaven, the temporary suffering in one’s 40 year life will become so insignificant, it might as well be forgotten!

If God has eternity in mind in His attempt to have a loving relationship with us, allowing us the freedom to choose Him or to reject Him, and to use evil as a means to develop certain characteristics in us that we otherwise could not develop, one may begin to understand why God allows evil to occur in this world.

 

The Holy Trinity

http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/doctrine/the-holy-trinity

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not merely an “article of faith” which men are called to “believe.” It is not simply a dogma which the Church requires its good members to “accept on faith.” Neither is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity the invention of scholars and academicians, the result of intellectual speculation and philosophical thinking.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity arises from man’s deepest experiences with God. It comes from the genuine living knowledge of those who have come to know God in faith.

The paragraphs which follow are intended to show something of what God has revealed of Himself to the saints of the Church. To grasp the words and concepts of the doctrine of the Trinity is one thing; to know the Living Reality of God behind these words and concepts is something else. We must work and pray so that we might pass beyond every word and concept about God and to come to know Him for ourselves in our own living union with Him: “The Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit” (Eph 2: 18–22).

The Holy Trinity in Christian Life

The new commandment of Christian life is “to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5.48). It is to love as Christ Himself has loved. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15.12). Men cannot live the Christian life of divine love in imitation of God’s perfection without the grace of the Holy Spirit. With the power of God, however, what is impossible to men becomes possible. “For with God all things are possible” (Mk 10.27).

The Christian life is the life of God accomplished in men by the Spirit of Christ. Men can live as Christ has lived, doing the things that He did and becoming sons of God in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, once more, the Christian life is a Trinitarian life.

By the Holy Spirit given by God through Christ, men can share the life, the love, the truth, the freedom, the goodness, the holiness, the wisdom, the knowledge of God Himself. It is this conviction and experience which has caused the development in the Orthodox Church of the affirmation of the fact that the essence of Christianity is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit” and the “deification” of man by the grace of God, the so-called theosis.

The saints of the Church are unanimous in their claim that Christian life is the participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity in the most genuine and realistic way. It is the life of men becoming divine. In the smallest aspects of everyday life Christians are called to live the life of God the Father, which is communicated to them by Christ, the Son of God, and made possible for them by the Holy Spirit who lives and acts within them.

Answered Prayer

I’m 19 years old and on February 27th on this year I prayed to God about my depression and anxiety, I’ve never really prayed before but things were getting tougher and I didn’t know if I’ll ever be able to find the strength to do better in life with depression and anxiety. The main thing that makes me anxious was me having a stutter. I prayed to God asking if he could not get rid of my anxiety completely but at least get rid of my stutter just to ease my anxiety so I can live a little more and sort my life out.

About 10 minutes after I prayed I was walking home listening to my music and I heard “Yes my Son” In both my head and heart if that makes sense.

I must of looked like an idiot walking home because I was in shock I just kept saying to myself “did God just answer me?” could not fathom what just happened I was so shocked, I got home and I literally burst into tears of happiness and prayed to thank God that he heard me and answered, which I never thought would happen, crying tears of happiness while depressed.

Since that night, I haven’t stuttered once and I’m starting to be more social and enjoying life more. You may not believe me but it has truly helped me and I’m ready to keep my promise to God and sort my life out.