I’ve had many discussions with atheists. Well, I don’t know that I would call them discussions, because they usually start out something like, “I can’t believe you believe in those fairy tales.” Right away, I know the person doesn’t respect my worldview, so why is there any point in going on from there? But I often do continue, and, more often than not, they try to trip me up with the question, “If God does exist, why is there so much suffering in the world?” They usually follow that up with the statement, “If God did exist I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a being so cruel.”
I feel the cool breeze from the bay gently move across my skin. I close my eyes to feel the sensation fully.
The atheist doesn’t shake my faith, even though they think their questions are so good that no one could answer or believe if they seriously contemplated the meaning of their words. But I have contemplated the meaning of their words, and I am still a believer. There, I said it, even though it is such an unpopular thing to be these days: I am a believer. I believe in God, not despite the questions so much as because of them. God is a mystery.
My mother has leukemia. My dad has heart problems. My brother has diabetes. Medicine keeps all of them alive.
In the Bible, God said, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” To me, that is the answer to most of the questions I have heard. Fearfully? Why fearfully? Is it because Creation is bloody and painful, both miracle and without mercy? Panda mothers can accidentally crush their cubs. Many newborns in the animal world must find a way to their mother’s milk on their own or risk starvation. I had a dog once that held the runt of the litter between her paws and licked it while the other puppies fed. Our dog refused to feed her most vulnerable pup. Creation is miraculous, astounding, beautiful, and terrifying. Survival is not guaranteed. Fearfully.
I have schizophrenia. I no longer ask why.
Most atheists have asked me how God could allow so much suffering. We all suffer. I suffer. You suffer. Everyone on the planet suffers. Suffering is human. The man behind my faith suffered in ways I can’t even bring myself to dwell on. There were never any promises that we wouldn’t suffer. Suffering is a guarantee in life. To be alive is to suffer in one way or another. I don’t believe that God causes this suffering, and although I believe everyone will suffer, I also believe we have the resources to ease almost everyone’s suffering. We have food enough for all. We have medicine enough for all. We have enough resources to build housing. We know how to clean water. We can stop starting wars. These things are the soul of my faith. What do you do? Do you increase the suffering of others or do you help eliminate it? That defines you as a person of faith. Simply saying you believe one thing or another is not enough, you must “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In a global economy, every person living is your neighbor.
A young man smiles at me and lets me go before him in line at the grocery store. Little things can and do make a difference. I have to remember to put others first more often.
Atheist frequently refer to Jesus as a zombie, as in, “You worship a zombie?” But the most important part of the teachings I believe isn’t found in the miracles. The miracles are secondary to what makes my heart soar and my mind sing. I think about the brilliance of the first person to say, “Those of you without sin, cast the first stone.” At that time, adultery was punishable by death. Jesus got people to look inward at their shortcomings, faults, and sins in order to save life and to teach for generations to come. I suck in my breath–that is big stuff. Weighty. Significant. Profound.
I donate my time and money to a program that feeds low-income and homeless people. “When were you hungry and we didn’t feed you?”
When atheists can’t move me by insulting my intelligence, calling my faith fairy tales, or laughing about zombies, they often turn to LGBT marriage or some other polarizing social issue where they feel “Christians” are living in the dark ages. I think that marriage is a civil rights issue and not a religious issue. I am sorry that some people make others feel unwelcome, in some churches. I have felt unwelcome, and my disability has been mocked by leaders of churches. I know that pain. Unfortunately, it can take time to find a community where you are loved exactly where and how you are at any given moment. God’s commandments are not easy. If they were easy, we wouldn’t do such cruel things to one another.
Even if people don’t accept me, You promised you would accept me. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Atheists often say, “You stole all of your holidays from the pagans!” My faith is not so fragile that the timing of Jesus’ birth or death makes me stumble. I don’t care when Jesus was born or when he died. I care that I celebrate those two events once a year. Besides, I love Christmas. I love to make cute little reindeer cookies and send them to work with my husband. I love to drink eggnog lattes, putting up my Charlie Brown Christmas tree (one red bulb and a blanket at the bottom), and waking up to presents stuffed inside an oversized stocking. Does any of that have to do with being a Christian? No. I also love giving money to buy presents for the homeless, and that is a little closer to something I would consider Christian, though it’s open for debate.
I live in the city, but when I visit the desert the night sky is brilliant in its vastness and beauty. There are so many stars. My eyes go from mystery to mystery, and awe to awe.
It’s no secret that I sometimes have my doubts. I wrestle with my faith in every way imaginable. There are times I pin it to the floor. At other times, it has me pinned until I beg to be let up. Nothing atheists say creates doubt in me, though. Doubt comes as a part of suffering, or as a part of the “fearfully,” or as a part of the mystery. We can argue all day and all night. My faith is like the tide–it goes in and out and in the same way, and is impacted by forces I can’t touch or see. Words are not sufficient to shake something that I believe is so much bigger than me.
Photo via Unsplash.
About Rebecca Chamaa
Rebecca Chamaa is a poet and essayist. She has had her worked published on/in Yahoo Health, Role Reboot, Manifest Station, Good Housekeeping, Dr. Oz, Woman’s Day and many other journals and anthologies. She has a blog on Psych Central and a monthly column on Drunken Boat.