Written: 6 September, 1999

You may recall that in late June, I posted on this board an explanation of why I was not a Christian. I listed a bunch of my problems with accepting Christianity and invited people to tell me why I was mistaken about the religion. Thankfully, several people did reply with lots of things for me to think about -- things which helped me change my mind about Christianity.

No one thing made me decide to accept Christianity. I was influenced by Christian rock, replies I received on the boards, and other things that happened in my life which made me change my perspective, signs which made me realize God's presence. Now that I have changed my mind about Christianity, I thought it might be fun for me to post a "rebuttal" to my own arguments from back in June (since I'd saved most of the posts in that thread).

Back then I wrote: "I'm the kind of person who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't swear, etc., without being a Christian to think that way. I've said that I believed in goodness, more than God; that I was a follower of what I see as "goodness.""

When I wrote that, I thought of myself as an "upholder of the good," one who was just as good as any Christian but who got there without religion. But looking back on that now, I see that I had a very limited view of goodness. And that the Christian perspective is one that I want to follow, even though it demands more out of me.

There is a difference between trying to adhere to an abstract idea of Goodness (as I was doing) and trying to "walk with Christ." I had thought that because I was basically a good person from outward appearances that my philosophy was just as good as a Christian's philosophy. But when I felt that way was usually when I was content, sitting back in a chair and calmly reflecting, just as I'm doing now. I conveniently forgot about what thoughts flew through my head during moments of stress, anger, jealousy, you name it. Okay, they are just thoughts, but they can perhaps influence behavior. But we comfort ourselves saying, "Well, the difference between me and a postal worker who goes nuts is that I would never actually act out of anger, etc. that way, that my bad thoughts would not influence my behavior." But I think it can, perhaps in small ways, such as the way we treat other people or treat ourselves. Do we live up to our obligations after feeling screwed over by somebody or something, or do we secretly try to look for a way to get a little revenge?

Before becoming a Christian, when I had bad thoughts, I was vaguely aware that my thoughts were not helpful to the kind of Good person that I'd always tried to be, and always thought of myself as, but hey I was too stressed out to care. I still have the bad thoughts, but now that I consider myself a Christian, I am more aware of them, and try to look for ways in which I can not listen to those bad thoughts. Thinking "what would Jesus do" is one way. Thinking "how does God want me to be, how can I best serve God?" is another way to try to overcome the bad thoughts and not let them influence one's actions, even if they seem like such little things. For example, recently at work my boss asked me if I could work another worker's day shift instead of my afternoon shift, so the other worker could attend a picnic that day. So, I said sure. But when the day arrived, I felt myself coming down with a cold and had only had a few hours sleep. I knew that I could probably get through work that day, but I debated whether I should just call in sick. Then I reminded myself that I was a Christian. I felt that I wanted to set a good example because of that, even though no one at my work knows my religion. I also felt that I needed to trust more in God, and that if I tried to fulfill my obligations, then God would take care of the rest. I wonder if I would have gone into work that morning if I still had believed only in an abstract concept of Goodness, as opposed to a very real God?

When I first started to realize that my bad thoughts were not consistent with my smug satisfaction at supposedly being a "good person," I was unaware of Jesus' teaching on "bad thoughts." In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." (5:21-22) "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (5:27-28) (NIV)

So, in other words, Jesus is letting us know that we shouldn't feel like we are "good" people just because we haven't broken any of the 10 Commandments. Because all of us, being human, have sinned in our hearts, and that's why we are all sinners and need Jesus to forgive our sins. They may seem like small sins, but it is all sin in God's view. When I worshipped an abstract Goodness, I didn't see that deeply into things, so when I saw a Christian and saw that they were trying to be "good" like me, I thought that I didn't need God to try and be good like those people evidently did. Now I realize that I wasn't looking deep enough, not really trying hard enough to be a good enough person for God.

I just got done reading Matthew today (just started Mark), so here's another perhaps-relevant bit from Matthew. Jesus tells a few Parables such as the Parable of the Talents (25: 14-30) which I'm not sure I really understand, but which seem to suggest that God wants us to take what we are given, and to make it better. The master who has one of his servants hold on to his 5 talents (money) is delighted to find that the servant has doubled the amount by putting his money to work. But the servant who had 1 talent simply buried it in the ground, to give it back when the master returned, instead of finding a way to increase the amount like the favored servants had. The master is displeased by this servant because he could have increased the amount simply by putting it in the bank and letting it gain interest.

To me, this parable is about how can we serve God best. And we serve Him best by doing the extra things to make things better, instead of simply just maintaining the staus quo. I don't really know the meaning of the parable, but I can relate to it in a way. When I followed an abstract concept of Goodness, my focus was basically just upon myself. As long as I felt I was good, and satisfied with that, then that was all that I really cared about. I didn't try to persuade people to follow "Goodness" as I saw it. But now that I have become a Christian, I am starting to think more about other people as well as myself. (In Matthew 22: 39, Jesus says that the 2nd greatest commandment, after "Love God" is "Love your neighbor as yourself.") I think now that my old way of simply following an abstract Goodness was like burying something in the sand and then I could say to God at the end of my life, "Well, God, I stayed Good." As great as that is, it's not good enough for God. I need to do more to serve God, and I probably didn't even really realize that before today.

Back in late June, I said that I couldn't see myself as becoming a Christian because I thought the God of the Bible was unjust, for sending good people to Hell simply because they didn't accept Jesus. Well, I hope that I have explained why I don't think simply being "good" is good enough for God, but even with that, I agree with those replies I received to my original post that said we don't really know who is going to Hell for sure. All we can do is try our best to serve God on this earth and trust in Him.

Back in June, I thought that becoming a Christian meant becoming "brainwashed" and that "I'd rather join the martyrs in Hell who have stood up for questioning and skepticism than the brainwashed zombies in Heaven." But as was explained to me in a reply or two, the Bible is full of people who questioned God. Not all Christians agree on everything. And, as someone had said, God doesn't want us to be baaaing sheep, he wants us to use our minds. (Again, Jesus considered the greatest commandment to be "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind," emphasis mine.)

Anyway, one of my favorite scenes in Matthew (14: 22-36) is when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and Peter goes out of the boat to walk to him. Peter starts walking on the water to Jesus, at his invitation, but then Peter becomes afraid and starts sinking, shouting "Lord, save me!" Jesus grabs Peter and pulls him up, saying "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" That's a great scene because on one hand it appeals on the simple level of slapstick; I can't help but chuckle at the frightened expression Peter must have had on his face when he realized he was actually walking on water. Kinda reminds me of Wily E. Coyote running off a cliff, stop in mid-air for several seconds, and holds up a "Help!" sign before he plummets to the ground!

On the other hand, the scene is symbolic of a lot of things. Like how we need Jesus to save us. Like how we need to trust in Jesus and put aside our doubts if we want to achieve the impossible. (Faith is so powerful, Jesus says elsewhere in that gospel, that it can move mountains.) We need to keep our eyes on Jesus if we want to "walk with Jesus." "Walking with Jesus" is gonna be hard, not easy, and we always risk sinking if we don't keep trusting in Jesus. Doubt, lack of faith in Jesus, can cause us to symbolically sink (i.e., to sin, to not rise above, etc.).

This scene of Peter having doubts shows that since we are humans, we are going to doubt. We can't help ourselves. I even have doubts about whether my intentions for being a Christian are totally right or whether I decided to be one for some wrong reason (selfishness, wanting to join a bandwagon, whatever). I even have doubts when I'm praying sometimes, whether I'm doing it for real or whether I'm just doing it for "show," to convince myself that I'm a "real Christian." So, I just keep praying until I'm sure that I've confessed all my doubts and keep praying until it's really real. Sometimes I'll stop and wonder if God really is real, but thankfully I am reminded of the things that have happened in my life to indicate for me that God really is real.

(A little bit more on that topic: Sometimes things happen in our lives, which seem like coincidences or something. Before becoming a Christian, I didn't give too much thought about why things happened in my life the way they happened. Now I wonder more why things happen in my life when they do, and sometimes it feels strongly to me like God making his prescence known in my life. My mind has been blown by how God has thrown surprises into my life. To give one example, I was afraid that my becoming a Christian would affect my friendship with my family, which is not religious. That I might be viewed as weird. Well, as soon as I told two of my sisters that I had decided to become a Christian, they admitted that they, too, were interested in spirituality and so on. I had thought one of them was an Atheist, and so I was totally blown away when she said was interested in going to church. And my other sister, who babysits a third sister's child, decided that the child ought to know about the Bible and bought a Baby's First Bible to read to her. To cite another recent example of what I believe to be God working in my life, I recently had regretted that I was no longer in contact with a Christian girl who I went to high school with, and whom I'd last seen around six or seven years ago. Well, I happened to run into her at a park and exchanged phone numbers with her. What are the chances? Now I put nothing past the power of God to achieve.)

I used to be so concerned with whether the God of the Bible was a "just God" or not. Thanks to a great post by Greg Hatcher on MacQ's board several weeks ago, I learned that God is not simply just, but He is merciful. Greg explained that if God were just, then Greg might not still be here alive after what he had gone through, but that instead God was merciful. I never really knew what "grace" meant until recently. Judging by the context in which I see the word used, it refers to that quality of mercy that God possesses which shields us from harm. Stephen King remarked recently that it was only by God's grace that the driver who hit him didn't kill him. It's by God's grace that I'm still here, too... that you are here, too, dear reader.

I titled this post "Why I'm a Christian" but I don't think I covered all the reasons. The reasons are still being formed, and will continue to be formed. It's a process of growing, and I'm still just learning, thanks to MacQ's generous gift of a Bible for me to read and learn. If there's anything else you want to know, just ask. I'm posting this on both the Community board and MacQ's board since traffic is a lot slower there.