Several years ago, my sister and her husband began to experience a crisis of faith. They had started studying the arguments of the skeptics and were becoming persuaded. They began to question whether the foundational claims of Christianity were true and whether there was a God at all. They frequently came to me with difficult questions. At first, I was reluctant to engage because I did not want to focus all my spiritual energy on negative things. However, my sister and her husband felt that I could not understand them or help them if I did not engage meaningfully in their journey. So for the next 10 years, I read much of what they wanted me to read and tried to provide them with satisfactory answers. I felt like I was playing spiritual “whack-a-mole” — where doubts and questions (the moles) would pop up and I would try to hit them down. With enough study, I could answer many of the questions and doubts that arose, but there were some that I could not. Moreover, the questions never stopped coming. The whole process was like spiritual poison to me. Although I was never shaken in my underlying testimony, I felt sapped of my spiritual strength. It was harder to pray and harder to study scriptures in the right spirit.
Then one day, I had an epiphany. People choose to believe or not to believe. The idea initially repulsed me. If faith is merely a choice, then how can I be confident that my faith is based in truth? However, the more I wrestled with the idea, the more I understood that I could choose to feed my faith or I could choose to feed my doubts, and that choice would usually be outcome-determinative. In many ways, my choice to believe is like my choice to love my wife. Love truly is a choice as much as it is a feeling. In saying that I have chosen to love her, I am not saying that I have forced myself into feeling affection for her. Rather, I am saying that in every marriage, there are things the partners choose to do or not to do—to serve each other, to play together, to dream and plan together, and to build a life together. We can choose whether we will focus on each other’s faults (which every partner has) or whether we will focus on the things that brought us together in the first place. We can choose to try to enhance the good in each other or we can choose the opposite. And if I choose to nurture my relationship with my wife, at the end of the day, I do not find myself saying: “Well, the only reason I love her is because I chose to love her -I mean how satisfying is that?” Rather, I find myself saying: “I love her because we have a full spectrum of marvelous experiences together, and we are now welded so closely that we truly are one.” Love fostered in this way is real, and the fact that I deliberately chose to do the things that strengthened the relationship does not alter the depth of my affection, nor does it lessen how meaningful and satisfying the relationship is.
The same is true for choosing to believe. I can choose to serve others, to study scriptures, to forgive others, to pray sincerely in my quiet times, to share my faith, to fast, to attend church, to keep promises and to do all the other things that make it more likely that I will have spiritual experiences. I can also look for the hand of God in my life. However, I can also choose to focus my mental and spiritual energies identifying and amplifying my doubts and concerns, and/or I can choose to allow work or other activities to simply crowd out the activities in which God would likely be my companion. If I do choose to believe, at the end of the day, I do not end up saying: “Well, the only reason I believe is because I chose to have faith.” Rather, I have found myself saying: “I have faith because I have had a lifetime of spiritual experiences of all different varieties, and the fact that I deliberately chose to have the developmental experiences that have kept me close to the Lord does not alter the depth of my faith, nor does it alter how fulfilling my relationship with God has become.”
We all have choices every day, but the choice to believe or not to believe, the choice to feed one’s faith or to feed one’s doubts, is imbued with deep moral significance. In the end, whether I have faith or not says much more about me than it says about the state of the evidence on any particular point. Thus, I have chosen to build my life on the things I know rather than on the things I do not know, and to choose the light rather than the darkness. In so doing, I have found ample reasons to believe, and I have found joy, direction and meaning in my life.