I Am Really Fascinated by Jesus Christ...

... but My Doubts Are Way Too Noisy to be Silenced

(see also the translations into Czechian, Hungarian, Slowenian, and Ukrainian)



Dear Arnold,

I am sorry to bother you but you asked for it ("If you have questions, talk it over with a friend, or contact me") :). I know a few Christian people but they are of the conservative variety and they would probably tell me to just believe what the Bible says and to silence my doubts. Well, it doesn't quite work that way, my doubts are way too noisy. I may also seem naive and silly but hey, don't we all have to start somewhere!

This is my problem: I am really fascinated by Jesus Christ - His life, His personality, His teachings - and I would really like to accept Him as my Lord. But is it really that simple? It seems that if I accept Him, I'll also have to accept the whole (silly) religion of Christianity. You see, I am very tired of believing in dogmas, truth-claims, diverse doctrines, etc, etc - and Christianity certainly doesn't lack them. I just want a God who is someone I can know personally and Jesus Christ is a person I would *like* to know personally. But what am I supposed to do with all the other things that come with Him, the whole Christian theology? Just accept it blindly? Ok, to be honest, I don't have much of a problem with the New Testament but for example, am I supposed to believe the story of the Fall in Genesis *literally*? If not, how should the original sin be interpreted nowadays? Christians who claim that the earth is 6,000 years old etc. don't help much :( ...in fact these good people make believing so hard that I start doubting *everything* from the existence of God to the character of Jesus. I've invested too much time in my education to throw my brain out of the window now.

So, I'll be eternally (maybe literally :) grateful if you can help me in any ways. I'd really really like to be a Christian if only it didn't seem so silly at the same time.

Best wishes

Leena


Leena,

thanks for writing.

I am really fascinated by Jesus Christ - His life, His personality, His teachings - and I would really like to accept Him as my Lord. But is it really that simple? Yes, it is that simple. You'll find it very rewarding, and not at all stifling your brain. On the contrary, you'll have challenge enough for the rest of your life...

It seems that if I accept Him, I'll also have to accept the whole (silly) religion of Christianity. Oh no, you only need to accept what you can believe with your heart. Be genuine, and remain genuine; whatever you do without your heart is worthless in the eyes of God. But you'll be surprised how different Christianity becomes once Jesus is your Lord. He fills everything with life, and you'll get new eyes to see the real thing behind the appearance. One of the first things God brought me to realize was that He is Lord of the gifted and Lord of the mediocre... But He doesn't ask us to become mediocre just because so many others are! He gave you your brain - so that you can use it to His service!

I'd really really like to be a Christian if only it didn't seem so silly at the same time. Some things need to be sacrificed if you want to live with Christ. Paul said, ``God has chosen the despised things to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.'' (1 Cor. 1:19-29) You don't need to throw your brain out of the window, but you need to realize that you are not better than those with less brain and more of what you call silliness. Paul also said, ``In humility consider others better than yourself'' (Phil. 2:3) - this is something we find difficult since we know the qualities of a good brain; but God wants us to learn to love. Don't despair if you find this too hard now; God will change you with loving patience and persistence, and at the end you will be humble and still have your brain - but it will have become more servicable to others.

Just as Christ gave away His eternal glory (without really losing it) and walked on earth as a nobody, we need to give away our intellectual pride by being part of the body of Christ with all its earthly limitations, and that includes the silly parts. Continue looking at them as lack of perfection, but accept them as part of what is, and be aware that some people need crutches that you can be happy not to need. Roman 14 is about tolerance in these matters - be compassionate with those less educated or less clear than you are; remember that Jesus touched the lepers that no one would touch, and thus healed them.

They would probably tell me to just believe what the Bible says and to silence my doubts. Yes, they probably will. But don't mind; you are called to do what the Lord asks you to do, and that may be quite different from what people of routine ask you to do. They don't know better, and it will become part of your training in loving like Jesus loved that you remain kind to them and treat them as your brothers and sisters though they cannot understand you. They cannot see that God has given you a sense of truth that requires more thorough thinking than they are used to; and it is your responsibility to keep and nourish that sense of truth, submitting it to the will of God but not to those who solve problems by drowning them in a sea of simple-minded answers.

I am very tired of believing in dogmas, truth-claims, diverse doctrines, etc, etc - and Christianity certainly doesn't lack them. Yes, but there is much value in them, too, which you probably cannot see at the moment. Let Jesus guide you into it. Doctrines are like the wood in a tree. It is no longer alive but gives stability to the tree, and thus serves the living parts. When properly understood, doctrines are also true! - but it may take time to understand. It is so easy to misunderstand each other in this strange world of communication where no two people have precisely the same language. Learning to speak the language of others, or at least to understand it as they intend it to be understood is also part of God's lessons in love.

But what am I supposed to do with all the other things that come with Him, the whole Christian theology? Just accept it blindly? No, never blindly; it will damage your intellectual gifts. Wrestle with it, but trust God that it is worth the struggle. Otherwise he wouldn't have let it happen. Many great minds sharpened their wits through this necessity to understand what simpler minds are able to accept by appeal to authority. You'll also find that there is much more freedom in interpretation than you may think at the moment, and that Christians are as different as people can be - the only uniting trait is their unconditional devotion to God and love of Jesus.

The internet is an ideal source of information, there are excellent things (amid lots of junk) that one can learn from. If I had the time, I would immerse myself in it... When I got to know God, I neglected everything else as far as I could do responsibly, and tried to get as broad and deep a view of who God was, what He required of me, how to understand Him right, how to make sense of all these strange things that suddenly were part of my new spiritual environment. I struggled for several years before things settled down, but it was a very exciting (and often also frustrating) time. - My web page On Christianity contains enough links to get you started; I'd recommend generally the texts from old time over more recent ones; what people found worth preserving over many centuries is surely worthwhile. Only for the scientific questions, the modern stuff is essential since most of science is so young.

for example, am I supposed to believe the story of the Fall in Genesis *literally*? If not, how should the original sin be interpreted nowadays? Christians who claim that the earth is 6,000 years old etc. don't help much :( ...in fact these good people make believing so hard that I start doubting *everything* from the existence of God to the character of Jesus. There are many Christians in science who have the same problem. Being a scientist in a community of unscientific Christians is one of the things that challenge our love and patience. You'll find excellent material to give you food for thought in Steven Schimmrich's Science & Christianity Home Page [now defunct, try instead Science and Faith Web Pages with links to a multitude of views] - you'll see that you are in good company, and there are intellectually satisfying interpretations.

I tend to be cautious about sticking to a fixed interpretation of things too far in the past; it is not really needed to live in the present. But one of the scenarios I contemplate about the fall is that Adam was one of the prehistoric people whom God picked as partner by giving him of His spirit; now God's spirit is contagious and spread. But sin is contagious, too, and spread with it; and now we are all sick of it. The cure through Christ is also contagious; you just caught it. Romans 5:12-19 is Paul's account of this.

I just want a God who is someone I can know personally, and Jesus Christ is a person I would *like* to know personally. Yes. Just tell Him so. He likes to know you personally, too - in fact, he knows you already since you were born -, so don't be shy; talk to Him as you would talk to a good friend. Tell Him that you find His Christianity confusing, and take your time to speak your mind. Tell Him also what you find attractive, and that you want to entrust your life to His care. Ask Him to be your Lord and to teach you to become more like Him, and ask Him to overcome your doubts in a way that doesn't violate your sense of truth. Say good bye to all the do's and dont's that governed your past life, and find out what your new Boss requires you to do in your new career. Learn to listen to the silent voice of His spirit, learn to open yourself completely to your Lord, and learn to do what your master's voice commands you to do. Whenever you fail, turn back to your Lord and ask for whatever you need too succeed - a cleared conscience, new love, new courage, and peace of mind. And be patient; good things need time to grow.

I am really fascinated by Jesus Christ - His life, His personality, His teachings. I am, too. Deciding to serve Him with all I am has been the best decision in my life. He is alive, with powers beyond our understanding, and full of love and challenge for us.

Please let me know if this is a help to you, and feel free to ask again if there are more obstacles on your way to Jesus. Unfortunately, I'll not have time for a regular exchange of mail; unlike Jesus I don't have the massively parallel communication technology that would allow me to give my undivided attention to many simultaneously - so my advice is that you establish communication with Him as soon as possible. He will also be able to handle your concerns in a much more intimate and understanding way than I can. But if I can be of any assistance to help you establish contact, I'll try to do my best.

``To all who received Him, to all who trusted in His name, He gave the power to become children of God.'' (John 1:12)

``The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.'' (Matth. 13:44)

Don't hesitate - let your heart act!

Arnold


Dear Arnold,

thank you, thank you, thank you ever so much for your reply. It was even better than I expected and came much faster too. This has made things so much clearer for me. I have now accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and I'm ready, no, *thrilled* to accept all the changes it will bring in me and abandon all the obstacles that have kept me away from Him. To be honest, you could say that I already became a Christian when I became interested in Him - I just wasn't able to admit it because I was confused by Christianity!

What you wrote about humility was very interesting. I'm bringing this up because pride and arrogance are my two worst vices and I have always acknowledged that problem (my third cardinal vice is the desire to possess the truth in every matter but if that really is a *vice* is debatable). One reason that I became interested in Christ was precisely His different character. If you think about the founders of other religions it is hard to call them humble - Mohammed, humble? No way! Buddha, humble? Otherworldly, perhaps! On the other hand, Jesus' teachings are very down-to-earth and as I said, He is a man you would like to know personally, as a friend, besides His teachings. Again, I don't think I could say that of any other religious leaders - at least not so wholeheartedly.

But surely you already know this all. I understand that you are a busy person so I'm not expecting any further replies. I just wanted to let you know how helpful your letter was. Thank you again and God bless you,

Leena


Leena,

I am very happy with you; welcome in the family of Jesus Christ.

A few suggestions. Please find a place where you can meet other Christians regularly. Check out the local churches, go to their services, bible studies or prayer groups, and look for their love of Christ. This is the real thing, not external appearence of manners, traditions, or activities. Stay where you find that this love is present, even if everything else is unfamiliar to you, or below your old standards of judging places, events, and people. You'll be surprised how different God's chosen people are, compared with what the world would expect. The spirit will guide you and show you your place. Don't get involved into religious activities too early; for many it becomes the substitute of true life with God. But share your joy and excitement for Christ with those who care to listen.

If you haven't been baptized as a child, receive baptism at that church where God sends you, and follow the local rules, as Jesus did (Matth. 3:13-16). If you are already baptised, you have a choice between accepting what happened to you as a child as having become real now, or being rebaptised, thereby nullifying the infant baptism. I'd recommend the former since it causes less friction between the churches (I deeply regret this split of the Christians into so many competing denominations); on the other hand, some traditions then will consider you as still unbaptised (and you'll have to bear that with grace and love). Sadly to say, one meets human limitations everywhere among Christians... Again let God be your guide, as in everything you do.

There will be times when your joy is worn out by the problems of life. Know that God is as much interested in your failures and difficulties as in your successes and growth; don't be afraid to open before Him also the darkest corners of your life. And if you need advice or help, or just someone to listen - find out who might have what you need, and simply ask for it. Luke 11:9-10. As the child of the Lord of the Universe, you are privileged to ask all of God's creation.

Just as I answered your request, there will be many whom God moves to respond to your needs if you dare to ask. Just don't misuse this privilege, and remain content if you are turned down (simply ask someone else). For me, this freedom to ask was one of the very helpful gifts of God.

Jesus said: ``All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'' (Matth. 28:18-20)

Should you ever need me again, feel free to write. I'd also appreciate if you tell me once a year how things are going. And should you ever have the opportunity to come to Vienna, make sure you tell me so that we can arrange to meet!

Best wishes,

Arnold


Hi Arnold,

thanks for your reply and advice! [...] Looking back now, many little decisions like that seem to show that God was really determined to find me. :) My impression of that church and the material I got was that they were genuinely into God, not manners or traditions; now I'm looking forward to their contacting me as promised, or maybe I'll get back to them first.

I am already baptised and I think I'll stick with it, at least the church I went to doesn't require rebaptism. [...] I totally agree with you that this split into countless denominations is regrettable, not to mention that it was one of the things that caused my painful confusion with Christianity!

I'll keep your other advice on my mind too. Right now I'm feeling God's love immensely upon me, but knowing life to be what it is, some shadows will probably emerge sooner or later - your words will be helpful then. [...]

Again, I am *so* grateful for your help (and a little embarrassed of bothering an unknown person like this, too - isn't the Net great? I couldn't dream of doing anything like this on the phone!). Danke.

Happy Spring,

Leena


Dear Arnold,

I don't think you remember me but I am the kookie who wrote to you exactly one year ago and asked about becoming a Christian and such. I promised to get back to you once a year. It's been quite a year - not exactly what I expected but, looking back, it still looks perfectly logical. I am beginning to believe that God has the greatest sense of humour in the universe. :) Anyway, being a Christian hasn't been too easy either but after studying more and seeing all the changes in me, my conclusion has been that other alternatives are quite inferior.

[...]

In Him,

Leena


Leena,

thank you very much for writing me again. I still remember you and I am happy that God is at work in your life. Yes, being a Christian is not too easy, but very rewarding. And we don't quite get what we expect...

Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of men. Now what is a fisherman's job? To catch fish by a bait that they like to have. Then they are caught and their destiny changes. Before they are caught they live for themselves, afterwards they are of service to others.

God didn't give me what I expected either. But he gave me instead much what I didn't expect and what I now value much more. I made only few big decisions in my life. Entrusting my life to the care of Jesus was the best decision of all, and I never regretted it.

Every now and then when you enter my mind, I am praying for you, and will continue to do so. May our Lord bless you with His presence, give you love and strength for all situations you need to cope with, and peace and patience to bear the things you need to suffer. May you grow in faith and in the service to God, and may you find your happiness in this. May you become more and more sensitive to realize what God wants you to do or to leave, and may you be courageous to act accordingly. May God give you friends who understand you and help you when you are in need, and may He make you a friend for many.

[...]

Happy Spring,

Arnold


The Memoirs of a One-Year-Old Christian

If I was to begin in the end and briefly summarize the changes Christ has brought into my life, I would only say that He has made me whole. That nebulous, restless something that I used to call ``me'' suddenly solidified, became real and peaceful. At the moment I looked at Christ, I forgot myself and only later I realized that my true life had just begun. My new self was not mine any longer, it belonged to Him because He gave it to me; my new self was not the old me - yet it was much more me than my old self had ever been.

Does that sound cryptic? Many people can probably describe being born again much better than I. And if I am completely honest, I can't even clearly remember everything that took place when I became a Christian. Even my decision to give my life to Jesus now seems more like a confirmation of what had already begun, a conscious acknowledgement of this state of affairs. I only knew that Jesus was very close and very real - and that I wanted to stay with Him.

The first weeks of my new life were quite a rollercoaster. I alternately felt very happy and very silly. God's Presence was all around me, I was loved, pampered and comforted by Him. But every now and then I also thought that this was it, I had finally lost my mind, there was no God at all and I was just imagining everything. These fits of doubt kept me demanding that God should give me a real sign, prove me that He exists and that Jesus is who He says He is. This went on for some time until one situation made me look at myself and realize how differently I thought and behaved. It was startling. Even though I had not tried to improve myself, I had changed without any conscious efforts. Earlier I had been constantly restless, easily frightened and generally grumpy - after my conversion I simply was not. I was whole. God had given me a most real sign by doing something I or anyone else could not have accomplished. He had made me new, and I had almost missed that by expecting supernatural circus tricks!

Unexpected answers like this have been characteristic of my first year as a Christian. My early prayers were hideous. I told God I had some problem and then I also told Him how it should be solved. His answers have often been quite different. It has been devastating to my arrogance to see what *my* solutions would have caused. There is only One who is omniscient and that is not me.

I have also started to see a lot of sense in the Bible. I liked the synoptic Gospels before but until I had a personal relationship with God I didn't care much for Paul's letters. Now I can see my life mirrored in this Book - sometimes so accurately that it is painful. Sin didn't bother me much before because I thought I was a rather decent person. But the more I learn about God, the more amazed I am that He is still willing to put up with me! Not to mention how increasingly thankful I am for the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world... Another amusing thing is that before becoming a Christian I was worried that I should throw my brain away. Not so! Actually, it was Christianity which taught me logic and critical thinking. I have started noticing things that were quite invisible to me earlier, like hidden presuppositions and even logical fallacies in ``normal'', secular thought. I can also remember the sheepish feeling that swept through me when I discovered the world of Christian thinkers. Oh, all those brilliant minds! How arrogant, silly and naive I was compared to them!

Of course everything hasn't been that easy, far from it. I now face the prejudices I myself used to have - it serves me right, doesn't it? Misconceptions concerning God and Christians abound. I have heard everything from ``it's great if your imagination makes you happy'' to ``A Christian? Does that mean you are going to become a nun?'' and ``religion *#&%'s your brain!''. I have lost two pen pals who probably thought I was going to send them tracts instead of letters. Resentment and polite apathy, psychological explanations and relativism... Curiously enough, the more bashing I take because of the Gospel, the more courageous it makes me. If the world is this ashamed of Jesus, at least I don't need to be!

I have also seen that we Christians are the best and the worst recommendation Jesus Christ has in this world. I have met many wonderful true disciples but also those who make me embarrassed that we share the same name. I sometimes wonder which group I belong to. I'm not so worried about my own image any longer but my perpetual prayer has become, ``Jesus, at least don't let me cast shame on Your name''. But next day I forget that all and become furious at God for not allowing me some personal success or wordly happiness. Yet after every disappointment and fit of rage I go through He always asks me, ``Is that what you want? Would you rather give Me up and take those things you long for?'' And every time I must answer, ``No, I wouldn't''.

For it is impossible. If I deserted Him, there would be no place to go to. If I abandoned Christ, I wouldn't be me any longer, just a living corpse. This was one truth I realized very early and later, when I found it in the Bible too, I was both astonished and delighted.

``For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.'' (Col. 3:3)



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Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)