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October 31, 2013

MAY: We are all haunted by it

— I believe it was late junior high school when I became fascinated with C. S. Lewis. I read “The Chronicles of Narnia” with excitement and meandered through The Space Trilogy with fascination.

Somewhere in the middle of high school, I stumbled upon a book that speculated how the devil schemes and plots to lead us astray and ultimately overthrow God. “The Screwtape Letters” caused me to be a little bit frightened and a lot intrigued. Mostly, it left me feeling eerie.

Eerie. We are looking at the state of faith in Southern Indiana, and perhaps today of all days, we should confess that there are things about faith that can be both fantastic and frightening. Let’s look at five haunting facts about faith.

1. It is eerie to admit that we don’t have all the answers. The very nature of faith assumes that there are some concepts that cannot be determined with 100 percent certainty. That should not be alarming — we accept that on many levels. Almost 50 years later, people are still wrangling over the possibility of a major conspiracy and the presence of additional gunmen at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

But for some reason, we are uneasy admitting that we cannot explain the origins of the universe without certainty. We scratch our heads when a person diagnosed with cancer suddenly is cancer-free. It goes against our nature to accept the possibility of a creative God who is able to work outside the laws of nature with powers and goodness that we simply do not understand.

2. It is frightening to face death. Like taxes and the animosity between fans of local college basketball teams, dealing with death is one of life’s few certainties. Facing it is unnerving. We don’t know what lies on the other side. We are unsure of how to endure whatever pain might be associated with it. The Bible calls death an enemy. Fighting the enemy is a horrendous, blood-curdling event.

3. It is scary to live a godly life. Like a salmon swimming upstream, the person of faith is called upon to go against the natural waves of culture and even his own instinctive feelings about morals and ethics. Take success, for example. In a fiercely competitive world, we have a sense of what it takes to come out on top. Jesus said that if you want to be great, you have to be a servant.

That advice is exactly the opposite of what we would expect. Scary.

4. If I believe in God and godly forces in our world, it is rational to expect evil forces to also be present. But for many, such a thought is paralyzing. George Barna, former leader in the Gallup organization and now CEO of the largest Christian polling institution, conducted a survey in the United States in 2009 about Christianity’s core beliefs. As a result of the study, Barna discovered that most do not believe in the existence of Satan as a real being.

Four out of 10 Christians surveyed strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of 10 Christians said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians (26 percent) indicated that they strongly believe Satan is real. Another one-tenth (9 percent) believed somewhat in his reality. The remaining 8 percent were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan.

5. Even Satan believes in God. It is ironic, and even haunting, that so many today claim to be atheists, confident and secure that God does not exist. Another large group of people consider themselves agnostic, not able to make a judgment on God’s existence because there is not enough evidence available. Even a statement about the nonexistence of God is a statement of faith, isn’t it?

There is an interesting observation tucked away in the little book in the New Testament written by James. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder” (James 2:19 English Standard Version).

You know what really might be scary? If all of us who say we believe in God actually started living like it.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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