By Matthew Estes
Back in high school and early, early college, I was a proud member of my church’s youth group for around six years. Every Monday night, a small group of youth members, young adults, and our youth minister would get together in someone’s living room for a Bible study. There we’d go page by page over our selected book of choice, delivering our interpretations of scripture which mostly consisted of rehashing of what our youth minister (who shall henceforth by dubbed “Carl”) said. Of the group, I was likely the most committed, and yet I never really fit into the conversations completely, likely because I was unwilling to conceal my doubts and fears. Put simply, my heart was (and still sometimes is) a battleground between the faith I knew in God and my fears of dying into the waiting arms of oblivion.
Well, after years of poking the topic with a stick, one day I gathered up the courage to say it after reading a particularly dispiriting Bible verse. “Carl,” I hesitated, then spoke with boldness, “I know that this is true, but sometimes I worry that it’s all not real, and that I’m going to die and simply cease to exist.”
His reply, though, was six words that truly shook me.
“You may very well be right.”
I needed some kind of proof or reassurance that what I had invested so much time and faith in what worthwhile and fulfilling, and that life was more than just a cruel, pointless joke played by the universe. What I got instead was a direct confrontation of my deepest darkest fears. As angry as I was at Carl… as much as I wanted to leave and never come back to another Bible study with this church ever, he was correct. And in a way, he was acknowledging what I always suspected: that even the most ardent, dogmatic, or faithful person cannot know with complete certainty that what he or she believes is true.
You can only be 99.99% certain.
Even the pastor who has seen healings take place before his very eyes can only be 99.99% certain.
Even the student 17 rows up witnessing God’s revival at a conference can only be 99.99% certain.
Even the missionary who sees the smile on a young boy’s face as you give him food can only be 99.99% certain.
Even me, who has himself witnessed the miracle of God healing my back, can only be 99.99% certain.
According to the AP Stylebook, which is the (lowercase) bible for journalists and PR professionals, an agnostic is a person who believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
By definition, that makes everyone at least slightly agnostic. But there is a word, a beautiful five letter word, that on most days makes that uncertainty more than okay… faith. Faith “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Imagine this highly improbably scenario: a woman comes up to you with an envelope. She tells you that inside the envelope is a number between one and 10,000. You can pick a number, any number, between one and 10,000, and as long as you pick any other number than the one in the envelope, you’ll be given a million dollars. However, if you pick the number in the envelope, you’ll be shot dead right there on the spot. Yikes.
You have a 99.99% chance of walking away rich. For a million dollars, I’d do it without a moment’s hesitation. Heck, I’d probably do it for $100,000. You probably would too.
That doesn’t make it smart. Offer the same deal to a baseball stadium full of people, and five people aren’t going home to their families that night. But each one will wholeheartedly have faith in both chance and money. Yet, faith in God is even stronger stuff.
I know I’ve been saved. I remember the day, the time, the location, the weather, the emotions I felt when I asked to be saved. I’ve seen God work miracles in my life and the lives of my friends. I’ve seen people find God and completely turn around their nature and their lives. He has answered my prayers. And yet, the ground pulls at my feet. The 00.01% of me that still thinks that death is the end of my story sometimes has enough mass to eclipse the light of the Son. That is my spiritual battle; it can be fought, but not vanquished until the day I enter the gates of Heaven.
Agnosticism is not a religion. It’s just a name given to a question people have pondered since the beginning. We just like giving it other names, like doubt, stumbling, or skepticism. And if you think it would have been easier to believe if we were living in biblical times, keep in mind that Peter denied Christ on the day of his crucifixion, and Thomas needed to see and feel the scars of the resurrected Jesus.
You can look for that 100% assurance all you want to. You can search the world over, read the Bible and every commentary on it, and pray six hours a day, and still you will never find it. But with every loving act of kindness, every fellowship with close friends, and every intimate prayer to God, you can add another nine. And on the day your time on Earth finally ends, you can come home confident that the Savior will be waiting with open arms.