I have been asked, of late, by a number of people whose opinions I value, why I refer to myself at times as an “agnostic Christian.” Some have expressed concern with my answer, and I therefore feel a need to clarify. This post will be the first of several relating to my thoughts and studies of late on a number of spiritual issues that have been troubling me for some time now.
To begin with, I have been told that the term is an oxymoron – that it contains two terms that cannot be reconciled. I disagree. I find it more of a paradox – two terms that seem to be irreconcilable, but which, under closer examination, make perfect sense.
Why then do I call myself an “agnostic Christian”? To answer that, I need to break the term down. The latter part is the easy one. I call myself a “Christian” because I believe Jesus Christ – the same Jesus whose name appears in early first-century Roman records from the province of Judea – was more than the great teacher many thought him to be at the time. I believe, as did his closest friends, that he was God incarnate, who was born as a gift for his creation, mankind, died to absolve us of the guilt brought onto us by our sin and that of our progenitor, Adam, and rose from the dead in victory over the physical death that is Adam’s curse. I rely on this same Jesus . . . on his life, his death, and his resurrection . . . for absolution of my own sin, and for the promise of eternal relationship with him.
The question of why I call myself an “agnostic” is a bit more difficult to explain. At its root, the word agnostic is derived from the Greek word gnosis – or knowledge – and the prefix a – indicating a lack thereof. Thus, an agnostic is quite literally one who does not know.
This, I find, describes me more by the day. I was enamored, recently, of a bumper sticker I saw, that said, “don’t believe everything you think.” This saying fits me to a tee. I find with each passing day that more and more of what I think is wrong. Therefore, while I hold my beliefs (any beliefs) firmly until they have been disproven, I am always open to that happening. Given how much of what I once thought has been shown to be wrong, I live assuming that much of what I still believe is probably wrong as well.
So by that most basic of definitions, I am, quite literally, an agnostic Christian. I believe in the existence of absolute truth, but not necessarily in the assertion that I have grasped it completely – or that I ever will, though I will never stop searching.
The problem then becomes the fact that this word “agnostic” has been used for centuries to describe one who does not believe the existence of God can be proven.
It might shock some who know me well to hear that I agree.
You see, Paul’s letter to the Romans says that, at present, we “see through a glass darkly” and that the time when we shall see “face to face” is still in the future. To my mind, the instant I assert that I “knowï¿½”. . . or even that I can “know” . . . that God exists, there is no place for faith in my relationship with God – and faith is an essential . . . the essential . . . ingredient in a true relationship with him.
If I assert that I “know God exists,” this assumes that I know exactly who I am talking about when I speak of Him – that is, that I know his attributes, his character, his form and behavior.
Needless to say, I don’t. If I did, the request he makes of me to trust him, to commune with him, and to love him would be a simple task. If I made that claim of God, it would mean that I know him better than I know my wife, my family, my dearest friends. While I hold God as my most important relationship, I wouldn’t dare to presume that much.
So the simple truth is that I don’t know if God exists. It is enough for me to believe that He does. That, to me, is the faith He asks of me.