I was a pagan as a child. Not by choice, but as a consequence of lacking any access to the Word of God. In Romania in the 1980s, catechizing an Orthodox child (whose parents were members of the Communist Party) was a highly unlikely event. Pavlik Morozov’s myth, the hero-child that denounced his own father, generated caution.
In my village in the Danube Delta, word went around about some man-eating sheatfish and veelas, mythical water creatures said to be speaking Slavic languages, roiling the waters. It was a fatal mistake to go near the waters at night. Despite all precautions, the beings living in hungry waters took their toll from time to time.
An old woman we called Aca showed me a charcoal picture book about Sodom’s destruction. That is when I heard someone pronounce God’s name for the first time. The punishment of the city in the Jordan Plains did not frighten me. What fascinated me was God’s power and justice. Unlike the pagan monsters, that fed on both the innocent and the guilty, God only punished those who refused to repent.
I believed in God because of what I had heard then, out of necessity and honesty, because there were so many wonders and joys around me that could not be explained by scientific materialism or veelas: the violet waters of the Murighiol Lake at sunset, the red poppies on the hill of the water basin, the joy of swimming in Saratura, the taste of reed mace marrow, the wonderful gift of friendship. Honesty is absolutely necessary for faith.
I became aware that a judgement would come and I strove to be prepared. I sat in an uncomfortable pew and, surrounded by the fog produced by the candles and incense, I would listen to the endless incantations that are typical in Eastern Orthodox burial rituals. The existence of death gave God a definitive place in my mind: death was not the end. Beyond it, God only became more obvious.
The madness of faith
Atheist communist ideologists neglected Aristotle’s argument from his Rhetoric (2.23, 22) where he states that probability can be extracted from any underlined improbability. If little exists, then more must exist too. In other words, even if some affirmations seem improbable, it is reasonable to believe them (especially if they are vehemently denied). Paradoxically, the more God’s existence is denied, the more the probability of His existence is affirmed. This reflexive arch preserves and determines the birth of persecuted Christians.
Tertullian, a Christian writer from the early 3rd century, takes over Aristotle’s argument in the affirmation “credibile est, quia ineptum est” (De carne Christi 5.4). This writer was wrongfully ascribed ownership over the words credo quia absurdum, which is just an erroneous paraphrase of the first expression. Credo quia absurdum—“I believe because it is absurd”—implies a faith with no cognitive effort, no arguments, and based on dogmatic dictation. To clarify, Tertullian states that he bases his faith on arguments different from those of the world, which seem foolish because they are incomprehensible without the Spirit of God.
God does not build arguments about His existence. That would be unnatural. Nobody else is concerned with proving to others that they exist. God manifests Himself and, from the effects of His actions, we understand that He is (see Exodus 3:14, John 3:8) and how He is (see 1 John 4:8).
In 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, the apostle Paul talks about God’s way of working: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
God affirms his omnipotence. He prevents people from mistaking Him for a lifeless idol, plated with gold to prove its worth, raised on ridiculous pedestals to suggest its holiness, or excessively shrouded in incense so that its imposture is not exposed.
God uses simple, even degrading things (which people would not use to represent divinity), to make sure He is unmistakably recognized.
Accepting God’s existence can complete one’s general view on existence, but it cannot bring us into a relationship with God. That is why, besides affirming His divinity, God also proves the beauty of His character (by the love He shows to the sinner, the mutilated, the miserable, the irredeemable). It is only when we understand that God exists and that He is good (forgiving, benevolent, encouraging, and loving), at a level that surpasses all we know about this quality, that a voluntary interaction with God is possible (Romans 2:4).
A few years ago, I experienced a revelatory moment that convinced me that I am not indifferent to God, that He knows my thoughts, and watches over me. I was going through a very difficult time. On that day, I was resting on a bench in the park. All of a sudden, for a few split seconds, I felt as if everything around me was different. The light was more alive, I was breathing a fresher air, the leaves of the trees stopped turning yellow, the hawk did not rush upon the pigeon that was a sure victim. I immediately thought that this is what the natural world must have been like before the fall. I felt like that glorious impression must have been a gift from God who wanted me to know that He was there to encourage me.
The event that completely convinces us that God is good is still the crucifixion of His Son for the rescue of the world (see John 3:16). The fact that human salvation required the humiliating death of God’s Son puts an end to all pretences of human wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1:19). The Gospel is not some new philosophy. It’s not even a divine philosophy that people could use to evaluate God. The humiliating nature of Jesus’ crucifixion proves that we can neither foresee nor exhaust God’s plan. Faith is more than just an intellectual or spiritual capacity, it is a given following from true revelation (see Romans 10:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13). If the last phrase is true, then Christ’s passions are the climax of the revelation, the central reason for Christian meditation. Not believing, or forgetting, the fundamental and absolute message of the crucifixion equates to apostasy.
The practical dimension of faith
A functional relation with God implies, among other things, that our mind completely delights in Him. In other words, we need to believe without doubting (we can have questions without this meaning that we are doubting).
Having genuine faith is tantamount to involving God in all your life decisions. It means trusting Him even when you do not have palpable evidence, even if other people believe your expectations based on God’s Word are absurd.
Faith gives you the possibility to have fellowship with God (see Hebrews 11:6). When, by faith, we accept what we cannot see and we regard the biblical promises as personal by giving up bad habits and sins, we open the door for God to enter into our lives (see Revelation 3:20). Such experience does not depend on one’s spiritual pedigree, but on God’s mercy. It is accessible to everyone who believes with all their heart. This is how I came to understand that God is able to give me much more than the satisfaction I received from habits that enslaved me. I recognized that God is all powerful and that He is thus able to give me even more intense, yet innocent joys. I got down on my knees and asked Him to free me from what was evil. I felt God’s rebuke for my divided heart and yet I never felt a gentler, more loving reproof. This was a blessing I cannot express in words. All that we ask for, with faith, in prayer, we shall receive (see Matthew 21:22).
Faith is the answer to the desire to be lucid. Harassed by relativism, I need the assurance that there are solutions for disappointments and concerns, that something higher, more precious exists. Without faith, I would only have laxity or cynicism and their sad consequences at hand. Faith is responding to a perpetual invitation, and the act of courage to continuously pursue. What encourages me is the functionality of faith. On the road of faith, we receive confirmations and relive victories.