What Questions Led You to Faith in God?

Sep 18, 2019

The ways in which God pursues people are amazing in their similarities, but also in their uniqueness. Only in hindsight can many see the lengths God went to in order to reach them, and the questions that had to be answered before faith in God seemed a reasonable thing. This week, Jo and Vince talk about the questions they themselves asked that led to their personal faith in God.

Question Asked in This Episode:
“What questions led you to faith in God?”

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. The ways in which God pursues the loss are amazing in their similarities, but also in their uniqueness. Only in hindsight can many of us see the lengths in which God would go to bring us to himself. For some, the journey seemed simple, and for others, the journey was fraught with pain and suffering. Yet. In all instances, the miracle of the dead being brought to life in Christ is nothing short of amazing. Today on Ask Away, Vince and Jo will discuss the questions and even stumbling blocks that prevented them from fully knowing the love of God, the questions that they struggled with, but the God would use to reveal himself to them, which would ultimately lead them to the foot of the cross. But before we get started, Jo, could you tell our listeners a little bit about the connect platform, RZIM's online home for our global family?

Jo Vitale: You guys absolutely have to check out this platform. It is connect.rzim.org.

Vince Vitale: or Z for all of you.

Michael Davis: What's a zed?

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I don't know.

Jo Vitale: It's the alphabet. It's the way the alphabet ends, by the way. And yeah, so RZIM. This is a brilliant community. It's basically a place to go if you love engaging with RZIM material. If you're passionate about apologetics but you want to dive deeper. If there are questions that you're wrestling with particularly and you want a really quick answer to them, if you're a part of this community, we can pretty much guarantee that within 24 hours you're going to get some amazing responses from people, not just our own RZIM team, but from Christians all around the world who are passionate about God and about sharing their faith with other people. So I think it's a really exciting community to be a part of. It's also a good community if you enjoy Ask Away because there's a section within there where you can come and ask your questions. It's another forum for both submitting them and also continuing to discuss some of the topics that we talk about on here if you want to take a deeper dive, if you feel like we only scratched the surface, which inevitably we do because it's only 20 minutes long. It's a chance to think more deeply about some of those questions. So do check out RZIM connect. It's a really great place.

Michael Davis: So this question is from Robert. It's going to be a doozy. I'm excited about this one, cause, you know, we've heard a little bit of your guys' stories.

Jo Vitale: What's a doozy?

Michael Davis: Oh, I think we had this question before, I think at the beginning of... A doozy means it's a big question. It's a big question. Here we go. I think it was an old car from back in the forties. If you guys know, just go on connect and tell us what a doozy is.

Jo Vitale: We'd like to know the etymology of doozy.

Michael Davis: Yes, exactly. I'm pretty sure it's an old car. Okay, so here's the question. This is from Robert. “What questions led you to faith in God?’

Vince Vitale: Thanks, Robert. I appreciate this partly just because of the assumption that questions are what leads one to God. I think oftentimes that is the case. That's partly why Jesus asked a lot of questions. He asked a lot of creative questions. There's something sometimes about a question that can pull an answer out of you that you don't even know is there, and sometimes when someone asks you a question, you don't have an answer, but that itself reveals to you a lot about the state of your own heart. And as I first read your question, I was thinking of an instance of a friend of mine actually who became a Christian in college and he says that he remembers in high school he was caddying at a golf club and he was caddying for this guy and the guy was a Christian.

And at some point while they were walking around the course, the guy just said to my friend, he said, "Do you know Jesus?" And the question just stopped my friend in his tracks. And I think at the time he would have identified himself as Christian, at least culturally. He had grown up going to church. But when someone said to him, "Do you know Jesus," he didn't know what to say. And he says he said something like, "I'm trying." But then that question stuck with him for years, through high school and into college, because it's the sort of question that, on reflection, he realized there should be a simple answer. You know, if somebody says to me, "Do you know Michael Davis?" It's a yes or a no, right? It's usually a simple answer, but when someone said, "Do you know Jesus?" The answer was, "I'm trying." And that was just this pebble in his shoe for several years until he got to college and somebody explained to him in a fuller way the gospel and he was ready to receive it, but partly because of that simple question that was asked of him several years before.

Jo Vitale: What I also love about you asking this is it actually underlines the point that questions aren't just things people who grow up outside of the church have about faith. Actually we all have questions about faith, even if we haven't realized it, because I really enjoyed ref reflecting on this question and it made me think, well actually it's hard for me to maybe pinpoint exactly what were the overarching questions that I vocalized on that journey to faith, having grown up in a Christian home and my dad being a pastor, all of these things, but when I reflect on it in each stage of my life, I realized that there were very big fundamental underlying questions that I might not have known at the time was the question that was driving me or I would've been able to put words to. But nevertheless, those were the questions existentially that I was wrestling with that actually led me through into relationship with Jesus. So actually, I think this is a great question for anyone listening to actually reflect on what were the questions in my life? What are the questions that I still have about faith that I might not have actually put my finger on, but they're there?

Vince Vitale: And sometimes they're not fully coherent. I was trying to think of what was my first significant question? And I was remembering in my story when I was invited to a campus ministry gathering, had no idea what that was, didn't know what a Christian fellowship was. But I remember walking in the room and seeing these college students who otherwise seemed like the sort of people that I would generally connect with and they had their eyes closed and their hands out and they were singing their hearts out to this invisible God. And I think my question was just what in the world?

Michael Davis: What's wrong with these people?

Vince Vitale: Yeah. I clearly saw something distinctive and I just wanted to understand what is so different about this. I've never seen such passion. I've never seen such a conviction. And you know, my goal growing up, my goal was always to be the best, to be better than everyone else at various things. And so now this sight of high achieving Princeton students who I had assumed had the same sort of goal as me, but now praising someone else for how much better he is than them was very counterintuitive to me. The whole idea of worship, these are supposed to be high achieving Princeton students who were here because they've done well and they've done better than other people and they're supposed to just feel good about themselves and feel good about what they've accomplished, and here they were in this humble stance, hands out before God, praising him because he is so much better than them. I thought, "This is different," and that really challenges me even today. I even think of that 1 Peter 3 verse that we often go to, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have."

The verse assumes that people are asking us questions about our faith because they're seeing something distinctive and they're asking that question, what in the world? What is it that's different? And sometimes I worry that I try to make faith so digestible for people, so accessible for people, that I can shy away sometimes from the actual distinctiveness and difference of just how otherworldly it is and counter cultural it is to worship God for who he is and what he's done. And maybe if people sometimes saw more of that in my life, they would just ask that question and just say, "Something's different here. You've got to tell me what it is."

Jo Vitale: It's so interesting that that was you experiencing Christians worshiping and that it immediately raised questions for you, because I actually think how opposite that was for me. I think because I grew up in the church, you know, I was there every Sunday. It was such a part of my ritual and my life, with dad being a pastor, that actually I think for a long time I didn't ask any questions at all. I was just part of the scenery, part of the background, and I think it was only when I was around 13 years old, you know, before that church is just the community, the place I hang out, my best friend went to church, so I just kind of look forward to chilling with her.

And it was only when actually I was taken out of my usual church context in a way on a kind of youth conference, I think it was, where someone really started speaking about the difference that God made in their life, and I think for me it then raised that first question, actually, would faith make any kind of difference? Was it just part of the background or was there any actual real power to it? That was really the moment for me. It's interesting because Vince sometimes uses this framework to talk about how do you discern whether Christianity is true? And he talks about these three questions: is it true, is it beautiful and does it work? But I think sometimes we think of it as a natural order to those questions. You start with is it true? Then you look at is it beautiful and appealing, and then you look at it practically, does it actually work in your life?

Michael Davis: Doesn't work that way.

Jo Vitale: Right. It didn't work for me because I was reflecting on my life and I was like, actually I came to those three in reverse. You know, my starting point is someone who grew up in the church. So the first thing that hooked me was that question that evening was, does this work? Is that actually anything in it? And actually the rest of them went backwards for me. So it was that night that I remember someone speaking about it and I just felt this challenge and I basically got up and said, "Okay God, if you're there, I want to actually know you. If this is real, show me that it's real. Show up for me." And what blew my mind was the way that God did in that moment. So actually for me, faith began because I asked that question and God showed up in an experiential way long before I came to questions of truth.

I just felt, it's hard to describe it, this overwhelming outpouring of the love of God in actually a physical, tangible way. You know, the Bible talks the glory of God, but actually glory in Hebrew means kind of weightiness. I actually sort of felt the presence, like the weightiness of the Holy Spirit on me and not just in that instant, but it actually lasted for about three days. This bizarre, the worldly feeling.

Michael Davis: I had the same thing.

Jo Vitale: Did you really?

Michael Davis: I did.

Jo Vitale: Wow. Yeah. Just kind of blew me away because I couldn't account for it in sort of psychological terms or you know like cause you think, Oh is this just the music or is it just the moment? But it lasted for so many days that I couldn't really think of it as a manufactured thing.

Michael Davis: Did you have a...For me, did you, when it kind of dissipated, it was almost like, I was like, "No, no, no, you need to come back." My entire faith journey has been almost like trying to get that glimpse of that. It was absolutely...I completely, completely understand.

Jo Vitale: It's this sort of mountaintop experience, but it was so real and part of the reason I know it's real is because it changed me. You know, because anyone could have a religious experience I guess in different ways. But I walked out of that transformed and different, and one of the ways I was different was in actually wanting to tell people about the love of God because it was so unbelievable. I was like, I can't just selfishly hold onto this myself. So that was the impetus for actually wanting to be an evangelist and share my faith. And so it was just interesting to me thinking about it, that actually it started with the question, is it real? And experiencing a real answer to that question before I moved into other questions later.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that makes sense. And I can resonate with that. Not because I had that type of experience myself initially, but I saw it in other people and I remember, so now this is a few months after I went to that first fellowship meeting. I remember going home over the Christmas break and I remember saying to myself, "Almost everyone that I've met who seems to have this certain stability to who they are and this peacefulness about them, that they're resting in their identity rather than aimlessly trying to chase after it, they all have this one thing in common: this Christian faith, this Jesus." And I thought, "I can't just explain that away without taking that seriously." And that did seem to me like a miracle. I've often found it interesting how quick we are to label physical things as miracles, but as soon as they're nonphysical or in some way spiritual or emotional or psychological or having to do with our identity, we don't use that term. But I mean, what's more difficult: to see healing from some sort of brokenness in our physical bodies, or to see lasting stability in who we are, in our identity? I mean, to me that's even more miraculous. And I was seeing that in people through this community that I got connected with, and I said to myself, "I have to take that seriously. They all have one thing in common, and so I need to pursue that thing."

Jo Vitale: So cool to hear you say that. Cause I think that was my second question because my first question was, is this going to work for me? And then the immediate follow-up for that was, does it have the power, not just for me, but to change the world? Like is this a practical lived out hope that works for everybody? And over the next couple of years, seeing that come true, seeing some of my closest friends become Christians, seeing the power of the gospel to save not just me, but them too, and seeing the hope that it gave was this amazing thing of realizing actually there's a meaning to my life beyond myself that I mean, you know, it's so like a beauty contestant, isn't it? But you know, like this actually has the power to bring world peace. This has the power to...For me to be a part of something so much bigger, a story beyond my silly little selfish life, and actually knowing that if I was going to be invested in it and pursue it, it had that miraculous power to change a person. And I think like you're saying, that is the biggest miracle in the world. And seeing that time and time again lived out is just further confirmation for me.

Vince Vitale: That's so cool. It worked in the other way for me. I first saw this in other people and then my next question was, could this have that sort of power in my life? How can I live the life that I know deep down I'm supposed to live? And if I was honest with myself, I knew I wasn't living the life that I was supposed to live, but I was sort of okay with that. You know, I was young. You know, when you're young, you do stupid stuff, you have fun. That's just what everyone does when they're young. But then at some point you decide, okay, now I'm an adult. I need to take responsibility for life. And then you just flip a switch and somehow from within yourself you're going to have the power to live the life that you know deep down you were intended to live.

And so now I was seeing people living a life that I admired from afar. And I tried to flip that switch. I decided, okay, now it's time, and can I do that on my own? And I tried to flip that switch and sort of live that life that I knew deep down I was intended to live and I fell flat on my face, you know? And there were specific things that God began to bring, not condemnation, but conviction in my heart about. And I said, okay, I'll just change that in my own strength. I'll flip that switch. And I fell flat on my face. And I've always resonated with C.S. Lewis' thought that you never know how bad you are until you have tried very hard to be good. If you know, when you're just going through life and just saying, hey, everyone does stupid stuff. I'm young, it's fine for me to do stupid stuff, and you don't realize the reality of what's in your heart. But when you try to flip that switch and you try to be very good and you try to live the life that you know deep down you were created to live and you fall flat on your face, then that turns you in a different direction.

Jo Vitale: It's so funny, Vince and I didn't talk about this before at all or plan it out, but actually, that was my very next place that in my story became the next question for me because I'd figured out, okay, it works for me. It works to change the world, but how does it work? And is it actually a beautiful thing that's at work? And for me that this only really came about later, weirdly, in my journey, as I began to ask the question, what does the cross mean? What does the cross actually mean? And I can remember being away at a children's camp. I think it was about, I don't know, like 12 years old and someone gave a talk on the cross and afterwards there were a group of girls in the back who was sitting there crying and I remember watching them cry and thinking like, why are they crying?

Like what is the big deal here? And I remember having this feeling like there's something that was supposed to move me in that they're moved by but I haven't got it. Like whatever it is, I'm not moved. And I don't know if, I think growing up as a pastor's kid, you can really buy into that thing that actually you're super well behaved and you're really good and you put a lot of stock in your behavior. And I think I had this general sense of actually I was just a really good human being for quite long time. Even after I encountered the love of God and intellectually I thought and understood the cross, but I didn't really existentially experience that in a deep way, I think, until actually I really messed up in my late teen years and I'm to the point where I tried to walk away from God because I felt like such a failure.

And again, it's something I thought I had sorted out. And then to my shock and horror, realized I didn't have it sold out at all. And then I tried to stop believing he existed because I found it so painful to face up to my mess and my mistakes and my sin really. And then it was only in that experience of trying to walk away, but sort of intellectually believing that God was there but not wanting anything to do with him cause I couldn't really face looking into his eyes cause I would've felt this betrayal, but he just kept coming off to me. It kind of felt like that, you know, the parable of the lost sheep, it felt like everywhere I went, God was there with arms outstretched saying, "Hey, I love you. Come back to me." I couldn't shake him off. He wouldn't go away.

But that was, I think, when I finally came to understand grace, that I could really hurt God, but his love was bigger than my hurt. And so I think that was one part of it. And then the second part of the cross, the justice of the cross, it didn't really hit me, I think until university, if I'm honest. I think I didn't really intellectually understand why judgment was needed. That still seemed kind of cruel. It didn't necessarily...I find it hard to align that with the love of God that I had experienced. And I think I've shared before, it was only in the context of the horrendous experience of one of my close friends being raped that I suddenly came to understand why justice was so important and why there had to be justice and why actually justice and love weren't opposed, but they came together. And I found myself worshiping God because of his judgment and because he actually had an answer to injustice rather than just thinking, well, love would deny that. So those two things really came together for me, I would say in a real way at university, that big question of what does the cross mean?

Vince Vitale: Yeah. And I think when you come to understand what the cross means and actually get to the point where you're not just a willing to say that you believe in God, but you're willing to say, "I need a Savior." That's when things really change. And for me, I was someone who would never ask for forgiveness. I would always rationalize that I was right. I would argue, argue, argue, until I convinced someone that I was right and after I came to faith and was just flooded with the forgiveness of God, it was literally like it overflowed and then could be poured out to other people as well. And I began to just write forgiveness letters. I remember one day just sitting down and just writing forgiveness letter after forgiveness letter. And I did experience some of it immediately, some of it over time, just as radical change in my heart.

Jo Vitale: And then I think the final question for me, which in a way is still a question that I've spent the rest of my life on in a sense, was, is it true? Does it work? Is it beautiful? And then is it true? And for me that only ironically came about in the context of studying theology. And it wasn't that I didn't believe it was true before. I did believe it was true because God was so real to me. He was more real to me than pretty much anyone else in my life. And I couldn't dispute that. But then intellectually having to work through it all. And that's why I went and studied theology in a secular context because I actually thought, you know what, I don't just want to go to Bible college and have everyone affirming what I already believe. I want to be challenged.

I want to be tested on this. I want to face the robust challenges, particularly about the reliability of the Bible, because I want to know what other people are thinking who haven't grown up the way I've grown up. I want to hear their hard questions and I believe if it's true it'll stand up. And so that was a journey. And that was hard. I will say there was some tough years in there of working through that. And been willing to actually ask the question rather than just fake asking is it true and not being willing to really engage with the ideas. And it kind of felt like at one point sort of, you know, being shot into space and suddenly like gravity wasn't there anymore and everything's sort of flying around in your theology and in your thinking. You're trying to hold onto things, but it all feels like a messy sort of thing. When I come back down to land, what's it going to look like? Is it going to hold up?

But actually what blew me away was through that process I really felt the faithfulness of God. It kind of felt like in a...You know in a film when there's like a battle scene and everyone's charging at you and then there's like a commander in the lines saying, "Hold, hold, don't go yet. Don't fall back. Don't. Just hold." That was kind of my experience on what the Holy Spirit was doing with me. I think he was saying, "I know it feels like everything is coming at you and you're about to lose this battle and everything's going to fall apart and you don't know if it's going to hold up or if you'll be able to stand, let alone when. But just hold fast." And then through those years, God revealed his power and his truthfulness through scripture. He took everything apart and then he put it back together, but in a stronger way. And I was kind of astonished to walk out of that at the end, not only with faith intact, but bigger and with more confidence in it. And I think that's been the rest of the years since is really just constantly digging into those questions without fear now because I know he's true. I know he'll come through even if it's not always clear to me in the moment what the answer is going to be.

Michael Davis: That's great. And Braveheart as an analogy of the Holy Spirit. Respect.

Jo Vitale: Thank you. Yeah, I spent years trying to work that in. Freedom. Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it. So many quotable quotes.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I think it was, you know, very much the same for me, Jo. It's interesting. We often think about our stories is very different, but this question, Robert, that you've asked actually shows the continuity of the way that God works through the lives of different people. Because when we actually say what were the questions that were important? And a lot of them were very similar and I would say, is it true? That was the last one for me as well. And even if there is power here for others, for me, is it just a placebo effect? You know, I wanted to live in reality, and in our post truth culture and in a culture where technology is allowing us to live virtually more and more, this is a really important question. You know, there's a danger of us losing this question. There was this philosopher, Robert Nozick, who in the 70s actually wrote this article about an experience machine.

And basically it means you would have the option of plugging yourself into a machine that would give you the exact experience of anything that you wanted, right? So you could have all of your pleasures fulfilled, you could win Olympic gold, you could be as successful as you wanted in your experience, but it wouldn't be reality. And he asked the question, should we, if we had that option, plug into the machine? Now that's an even scarier question today because we're not that far from having the technology to plug into the machine, and at the same time in culture, we're moving away from concern about truth into a post truth culture and there's a real danger that a lot of people are going to or are already, in various ways, plugging into that machine. But that was important to me. I didn't want to live in a fantasy world.

I didn't want to just feel like I was loved. I wanted to actually be loved. I didn't want to just feel like I could make a difference. I wanted to actually make a difference. And so as Jo said as well, that was a significant part of my journey. After I had seen that Christianity was attractive, after I had seen that Jesus was someone who would be worth following if he were true, I then had to ask the question, is he true? And I was so encouraged as I dug into the Bible to find that it wasn't asking me to take a blind leap of faith. It was asking me to reason this through. It was asking me to consult with people and with resources and with the community of faith throughout the ages that has provided the evidence that we need to be confident intellectually in this faith.

Michael Davis: Well guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well that was a fun episode, Robert. Appreciate the question. I even got to know you, Jo, better through hearing some of the things that you were sharing. So Robert, really grateful for that and maybe I'll just, you know, throw the question back to the audience. What questions led you to faith in God? We found it so fruitful to think through that for our own lives. Maybe you'll find it fruitful to think through that question in your life as well, and maybe I'll just return to that first question that we asked. Do you know Jesus? I hope as I ask that question there's just an instinctive response of yes. If you find yourself saying, "I'm trying," then know that there's more for you. Know that God desires for you to have a confident answer to that question, and you can have a confident answer to that question by being willing to bring your questions to God and trust that he's good enough and he's powerful enough to give you answers that can bring stability to your life and empower you to live the life that you were created for.

Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we'll catch you guys next week

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