What Faith Means to Me

I never let my father know about my skepticism
What Faith Means to Me
Representational Image [Source: charlotte from Pixabay]

Throughout my ninety-three years, my faith in other people, concepts, and things has provided necessary stability as I have enjoyed mostly happy times and gratifying accomplishments. As an adult, I moved from a naval career to farming, to business, to politics, and, since the end of my presidency, to a challenging and enjoyable life as a college professor, a private citizen with worldwide interests through The Carter Center, an author, an aspiring craftsman and artist, and to the mostly pleasant responsibilities of a senior citizen with a large family. I have been blessed with a loving and enduring marriage and have attained many of the goals I set for myself as a young man. Some of my career changes were of my own choosing, and others have been forced on me by what I considered at the time to be disappointments or complete failures. Throughout these years, my faith as a Christian has provided the necessary stability in my life. Come to think of it, "stability" is not exactly the right word, because faith in something is an inducement not to dormancy but to action. To me, "faith" is not just a noun but also a verb.

I have come to realize that I have not been involved in some of the most important decisions that shaped my life. I had nothing to do with my having been born, the identity of my parents or where I was raised, what talents or abilities I have, or the gift and responsibility of human freedom that I enjoy. Except for suicide, I do not have the freedom to decide when my life will end. I also will lack any power to decide if I continue to exist after my body no longer lives. I believe that God determines my existence and destiny. I realize that my physical strength and endurance are steadily declining, and I am having to learn how to conserve them, but I have found with relief and gratitude—even when facing the prospect of an early death from cancer in my liver and brain—that my faith as a Christian is still unwavering and sustaining. I spend more time in prayer now than in former years, mostly in an attitude of thanksgiving rather than supplication.

A commitment to my basic Christian faith was instilled in me in childhood. I had the double influence of a church environment and my own father as my Sunday School teacher. My religious faith at first was simple and unequivocal; there was no doubt in my mind about the truth of what I learned in church. But even in those early years I was dismayed to find myself becoming skeptical about some aspects of my inherited faith. We learned in church that Jesus had risen from the dead three days after his crucifixion, and that all believers would someday enjoy a similar resurrection. As I grew older, I began to wonder whether this could be true. I became quite concerned about it, worried not so much about the prospect of my own death as about the possibility that I might be separated from my mother and father. These two people were the core of my existence, and I couldn't bear the idea that I would not be with them forever. By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, my anxiety about this became so intense that at the end of every prayer, until after I was an adult, before "Amen" I added the words "And, God, please help me believe in the resurrection." What made it worse was that I thought I was the only person with such concerns. I felt guilty that I doubted what the preacher said, what my father taught me in his weekly Bible class, and what I assumed our church members all accepted without question. I believed I was watched by a punitive God and would have to suffer for my lack of faith. Unfortunately, I never let my father know about my skepticism, because this was not the kind of thing we would have talked about at home.

Although other doubts about my faith have arisen, I have eventually overcome them by prayer, study, and a strong desire to believe what I have accepted as an integral part of my existence and a never-realized ambition for my own behavior. For me, this ideal behavior is based on the life and example of Jesus Christ—not because of his perfection but because he represents God in human form and helps me understand my proper relation to God and to other people. At the same time, I try not to judge the faith of either other Christians or those of a different inspiration, because to do so contradicts the admonition of Jesus: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

Excerpt From: Jimmy Carter's, Faith.

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