[Our series continues this week with a powerful testimony from Katie Lillemon, a recent high school graduate. Katie is an active member of a Lutheran congregation where she participated in choir, youth worship, the Foundation Board, and many other activities. She will attend Gustavus Adolphus College later this year, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology on the pre-med track. – Drew]
Doubt is not usually associated with faith. In fact, the word “faith” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” As Christians, I think we are so often trained to live our lives without doubt, to be so confident in Christ that we never waver in our faith. So, when I started to question my faith as a young teenager, I felt afraid and confused and lost. I desperately wanted to pursue a life of science, but thought that I couldn’t because of my faith.
I wondered who God was in relationship to science, how relevant the Bible was to my life, and even if God was real. I didn’t talk to anyone in my church out of fear of condemnation, and I didn’t bring it up with my parents because they lived such devoted, faithful lives. I thought they wouldn’t understand the crisis of faith I was having. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I understood the important and powerful connection faith and science have.
My church never had a very strong youth ministry presence. By the time I entered middle school, I was the only student in our Sunday School program. When the learning opportunities in my church went away, my curious nature drove me to look for supplements to that learning. I would go to other youth groups with my friends, trying to find a good fit. I joined the ministry team at my own church, hoping to find an adult I felt comfortable asking questions with. I even tried talking with my teachers about faith, to no avail. I never found a niche, a safe space where I felt comfortable asking big questions and learning more. It was at this time that faith and science were becoming a major dichotomy in my life.
My science teachers made it very clear that faith had no place in their classrooms, and my Christian friends were adamant about the fact that their Christianity had no room for science. I questioned everything I had learned about faith. Was the Creation story real? Was God real? Did God believe in science? I felt so alone in my faith. I seriously considered giving up either my love of science of my love of Christ. I thought that I had to give up one to have the other.
Despite all this, I got confirmed in my church and continued searching for a place to ask questions. Once high school began, I finally found what I was looking for. Our church had just called a new pastor, and he not only listened to my questions, he encouraged me to bring him more. He gave me the space I had been longing for. At the same time, I had a fantastic high school science teacher who rekindled my passion for science. She also encouraged me to ask questions and fueled my curious nature with extra readings and class tangents.
- Learn more about the Gustavus Academy, a program to help high school students embrace their faith and science questions.
Here are some resources that have helped me combine faith and science in my daily life. The books include:
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections of Prayer by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki
- Cancer and Theology by Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad
- Mere Science and the Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults by Greg Cootsona
- What’s in Your Genes? by Katie McKissick
The videos include:
- Can Christianity and Science Coexist? with Dr. Francis Collins
- A Scientific Defense of Spiritual and Religious Faith with Tony Jack
Finding Joy in the Questioning
It wasn’t, however, until I attended the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics that everything really clicked for me. The Gustavus Academy is a week-long program held at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. The program focuses on the intersections between faith and science in our daily life, and how we can use both faith and science to ethically examine some of our world’s most prudent issues. The Gustavus Academy gave me my first concrete evidence that science and faith were not two polar opposites; in fact, they were so deeply intertwined that one could not exist without the other. More importantly, the Gustavus Academy helped me combine faith and science in my daily life.
I now have such a deeper belief in God because of the science behind Christianity. I have a deeper appreciation for Christ because of the scientific ramifications. And most importantly, I am no longer afraid of doubt. The very nature of science is to question, and it is impossible for me to see any growth in my faith journey without questioning that faith. I have been given the confidence to ask questions freely, without fear of condemnation or disapproval. I no longer feel alone or afraid in the face of uncertainty in my faith, because I know that there are countless others who are questioning with me; in fact, I feel joy in questioning, because it means I get to learn something new about God and about myself. My science-led faith has been such an important tool in my life, and I know with absolute certainty that my life would be much poorer without it.
What does this mean for us, the Christian community at large? If you have youth in your life, encourage them to ask questions. Encourage them to pursue their passions. Support them in their doubt and let them know that it’s good and healthy to not know all the time. And talk with them about science. For so long, science has been made to seem as the “bad guy” of Christianity, constantly disproving all that we hold dear in our faith lives. I implore you to show your youth that this is not the case. Show them that science and faith are not enemies, that you can have them both without compromise. Give them the growing up that I wish I could have experienced.
And for all the Christian youth out there, never stop asking questions. Embrace your doubt. As scary as it is, there is joy in the jumping into the unknown. Who knows all of the wonderful things you will find at the bottom?