Several years ago my parents and in-laws gave our boys a trampoline. A fifteen-footer with netting around the outside so kids don't end up head first in the flowers. Since then my boys and I have logged more hours on that trampoline than I could begin to count. When we first
got it, my older son, who was five at the time, discovered that if he timed his bounce with mine, he could launch higher than if he was jumping on his own.
I remember the first time he called my wife, Kristen, out into the backyard to watch him jump off of my bounce. Now mind you, up until this point he was maybe getting a foot higher because of his new technique. But this one particular time, when my wife was watching for the first time, something freakish happened in the space-time continuum. When he jumped, there was this perfect convergence of his weight and my weight and his jump and my jump, and I'm sure barometric pressure and air temperature had something to do with it too, because he went really high.
I don't mean a few feet off the mat. I mean he went over my head. Forty pounds of boy, clawing the air like a cat thrown from a second-story window, and a man making eye contact with his wife and thinking, This is not good.
She told us she didn't think our new trick was very safe and we should be careful. Which we were. Until she went inside the house.
It is on this trampoline that God has started to make more sense to me. Because when it comes to faith, everybody has it. People often tell me they could never have faith, that it is just too hard. The idea that some people have faith and others don't is a popular one. But it is not a true one. Everybody has faith. Everybody is following somebody. What often happens is that people with specific beliefs about God end up backed into a corner, defending their faith against
the calm, cool rationality of others. As if they have faith and beliefs and others don't.
But that is not true. Let's take an example: Some people believe we were made by a creator who has plans and purposes for his creation, while others believe there is no greater meaning to life, no grand design, and we exist not because of some divine intention but because of random chance. This is not a discussion between people of faith and people who don't have faith. Both perspectives are faith perspectives, built on systems of belief. The person who says we are here by chance and there is no greater meaning has just as many beliefs as the person who says there's a creator. Maybe even more.
Think about some of the words that are used in these kinds of discussions, one of the most common being the phrase "open-minded". Often the person with spiritual convictions is seen as close-minded and others are seen as open-minded. What is fascinating to me is that at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn't all there is. That there is more to life than the material. That existence is not limited to what we can see, touch, measure, taste,
hear, and observe. One of the central assertions of the Christian worldview is that there is "more". Those who oppose this insist that this is all there is, that only what we can measure and observe and see with our eyes is real. There is nothing else. Which perspective is more "closed-minded"? Which perspective is more "open"?
An atheist is a person of tremendous faith. In our discussions about the things that matter most then, we aren't talking about faith or no faith. Belief or no belief. We are talking about faith in what? Belief in what? The real question isn't whether we have it or not, but what we have put it in.
Everybody follows somebody. All of us make decisions every day about what is important, how to treat people, and what to do with our lives. These decisions come from what we believe about every aspect of our existence. And we got our beliefs from somewhere. We have been formed,
every one of us, by this complicated mix of people and places and things. Parents and teachers and artists and scientists and mentors – we are each taking all of these influences and living our lives according to which teachings we have made our own. Some insist that they aren't influenced by any person or any religion, that they think for themselves. And that's an honorable perspective. The problem is they got that perspective from... somebody. They're following somebody even if they insist it is themselves they are following.
Everybody is following somebody. Everybody has faith in something and somebody.
We are all believers.
Rob Bell lives with his family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he's the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. He also teaches in a short film format called NOOMA, and he's the author of "Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality."