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Searching for Answers




by Anneke Vallés

Do you ever wish you had solid answers about your faith to share with skeptical family and friends? I have, and here’s what I learned.

 “How do I know for sure that God exists?” I asked my boyfriend Nick. It was a crisp, dark night after vespers one Friday at Andrews University. He was walking me back to the dorm, and we had stopped and sat down at a bench as our conversation grew heavier.

“And don’t give me a Bible study, but why are Adventists so ‘right’? Don’t other religions have truth too? And what about Ellen White? Her writings can be so confusing and even  contradictory. I just don’t know what to believe.”
I felt lost. I’d grown up as a Seventh-day Adventist, gone to Sabbath school and sang the classics from “The Trees are Gently Swaying” to “The Coloring Song.” And, I was a Seventh-day Adventist by culture through and through. I even became slightly grumpy on Fridays before Sabbath as I made sure all my cleaning was done. And I looked forward to eating Special K loaf at Sabbath lunch.
I felt like I’d had a relationship with Jesus. I’d been the religious vice president for the student body for my academy. I had worked at camp, colporteured, preached, and truly believed that I had a personal relationship with the God of the universe.
But after high school I began to encounter friends and professors who were brimming with doubt. When the time came for me to offer my skeptical colleagues and teachers real answers about my faith, the old mantras didn’t work anymore. Phrases like “Jesus loves the world” and “It was God’s will” just didn’t cut it. But first I needed real answers for myself.
I always knew that it was an option to just not go to church and try to figure things out for myself. But I didn’t want to give up on going to church just yet. I wanted to know why so many intelligent people choose to be Seventh-day Adventist Christians. I wanted to know if I really wanted to be a Seventh-day Adventist.
So, I talked to people. I listened to and gently questioned a Mormon woman, Janet, on a Delta flight to Chicago. I took time to share and hear the perspectives of a Muslim owner of an Internet café in France. I opened up and heard the sincere stances of my patient parents. Finally, I listened to and not so gently questioned professors whom I trusted.
Everyone gave me different perspectives, but I still felt like I needed something more concrete. I needed a reason for my faith—something that I could tell anyone, including my backsliding friends, and be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in the right place.
I had tried just going through the motions, but even the most powerfully executed Dwight Nelson sermons just gave fodder to my skeptical mind. I found myself antagonistically questioning every statement people made about God or religion. In my mind, no one could adequately defend their assumptions. Despite this battle, I still attended church faithfully every week. I had to hold on.
 
A life-changing testimony
Two years of questioning and searching left me exhausted. Would I ever find the real answers I was looking for? Many times I wished I could just go back to the faith that I’d had in academy. It was so simple, but naïve. I had to be intellectually honest with myself.
Now for the turning point in my story. One night I went to a vespers put on by the Math and Physics Club at Andrews University. The speaker that night was a former dean of the Seventh-day Adventist seminary. His story changed my life.
He told of when he was going to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. He was studying an aspect of theology for his Ph.D. thesis. His advisor at the time was world renowned for holding a position opposite of that of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, having published many biblically based, in-depth papers to support his position.
Like me, this former dean had wanted to know the truth for himself. He spent six or seven years researching the Scriptures and historical documents and writing on his theme, all the while having no idea if the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s stance was the most biblical. He too went through many seasons of doubt.
In the end, the former dean spent something like eight hours proving to his advisor that the results of his research, which just happened to be in accordance with the stance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was logically consistent and scripturally sound. After so many years of Bible study and discussion, his advisor found his argument indisputable, and his advisor awarded him his Ph.D.
What he said he learned is what saved me: “Everyone goes through seasons of doubt,” said the former dean. “Everyone.”
Here’s the gist of his worship talk: Imagine that, as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, you are on the Adventist boat. There are other boats in the sea, such as the Lutheran boat, the Methodist boat, the Catholic boat—you get the idea—but you are on the Adventist boat. So when it’s your turn and you go through your periods of doubt, don’t jump out of the boat into the sea. Never jump out of the boat into the sea. The sea is a place for wanderers, where it’s easy to float around your whole life without direction or a solid base and be tossed by every whim. Stay on your boat unless you see a more scripturally sound position presented by another boat. When you see a problem or an inconsistency on your boat, it doesn’t make sense to jump onto another boat that’s even less consistent. Whatever you do, though, don’t jump in the water.
That was confirmation enough for me. I was exactly where I needed to be. Although I still had many questions, fears, and antagonizing thoughts, I had no reason to change boats, much less jump into a raging sea that would take me to places I never wanted to see. 
I chose to stay on the Adventist boat.
 
A good choice
In the past few years I’ve discovered some answers to my questions, and I feel like I’ve found my place more within the church. Yet I still have some questions and concerns. In fact, I’m not sure anyone really has religion and spirituality all figured out. The important point is simple: stay on the boat.
Here are my two bottom-line reasons why each Sabbath—no, each and every day—I continue to stay on the Adventist boat. One, we serve Special K loaf. And two, as far as I’ve studied, our boat has the most scripturally consistent message that I’ve found. And despite the weaknesses of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, God is working in it and through it to bring others to Him.
 
This story won first prize in the General Prose category of Insight’s 2009 (annual) Writing Contest. To find out how to enter, go to our home page and choose “Writing Contest” from the menu on the left side of the page.
 
Anneke Vallés enjoys traveling, eating Thai and Indian food, cooking, running, learning languages, practicing Spanish, doing public speaking, and spending time with friends and family. She is working at a public school as a middle school Spanish teacher. 




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