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The dream is true

Part 6 of 6

When Bruce left Maiden, I was disappointed, of course, but also thrilled to hear his solo work. Tattooed Millionaire had been a favorite, and his first post-Maiden album, Balls to Picasso, was also great. I never got into Skunkworks as much, but Accident of Birth and Chemical Wedding were very good. In other words, he was putting out some great stuff on his own.

But in early 1999, the news broke: Iron Maiden had replaced their lead singer. There was really only once choice this time, and so Bruce Dickinson was returning to Iron Maiden. Not only that, they had invited Adrian Smith back as well, and so Iron Maiden would now be a six-piece band with three lead guitarists. Maiden was poised to be better than ever.

And so the fear that Maiden’s career was dying a slow death had now dissipated, and their first album of the new millennium was slated for release in the year 2000. The first decade of the 21st century would see Maiden put out their best work since 1988 and, in my opinion, retake the throne as the kings of heavy metal.

Iron Maiden was back. The future was looking very bright. And my dream (and no doubt countless others) of a reunited “classic lineup” (plus one) had, indeed, come true. And they would not disappoint.

 


 

Brave New World (2000)
Upon first hearing this album, there was no doubt about it: Iron Maiden had been born again. You could hear it in the music. Dave, Adrian and Janick working together was amazing. I’d been waiting for this album for 12 years, and now it had arrived. “Wicker Man”, “Blood Brothers” and the title track were instant classics. “Ghost of the Navigator” and “The Mercenary” were great tracks as well, but “Dream of Mirrors” was also a favorite of mine. This was like most of the 80’s albums – no bad tracks, just great stuff from beginning to end. If the reunion itself wasn’t enough to convince that they were back, Brave New World was.
 

track list:
 
1. The Wicker Man
2. Ghost of the Navigator
3. Brave New World
4. Blood Brothers
5. The Mercenary
6. Dream of Mirrors
7. The Fallen Angel
8. The Nomad
9. Out of the Silent Planet
10. The Thin Line Between Love & Hate

 


 

Dance of Death (2003)
Maiden avoided any letdown in their second album of the new millennium and the new Maiden. I would say I like Brave New World slightly better as a whole, but this album included two epic songs that are as good as anything they had recorded in the previous 15 years (save perhaps “Fear of the Dark”). “Paschendale” and the title track are just phenomenal songs that truly are Maiden at their best. “Rainmaker”, “Montségur” and “Wildest Dreams” are other favorites. The album closer, “Journeyman”, was a first for Maiden – featuring acoustic guitars with no electric – and is one of their better closing tracks ever.
 

track list:
 
1. Wildest Dreams
2. Rainmaker
3. No More Lies
4. Montségur
5. Dance of Death
6. Gates of Tomorrow
7. New Frontier
8. Paschendale
9. Face in the Sand
10. Age of Innocence
11. Journeyman

 


 

A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
Maiden’s next release is a dark and heavy album with many of the tracks focused on war and/or religion. It was also their longest album to date, over 70 minutes for only 10 tracks. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” and “For The Greater Good of God” are my absolute favorites, but once again, everything here is just magnificent. “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”, “The Longest Day” and “These Colours Don’t Run” are other favorites. It was truly remarkable to see a band 30 years into their career producing such an amazing piece of work. Just like during the 80’s, Maiden was again the gold standard.
 

track list:
 
1. Different World
2. These Colours Don’t Run
3. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns
4. The Pilgrim
5. The Longest Day
6. Out of the Shadows
7. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
8. For the Greater Good of God
9. Lord of Light
10. The Legacy

 


 

The last ten years have been far better than the previous ten. While there was more output in the 80’s then the past decade (seven albums as opposed to three), the quality of their work – which dipped a bit in the 90’s – was back at the level of their early years. These last three albums have been outstanding.

With apologies to those that came before them – Zeppelin, Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC – I say Iron Maiden is the greatest metal band to date. Obviously, I’m heavily biased, but the quality and consistency of their work for 30 years has just been exceptional. There’s nobody better as far as I’m concerned.

And I can say this now: The Final Frontier is right there with these last three as well. Though it’s release date isn’t until Tuesday, I found last night that the tracks had leaked and were on youtube. After an initial listen, I was, in fact, blown away yet again. I plan to have many more listens over the next few days as I await the chance to get my own copy next week.

You may have noticed during all of these posts that I never mentioned seeing Maiden live. Unfortunately, the fact is that I never have. They came to Little Rock a few months before I bought that first album in the fall of 1983, so I’d missed them on that tour. They haven’t returned since. The closest they’ve been (that I’m aware of) is Dallas, but I’ve never been able to make a show. Someday, though, before they pack up the guitars for good, I hope to do that. I have to.

Until then, I say to Steve, Bruce, Dave, Adrian, Janick and Nicko (and, of course, Eddie) – thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do. Iron Maiden has been my favorite band for 27 years, and will continue to be for however many years I have left. You are indeed the best.

Up the irons!

A fire in the sky

Part 5 of 6

In the mid-90’s, the internet was not yet the go to place for news. Since I didn’t read music magazines or watch much of the music channels (unless “Beavis and Butt-head” were on), I continued to be somewhat in the dark when it came to Iron Maiden news.

I found out about the release of The X Factor when I walked by it in my local Best Buy and saw it sitting there with the other Maiden albums. I didn’t even realize it existed, much less had been released. Naturally, I picked it up and proceeded to the check out. I would soon hear the new Maiden, fronted by a new voice for the first time in over thirteen years.

Blaze Bayley was selected to replace Bruce Dickinson in 1994, and he was not well-received by fans. His voice was no match for Dickinson’s, especially when it came to the high end of his range – which was probably somewhere near the middle of Bruce’s. I admit that I’ve never really warmed up to Bayley as the voice of Iron Maiden, but the Blaze era was not a total loss, as I will discuss below. But by the end, I did fear that Iron Maiden would never come close to being what they once were.
 


 

The X Factor (1995)
The first album of the Blaze era – Maiden’s longest at that point – is actually quite good. Despite my own opinions of Bayley’s shortcomings as a (Maiden) vocalist, this album, in my opinion, was their best since Seventh Son. “Sign of the Cross” and “Man on the Edge” are great songs, and the rest is very solid as well. And I think tracks like “Fortunes of War”, “2 AM”, and “The Aftermath” help make this another very good addition to the Maiden discography. I’ve always thought this album would have been much better received had someone else (ahem) been behind the mic. No, it still was not on par with their 80’s work, but I’ve always liked it much more than most did.
 

track list:
 
1. Sign of the Cross
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Man on the Edge
4. Fortunes of War
5. Look for the Truth
6. The Aftermath
7. Judgement of Heaven
8. Blood on the World’s Hands
9. The Edge of Darkness
10. 2 A.M.
11. The Unbeliever

 

 


 

Virtual XI (1998)
After what many fans saw as a disappointment in both The X Factor and Bayley himself, Maiden returned three years later with what would probably be considered the least of all of their albums. Again, I didn’t dislike it the way some did, but perhaps that’s just my inability to call anything Maiden does “bad”. Seriously, though, while I don’t care for “The Educated Fool” and I find “The Angel and the Gambler” borderline annoying at times, the rest I think is pretty good. “Futureal” and “The Clansman” are strong songs and remained in the early post-Blaze setlists. However, Virtual XI has sold fewer copies than any other Maiden release to date.
 

track list:
 
1. Futureal
2. The Angel and the Gambler
3. Lightning Strikes Twice
4. The Clansman
5. When Two Worlds Collide
6. The Educated Fool
7. Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger
8. Como Estais Amigos

 


 

Despite his best efforts, Blaze didn’t make it with Iron Maiden.

Let me say this: Blaze Bayley is a fine vocalist. I actually have his first post-Maiden album (Silicon Messiah) and it’s pretty good. I think he did a good job with the material they did during that time, but the classic material wasn’t the same with him singing. He just didn’t seem like the right fit, no matter his talent.

Bayley’s crime wasn’t being a bad vocalist. It was not being Bruce Dickinson. And that’s not his fault. Dickinson had not just set the bar high, he’d set it off the chart. Bayley never really had a chance. Neither would have anyone else. Nobody was going to successfully replace Bruce.

And so, less than a year after the release of Virtual XI, Blaze Bayley and Iron Maiden agreed to part ways. Once again, Iron Maiden was without a voice. But that would soon be remedied. And there would be much rejoicing.

Next up: Reunited.

Part 4 of 6

After their impressive run in the 1980’s, the following decade would get off to a bad start and only get worse.

In 1989, before the band began work on their followup to Seventh Son, guitarist Adrian Smith decided to leave the band and carry on with his own band. The so-called “classic lineup” was no more.

Bruce Dickinson had also been working on a solo album at the time, and his guitarist for that album, Janick Gers, was chosen to replace Smith. This would be the lineup for the next two albums, released in the early 1990’s.

It was around this time that I began to lose touch with Maiden a little. As I finished college, a friend had introduced me to a number of “CCM” (Contemporary Christian Music) artists and bands that I began listening to a lot. I began spending more time looking at music in Christian book stores than in real music stores.

I bought No Prayer… upon it’s release, but I admit it that I didn’t get Fear of the Dark until long after it’s release. I can’t recall exactly, but it was at least a year. I just wasn’t quite keeping up with them like I used to. Maiden seemed to be losing something, and my desire to grab next Maiden release immediately seemed to have been lost as well.

 


 

No Prayer For The Dying (1990)
Despite the loss of Smith, Iron Maiden continued on with another good album. I think this album is where they started to slip a bit, though. While it’s a solid album, it’s not, in my opinion, as strong as anything that preceded it. “Holy Smoke” is a fun song, but not a typical Maiden song. “Bring Your Daughter…” was originally a Bruce song, but the band’s version also became a big hit. I’ve always been fond of the title track, and “Tailgunner” and “Fates Warning” as well. But in the end, most of these songs were largely forgotten over the years. Still, listening to it now, it remains quite a good album, but they set the bar so high in the 80’s, I admit it does seem like a bit of a disappointment.
 

track list:
 
1. Tailgunner
2. Holy Smoke
3. No Prayer for the Dying
4. Public Enema Number One
5. Fates Warning
6. The Assassin
7. Run Silent Run Deep
8. Hooks in You
9. Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter
10. Mother Russia

 

 


 

Fear of the Dark (1992)
This one is a mixed bag. There are several songs on this album that I really love. The title track, of course, has become a classic, and anti-war song “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is very good and a personal favorite. I like “Be Quick or Be Dead” and “From Here To Eternity” as well, but beyond that, I’ve never been crazy about this album. It seems like about half the songs are just filler, and it was clearly their weakest to date. I suppose all of the past success and touring was bound to catch up with them, and perhaps they felt pressure to get something else out sooner than they should have. It’s not a horrible album by any stretch, and as I said, there’s stuff to like here. But overall it was just another step down from everything (even No Prayer..) that preceded it.
 

track list:
 
1. Be Quick or Be Dead
2. From Here to Eternity
3. Afraid to Shoot Strangers
4. Fear Is the Key
5. Childhood’s End
6. Wasting Love
7. The Fugitive
8. Chains of Misery
9. The Apparition
10. Judas Be My Guide
11. Weekend Warrior
12. Fear of the Dark

 


 

Adrian Smith’s departure was big, but perhaps more so was the next exit from the band. After twelve years and seven albums, singer Bruce Dickinson decided to go solo as well in 1993. Perhaps his taste of working solo on Tattooed Millionaire (1990) and a solo tour inspired him to move on to something new.

His final concert with Maiden, in August of 1993, was released on video (Raising Hell), which featured a collaboration between the band and horror magician Simon Drake. It was quite a show.

Replacing a guitarist is one thing. Replacing the voice of your band is quite another, and the selection would be an important one for the future of the band. Could the next Iron Maiden vocalist live up to those who had come before him, particularly Dickinson? It sounded like an impossible task.

Apparently it was.

Next up: Blaze Bayley steps up to the mic.

Part 3 of 6

In the summer of 1984, I got to experience the anticipation of an Iron Maiden new release for the first time. Their first new release since I discovered them about six months earlier was due in stores in September, just after the beginning of my senior year in high school. I don’t believe I’ve ever so eagerly awaited an albums’ release as I did that summer. And when I finally got my copy of Powerslave, it delivered in a big way.

After the success of their previous two albums, Iron Maiden was on top of the metal world and embarked on their first major worldwide headlining tour – the thirteen month “World Slavery Tour”. From this tour was born their first full-length live album (and concert video), Live After Death. The live album was awesome, and I was beside myself when I purchased the concert on VHS and watched Maiden perform live. For it’s time, that was an outstanding show.

Maiden’s next two studio releases would find their sound change ever so slightly, but the music did not suffer. They continued to release excellent work through the end of the 80’s, finishing up a decade not with seven good albums, but seven great albums. In my (obviously biased) opinion, there was no band during the 80’s that was even remotely their equal.
 


 

Powerslave (1984)
Of all the opening tracks from the Iron Maiden catalog, I’d say “Aces High” is probably my favorite. It’s a high energy song that kicks off this fantastic album and is then followed by one of my all-time favorite tracks as well in “2 Minutes to Midnight”. My first new release did not disappoint, despite having only eight tracks. The title track, “Back in the Village”, and the epic 13-minute “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” are other highlights, although like all of their albums to that point, there were no bad songs. I’ve always liked Maiden’s instrumental tracks, and the last one they recorded was on this album (“Losfer Words”), which is very good as well.
 

track list:
 
1. Aces High
2. 2 Minutes to Midnight
3. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) [Instrumental]
4. Flash of the Blade
5. The Duellists
6. Back in the Village
7. Powerslave
8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 


 

Somewhere in Time (1986)
Like Killers, it took me a little longer to appreciate this album than it should have. I’m not sure why, because it really is very good. I will say that it’s probably my least favorite of the decade, but that’s not a negative. It’s relative, of course. “Wasted Years”, “Heaven Can Wait” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” are favorites, along with the album closer, “Alexander the Great”. Maiden continued the habit of including an epic song, again with that final track. “Alexander…” came in at a little over eight-and-a-half minutes and, like “Rime…”, is a great closing track. The addition of synthesizers was, in my opinion, unnecessary. It would have been at least as good without them, but nevertheless, another first rate Maiden record.
 

track list:
 
1. Caught Somewhere in Time
2. Wasted Years
3. Sea of Madness
4. Heaven Can Wait
5. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
6. Stranger in a Strange Land
7. Déjà Vu
8. Alexander the Great

 


 

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
While Somewhere in Time was full of time-related songs, it was not a true concept album. Their seventh album, however, is often considered a concept album, with many of the songs telling part of a story about a clairvoyant. The synthesizers were replaced with keyboards this time, and while I think it worked better, again I feel they would have been fine without them. “Can I Play With Madness?” and “The Evil That Men Do” were the biggest hits from this one, but again, every song is very good and my favorites include “Moonchild” (another strong album opener), “Infinite Dreams” and the title track as well. This was the last album featuring the “classic lineup”, and not surprisingly, they came through once again.
 

track list:
 
1. Moonchild
2. Infinite Dreams
3. Can I Play with Madness
4. The Evil That Men Do
5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
6. The Prophecy
7. The Clairvoyant
8. Only the Good Die Young

 


 

Regardless of the longevity of an artist or band, you can usually point to a specific span of years that would be considered their “glory days”. There’s always a time when they were both at their best and their most popular. It might be a few years and a couple of albums. It might be longer.

For Iron Maiden, that time was the decade of the 1980’s. Their popularity and following has surged again in the new millennium, with the return of Adrian and Bruce, and they are still as good as ever. But I believe that their time, their finest hour and their very best songs came during the 80’s. The decade was very good to them.

The 90’s, however, would not be as kind.

Next up: Upheaval.

Part 2 of 6

In the fall of 1983 I was standing in an Alco store in Searcy, Arkansas, surveying the cassette tapes they had to offer. I don’t know what possessed me to pick up Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind – perhaps the artwork of Eddie, maybe I’d read something about them, whatever – but I did. I had never heard an Iron Maiden song at that point. For some reason, I bought the cassette anyway.

I removed the plastic from the cassette box inside my car and stuck the tape in my player. Before I left the parking lot, I was hearing the flurry of drum beats that open “Where Eagles Dare”, followed by the soaring vocals of Bruce Dickinson. It was unlike anything I’d heard at that point. It was my first true heavy metal album. And in about 30 seconds time, I’d become a die-hard Iron Maiden fan.

I once told my friends at my (private Christian) high school that I’d never be able to purchase The Number of the Beast for fear that my parents would find it and, well, I didn’t want to go there. However, I eventually did anyway. One day, outside of the school during lunch, I cranked it up in my car with doors open as actor Barry Clayton read the verses from Revelation that precede the title track. Several students in the parking lot appeared unsettled and/or horrified as the song began. At the urging of friends, I turned it down to a reasonable level, lest any faculty hear.

Iron Maiden had quickly become my favorite band, and it’s no less true today than it was in 1983. And these two albums from the early 80’s are the primary reason why.
 


 

The Number Of The Beast (1982)
Find any list of “greatest metal albums” of all time and this album will be on that list (and in the top 10 if it’s a credible list.) For me, it’s easily the best Maiden album to date, and honestly, it’s like a greatest hits type of album. Every song is high quality, nothing close to resembling a dud. I can’t really put it into words, but when you listen to exceptional songs like “The Prisoner”, “Children of the Damned” and “22 Acacia Avenue” and realize there are three songs better than these on the album, that tells you how great this album is. It turns out those three – “Run To The Hills”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and the title track – are three of the best they’ve ever recorded. Of course, Bruce Dickinson having taken over the vocals was the primary reason for Maiden rising to the next level – not just because of the quality of his voice, but also the way Steve Harris and company were able to write with his voice in mind. Iron Maiden became the Iron Maiden we know and love in 1982.
 

track list:
 
1. Invaders
2. Children of the Damned
3. The Prisoner
4. 22 Acacia Avenue
5. The Number of the Beast
6. Run to the Hills
7. Gangland
8. Hallowed Be Thy Name

 


 

Piece of Mind (1983)
Being the first Maiden album I ever owned and the first collection of their songs that I heard, this one will always be special to me. Early on my favorite songs were “Die With Your Boots On” and “Still Life”, even though “The Trooper” was clearly their biggest hit from this album. But like Beast, this is a phenomenal collection of songs that solidified Maiden’s place among the elite metal bands. “Where Eagles Dare” introduced in the opening bars the unbelievable drumming of new member Nicko McBrain, who took over for Clive Burr the previous year, to complete what most call the “classic lineup”. Like Bruce’s voice the year before, Nicko’s drumming made Iron Maiden even better, and Iron Maiden had become one of the biggest bands in the world.
 

track list:
 
1. Where Eagles Dare
2. Revelations
3. Flight of Icarus
4. Die With Your Boots On
5. The Trooper
6. Still Life
7. Quest for Fire
8. Sun and Steel
9. To Tame a Land

 


 

As I waited for album number five during the summer of 1984, I had to wonder: what next? This is amazing stuff. Four outstanding albums in four years. Can they keep it going?

As it turned out, Maiden was just getting started.

Next up: Maiden rules the world.

Part 1 of 6

In a couple of weeks Iron Maiden will release their 15th studio album, and after a four year wait – the longest between studio albums during their 35 year career – all I can say is that it’s about time. I don’t know if it’s that extra time or what, but not since 2000’s Brave New World have I anticipated a new Maiden album like I am this time around. And from everything I’ve read thus far, I expect it to blow me away. I really do.

In the meantime, I’m listening to those first fourteen albums again, and decided to share my thoughts on those albums and a bit about my journey as a Maiden fan as well.

While Bruce Dickinson is generally considered to be the true voice of Iron Maiden, he didn’t join the band until after their first two albums were released. Paul Di’Anno was the “original” (on record, at least) lead singer of the band, and their sound leaned a little towards punk-metal during those years. Most of their early songs were written prior to that first album, and written with Di’Anno’s voice and style in mind.

I got to the Iron Maiden party late, having not been introduced to them until the Dickinson era was in full swing, with their fourth album having been in stores for several months. It was my first Maiden album, but I became a huge fan almost instantly, and therefore I soon collected all of their previous work. It was then that I was introduced to their earliest work and Paul Di’Anno.
 


 

Iron Maiden (1980)
I’m not really sure that the raw, aggressive sound of Iron Maiden’s debut album was ever duplicated on future albums. It is as good of a debut as you will find from any band in any era. There are simply no bad songs on this album. While classics like “Running Free”, “Sanctuary” and the title track are all considered classics that are still played live today, songs like “Prowler”, “Remember Tomorrow” and the instrumental “Transylvania” are just as strong, in my opinion. While my favorite Maiden album came later, some consider this their best. I’m willing to consider it for second best. Thirty years later, this is still an excellent piece of work.
 

track list:
 
1. Prowler
2. Remember Tomorrow
3. Running Free
4. Phantom of the Opera
5. Transylvania
6. Strange World
7. Sanctuary
8. Charlotte the Harlot
9. Iron Maiden

 


 

Killers (1981)
I must admit that, for years, I underrated this album. I bought their first five albums in a short time frame, and I think that because of that, Killers ended up getting a bit lost among newer albums as well as their excellent debut. But this is a really strong album as well. No “sophomore slump” here, despite many of these songs being written prior to Iron Maiden. And I’ve come to appreciate it much more over the years. “Wrathchild” is, of course, a classic, but “Purgatory”, “Twilight Zone” and the title track are also fantastic tracks. And “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is definitely my favorite song from the Di’Anno years, and have always been a bit disappointed that it never appeared on the live albums over the years.
 

track list:
 
1. The Ides of March (instrumental)
2. Wrathchild
3. Murders in the Rue Morgue
4. Another Life
5. Genghis Khan (instrumental)
6. Innocent Exile
7. Killers
8. Prodigal Son
9. Purgatory
10. Twilight Zone
11. Drifter

 


 

I should also mention that one of my favorite songs from the Di’Anno era is “Women In Uniform“, which was only released as a single and not on either of the albums. Great song as well.

I think Di’Anno’s work on these first two albums was great and I still prefer hearing him sing these songs over Bruce. But in the end, Maiden probably would not have become what they did just a short time later had Di’Anno’s problems with alcohol and drugs not driven him from the band. Di’Anno had to go, but the best was yet to come…

Next up: Maiden moves to the next level.
 

I occasionally write about struggles with faith, doubt, and the spiritual questions that, to me at least, don’t seem to have good answers. I’m currently reading Jason Boyett’s book O Me Of Little Faith: True Confessions Of A Spiritual Weakling, and came across this section where he relates some of his thoughts on faith, doubt and hope, which really resonates with me.

Unbelievers I can understand. They have doubts, just like me, and have followed those doubts to their logical conclusion: the abandonment of belief altogether. I haven’t been willing to go any further down that road, but i certainly recognize it. I can identify not only with their questions but with their dissatisfaction with the answer provided by religion.

Where does my dissatisfaction and doubt come from? I want to explain it in terms of my human limitations. I am a finite creature. God is the infinite Creator. Of course I will struggle to comprehend him – there are limits to my understanding, and I doubt when I bump up against those limits. That’s a nice, comforting theory until I meet the spiritual heavyweights who never seem to reach those limits. Not every Christian doubts like I do. Some Christians don’t seem to doubt at all.

These are the types of believers I mentioned in the first chapter who live spiritually intense lives in which God, from their perspective, seems continually active and present. A new customer shows up out of the blue? God wants to bless their business. A random encounter with someone unexpected? God brought that person into their life for a reason. A song lyric or Bible verse gets stuck in their head? God must be trying to tell them something.

It simply doesn’t occur to them that some things – like seeing an old friend at the coffee shop – happen by chance, which is typically how I would describe it. Or that there’s science to explain why certain songs or phrases get trapped in a mental loop and stick there all day long. These super-believers’ lives are so full of God that there’s no room for doubt. They rarely ask questions, and when they do, the answers are not the findings of science. The answers are supernatural. The answers are usually the same: God.

God is rarely my go-to explanation. On the contrary, my life is so full of doubt that I can’t find room for God. Does that make me a bad Christian? Am I a bad Christian because I do ask hard questions? Am I a bad Christian because explaining every detail as “God at work in my life” seems like religious narcissism instead of profound faith?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

My mother worries that I think too much. She knows I struggle with these questions, but she doesn’t understand where they come from. Most of the questions I ask have never occurred to her. To her my faith must seem ridiculously complicated, filled with challenges and arguments and skepticism. And she’s right. We have different personalities. Our brains are bent in different directions. She had the same religious upbringing that I had, but we are not alike. For some, faith is a direct line between them and God. For me, faith is a tangled, knotted rope.

You can see my dilemma. When it comes to matters of faith, I find more common ground among atheists and agnostics than I do with doubt-free Christians. But I still believe. Given the choice between the turtle stack of faith or the turtle stack of atheism/agnosticism/unbelief, I choose faith, despite my doubts.

Why? Mainly, because I hope. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for,” the author of Hebrews wrote, “and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). I’m not exactly “certain” of anything, but I’m sure of what I hope for: I hope there’s something more than a dust-to-dust, grow-old-and-then-you-die material existence. I hope God exists.

I want there to be a greater purpose, and I want that purpose to be something more than the human altruism favored by the nonreligious. I hope that my life matters – not just to the people around me, but in an eternal sense. I hope I have a soul that will outlive this body. I hope there’s a Creator who really does care about those made in his image and who interacts with his creation. I hope that the tragedies and problems of our world will someday be washed out by renewal, that good will someday prevail, that evil will be punished, that sin and heartache will eventually be no more.

I hope the message of the Bible is true. I hope life is more than molecules and mathematics. I hope death is not the end. That hope is why I believe in God.