In my last post I talked about faith in the context of prayer. In this post I'd like to talk about faith itself. I do a lot of thinking about faith. Faith doesn’t come naturally for me. Maybe it doesn't for anyone (except maybe children), but I do sense it’s easier for some of us than for others. Some people might argue that trying to understand faith shows a lack of faith. You just have to do it, exercise it. I’m sure that works for some people.
I doubt I'd ever have enough faith to be an atheist, for example. That would require way too much faith for me. The chances that I would be here in front of my laptop, putting together these thoughts, typing these keystrokes, while looking out my window at the most beautiful winter landscape you can imagine – well, the chances of all this being just “chance” are too astronomical for my meager faith to believe.
But I do tend towards skepticism, which I actually think is a good thing. There are lots of things to be skeptical about – false gods, false claims, what comes out of politicians' mouths, conspiracy theories, people’s motives, my motives. Without a healthy dose of skepticism, curiosity is just gullibility. A healthy curiosity is the willingness to entertain new ideas without offering very many of them a permanent home. Skepticism, reason, imagination, personal experience, the experiences of others -- all help us decide and discern.
Faith without a healthy dose of skepticism tends to be too fickle to be of much worth. The same thing goes for doubt. There’s a lot to doubt in this world. To be honest, there’s a lot to doubt about Christianity too – at least, how it’s often articulated and lived, especially in American culture. Jesus said that others would know his disciples by their fruit, the primary fruit being love. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of amazing Christians and amazing churches out there. I’ve experienced them. But the reason I experience them as amazing is because of the ones that aren’t. Actually, most are a mixed bag, again, like me.
When skepticism becomes dangerous is when it turns into cynicism. That’s when we stop seeing the good around us, or the God around us. That’s when we stop being curious, and consequently cut ourselves off from huge swaths of life.
So faith actually needs a fair amount of skepticism and doubt. There are just too many things out there that want my faith.
It’s because of how difficult faith is for me that I’m so drawn to Jesus, the actual Jesus that I read about in the Bible – not the many Jesus’s that have been homogenized, branded and packaged for general consumption. It's his gritty love that especially captivates me. The apostle Paul said something similar: “The love of Christ compels us....” And then there is the cross – again, the real one, the one that blows me away with all its implications – yes, I find that love incredibly compelling. The fact that it's grounded in actual history and is tagged with a physical resurrection makes it all the more compelling.
I love the fact that the Jesus I read about in the Bible can’t be tamed. Oh, people try to do it all the time. I do it too, which is why I have to keep going back to the gospels themselves, all four of them. Too often I hear people use Jesus to confirm whatever theory or doctrine or system is their current spirituality of choice. And as they’re talking, I’m thinking, “That doesn’t fit with the Jesus I read about in the New Testament.” Reading and re-reading the actual four Gospels keeps me honest, and curious.
So I try to do that regularly. In fact, I’m trying to take time to read a snippet from the gospels between daily activities. Sometimes the things Jesus said rattle my faith. I think that’s a good thing. I see faith as something God is continually refining. Faith isn't a generic spiritual cane for wandering in the dark; it's a finely-tuned instrument for engaging with the unseen world. I like it that my faith is still being tuned and calibrated.
So as a disciple or student of Jesus, I’m continually learning about faith, and hopefully practicing it as well. In future posts I hope to share some of what I’ve been learning.
I’ll end with this quote from philosopher Miguel de Unamuno:
Those who think they believe in God, but do so with no passion in their hearts, without a tortured soul, with no uncertainty, without doubt, with no trace of desperation even in the midst of comfort – those people believe only in thoughts about God, not in God himself.