Monday, January 26, 2015

Stumbling, falling down faith

Picture stolen with love from Pastor David Silvey.
It is not easy to be a Christian in the world today. I know it is not for me. I wonder and I wander, I trip and fall, I skin my knee and whine and cry. I struggle, believe me. When this happens, I always think that it's just me. Everyone else, I believe, either believes or doesn't and they are firm in their choices. I am told this is not true, that in fact all the people I admire the most have experienced the same kind of doubts and questions I have. Perhaps they just whine and cry less, I don't know. But I still suspect that I am uniquely weak. Nevertheless, if it has done nothing else, my stumbling around has given me a really good understanding of why people don't want to believe, as well as, perhaps, why they do ... or at least why I do.

We are all such smarty pants these days, so wise in our own estimation. To have faith in itself is not easy. The Bible defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, ESV), while we live in a world that wants verifiable, visible proof.  However smart we may be, we conveniently forget that we daily have faith in things not seen. This would include most of our technology for most of us. And honestly the smarter we get, the more we learn, the more humble we should have become about believing in things not seen. As we expand our ability to explore higher and farther, and perhaps even more astonishing, closer and smaller, we should fall to our knees in humility before the nature of reality, which is totally and completely beyond what the natural man can see and know. It is now an established fact that the things we consider to be solid matter actually are not solid at all, but are made up of billions of atoms and molecules. Whether we are considering the outer limits of the universe that we have so far observed, or the tiniest components of matter, we should be awestruck at all we had not been able to see until very recently, and we should recognize the fact that we would never have believed it until we did. With all we have not known before, is it so hard to believe that there are yet other things we have not seen, cannot grasp with our limited knowledge and experience, and are nevertheless quite real? In the face of what we do know, isn't it rather ignorant to refuse to believe in things unless we can see them, feel them, or touch them?

It is also a challenge to have a faith which was established thousands of years ago, whose basic tenets were laid out in writings by a people who lived in a world completely different from ours. The societies in which they lived were foreign to our sensibilities, their means of writing and communicating are far different from what we are used to. Reading and understanding the Bible is not easy. It is forty years ago that I first read it, and I have read it many times over since then. I know a lot of "stuff" about it, and yet still I get tripped up and say, "Wait, what is that about?" or even, "God, you know that just doesn't sound right." What the Bible says about the Bible is, "All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God and profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV) So that's that. That's what it is. That's what it's for. I don't think it was ever intended to be an encyclopedia of scientific knowledge, for example. There are many things that can be argued and debated regarding the Bible which are just not central to faith. Sometimes you've just got to say, "God I don't know. You know, and I trust you to show me what I need to know." I also trust God, by the way, to tell other people what they need to know. Over the course of 40 years I've had my times when I felt I could judge others, but no more. I barely know my own heart, much less someone else's. I do know that I am a work in progress, and God accepts me as such. I figure he does the same for you, too.

Being a Christian is also neither popular nor respected. I know this, of course, because I live in the world. I also tend to be a political liberal, and if there is a group of people who are most likely to be disrespectful of Christianity it is my fellow political liberals. But I also experience huge personal disrespect from some of those closest to me. I was actually told by someone, when I returned to Christianity, that in her eyes I had lost several IQ points. Well now. I actually consider myself to be quite cerebral, so I was actually bothered by this assessment. I didn't think it fair, and I didn't think it true. I do realize that there have been some really stupid things said by people in the name of Christianity, and I also know that there are even more things that have been said by well known Christians that are regularly twisted around to appear stupid ... usually by liberal media. But the fact is that I know so many strong, intelligent Christians, whose faith actually enhances their intelligence and makes it shine, that I have to just let this kind of prejudice roll off me!

There are a lot of questions, a lot of objections to faith ... I know this, because I have them too. And that doesn't even touch on the spiritual battles surrounding belief ... which I also have. These things have caused me to stumble right off the path many, many times in my life, including very recently. Yet here I am today, a believer, a Christian. Why? Well, more than anything else I'd say it is because no matter how often or how far I wander, God keeps calling me back to himself. This last time I was off like a shooting star, but God actually had me on a pretty short leash, and sent me a dramatic message. An anonymous person wrote to me about a dream they'd had which contained specific spiritual details that only a handful of very close friends and family knew. Now I don't know where this message came from. Maybe it was a real dream and a message sent directly from God. Maybe, just maybe, it was somebody who had followed me closely enough for long enough with a good enough memory that they could make it up. But if so, that really doesn't preclude it from being a message from God, and on the other hand, if it was an actual dream ... well, then it was just plain spooky and beyond ignoring.

When I was thinking about this post earlier today I thought that really there is only one thing that explains why I believe. And that is love. I fell in love with Jesus long, long ago, and I guess he fell in love with me too, because even when I've had tantrums and have walked out on him, he has waited, and he has called to me and has wooed me back. But before I sat down to start actually writing this blog, I started watching a video on my church's online media library. It was the first video in the "It's Personal" series by Andy Stanley, and funny enough it echoed what I had been thinking completely! Stanley said that we all have valid questions, but even if we are given valid answers to all our questions, that would not lead us to have faith. This is true also, I know, because for just about every question I have, I do also know an answer or possible answer. What creates faith is when something bigger than the questions come along. Could be fear or grief that opens the door, but the one thing bigger than the questions is always love. What does God want from us? Our intellectual assent? Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37 that what God wants is our love, that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind.

When you fall in love with another human being, there will be a lot you don't know about them ... and a lot you will never know about them. There will without a doubt be some things they will do or say that you just cannot understand. Falling in love doesn't require that you have all the answers to all your questions. It just requires a leap of faith. Then the answers will start coming to you, as you live in love with that person.

And so it is with God. Our knowledge of God while on this earth is always going to be limited, of course. 1 Corinthians 13 says that now we know in part, that we see as in a mirror dimly. One day we will know as fully as we are known; one day we will see face to face. But not now. Not in this world. In this world, we will never have all the answers. We have only faith, and love ... our imperfect love, which trips and falls ... and God's perfect love, which picks us up again, and again, and again.