Monday, March 25, 2013

On Faith

Recently, my son and I were talking about faith and doubt. His observation was that people who strap bombs to their backs and blow up busses are very secure in their faith. I told him that I doubt and question my faith at times but I keep coming back to a certainty that what I know is true and reliable. But when he asks me (and I ask myself) on what I have based my faith I am hard put to give an answer. Or should I say that, what I would've answered just a few years ago, no longer seems sufficient. His different worldview challenges me to examine my beliefs in order to believe more authentically as well as to communicate those beliefs in a more convincing way.

My faith has been based on a series, perhaps an accumulation, of life events that led me to a moment of realization. It resulted in an awakening, an aliveness that, for lack of a better description, culminated in being "born again". I was in my late teens/early twenties. My brother, Bud, and his wife, Ginger, were attending a Christian Bible study. When they started telling me about it, my mind started percolating. I got excited. In a short time I was seeking, crying out even, for the things they had shared with me to start making some sense. Ginger said, "Read the book of John." So I did. It sounded familiar and foreign and confusing but I persisted.

One story in John particularly caught my attention. In it Jesus was talking to a woman while she was drawing water out of a well. He offered her a different, better kind of water than she was getting from that well. He claimed that his 'living' water satisfied and never needed replenishing. His offer of deep satisfaction made me aware of the cravings in my soul that apparently remained unfulfilled.

In another part of the Bible written by Isaiah I found a portion that read, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which doesn't satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." This also made me aware of that emptiness inside of me. I wanted some of that satisfying water and wine and food!

Slowly things started to fall into place. Passages from the Bible that had previously seemed impenetrable were becoming apparent, as if a blindfold had been removed from my eyes. I was greedy for more knowledge and understanding. I became a sponge.

But, now I wonder, what if I hadn't grown up in a Christian environment? What if I hadn't gone to Vacation Bible School every summer and hadn't a preacher for a grandfather and hadn't been in and out of different churches all my childhood years? Would those passages have leapt off of the pages and ignited a fire inside me? Some of the stories seemed familiar and comforting, almost a homecoming, but was this more than just familiarity? I had acquired an appetite and an awareness for things that had been completely incomprehensible to me a short time before, as if a switch had been turned on. I had a sense of being deeply and profoundly loved. And I had changed, as surely as night into day. I can not say anything plainer than that. And I became a very different person in my attitudes, appetites, desires and delights.

To ME my faith is reasonable and logical. I believe in a creator that loves his creation and interferes to the point of becoming part of it in order to win back his own creatures that had rebelled against him. To my son this is a quaint spin on an ancient mythology rewritten by a small tribe of people who claimed to have a special relationship with this God. He would say its a product of my culture and upbringing and neurons and emotions. He and a lot of other agnostics believe in nothing or, at most, an impersonal clock-maker type of deity that built the world, wound it up and does not intervene in the affairs of men. My son is utterly confounded at the notion of a "benevolent" god that would claim to love his creatures and at the same time allow them to suffer. He is repulsed by a theology that secures the rights of a preferred people to the exclusion of others. Those are things which cause me to doubt, especially the preferred status part. And here is why that bothers me: because I have never questioned it.

Today in church our wise young pastor said, "Doubt wisely; ask honest questions." The question forming in my mind is, if I had read the Bible BEFORE becoming a believer, how would the passages of exclusivity have impacted me? I don't think this blog is the place for an exegesis on election and definitive calling (too many others have done so exhaustively that I wouldn't presume to discourse on it) but suffice it to say that the Bible makes it pretty clear that people are going to eternity either with God or not, and those who are not will be suffering. Some of these texts indicate that God knows who will go to either 'heaven or hell' and other verses go so far as to say that he chooses who goes where. Alongside this, Jesus commanded his followers to spread abroad the love of God, which extends to all his creatures, and that he wants "all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. " I have read these passages since the earliest part of my belief, inserting myself into the family of God. I found them to be of great comfort and encouragement, a precious gift I had received which I did not earn. For thirty five years, through eyes of faith, or child likeness or egotism (depending on your outlook), I have read the scriptures exhaustively and found them to be consistent, cohesive, progressively revelatory and inherently, ultimately, 'mine.' My story. My belief. My tribe and my God.

But stepping back, and looking at this from an 'outsider's' perspective, I can see how one might be offended, feel condemned and rejected. Only a stone-hearted person would not be angered or distressed over the injustice of people being 'left behind." That billions of people have lived and died on this planet without the influence of the enlightenment of the good news of Jesus and that billions more have known about and rejected him, is devastatingly sad. But what about the billions of people who have lived reasonably successful lives without the influence of Yahweh or Jesus and haven't felt any loss?

Part of me says I can't "unring the bell." I DID grow up in mid-20th century America. I have framed my worldview on Judeo-Christian ethics and culture. I did grow up under the influences of religious grandparents. I am completely unable to frame a single thought outside of the sum total of who I am and where I've grown up. Even though I strive to reject error and prejudices and to think outside the 'Christian Ghetto' that I have lived in most of my life, I cannot think as if I came from another continent, culture, or time or space.

I have asked some difficult questions. I hope my reader isn't disappointed that I will not attempt to answer them. To do so would diminish the magnitude of the importance of these doubts which, if held lightly, will simultaneously strengthen and challenge my faith in Jesus Christ. I don't think I am bigoted or small minded or unthinking or uncaring but in the end, I will have to question all of those things, too.