I felt a little like “Dear Abby” this week when I got this great question from a friend on Facebook:
Kaye, At what point do all the poking and prodding, questioning and thinking about faith end so it can just BE what it is, faith? Faith, an all-enveloping strength and comfort that comes from ‘knowing’ that we are not alone, that there is, at the core of the universe, an incomprehensible unending Love for us, and of us, that, when allowed to, constantly provides us with the strength we need to get through the day and do the next good thing. When can we just let faith be faith?
When I read this (and it is possible that I read something into it), it seemed to cry out with longing for something easier when it comes to God, faith and religion. A plea to stop struggling with the questions and doubts, to just be assured, safe, confident, comforted, strengthened by faith… by truly, deeply knowing God and God’s love and letting it pervade every cell of our being.
(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)
It almost made me feel guilty for continuing to encourage everyone to keep questioning and doubting, to ask the hard questions. I felt perhaps like I’d let him, and maybe even all of you, down. Who am I to rattle anyone’s ideas about God and religion? Who am I, in the middle of this crazy, messed up, broken world, to not just continue to present you with a comfortable nest to snuggle into with God? Who am I to say it just isn’t that easy? Maybe it is, or maybe it should be…
This was such a great, mind-challenging question that I actually had to get up and go take a walk to process it – that’s how God and I work. After all my pondering and reading, here’s where I’ve ended up…
I think there is a difference between faith and belief.
Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1 is “…the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen” (The Inclusive Bible). But the proof of God is not a scientific equation, or video, or scripture (though I imagine some would argue this)… the proof of God is a gut-level knowing that there is something more. It is a direct, personal experience of the Love that nourishes us, strengthens us, comforts us.
Belief, on the other hand, is an idea or a concept that we hold to be true. This can be based on what we’ve been told, what is accepted as truth by the culture, or what is experienced.
Therefore, while faith gives us the knowing that God exists, belief tells us what to think about God, how God works in the world, and what God’s relationship to us is.
Faith is not dependent upon whether the Bible exists or not, whether Jesus was human or divine, whether there really was such a thing as a Virgin Birth, miracles, an ascension or anything. Faith just knows God deep inside one’s soul, separate from the religious boxes people put God in.
Now, let me just say (in a way that is not bragging by any means) that I am confident in my faith, in a Love that permeates all things, that is dynamic not static, that is the center and ground of my being, that comforts and strengthens, leads and sustains me. This does not stop me from questioning and doubting. You see, life confronts us with so many ideas, formulations and pictures of God, as well as situations of crisis – death, natural disasters, illness and more – that questions must arise to try to make sense of the tension between what we faith (know) and the challenges and contradictions of lived reality. For example:
- We have faith in a good God, but live in a world where evil often seems to win
- We have faith that God is everywhere, yet sometimes it feels like God is absent
- We have faith in the transforming power of the Spirit, yet know that there are many times we don’t feel transformed
- We have faith in a God of love, but see suffering everywhere
- We have faith in a God of justice and equality, but there is injustice and oppression everywhere
In all of these things and more, our faith seeks understanding of God and the world. And the only way to seek understanding is to ask questions, to search, to challenge, to study.
Sometimes (or perhaps often), people seem to confuse belief with faith. I’m teaching a Religion 1000 summer class at Carthage. My first class was on Tuesday. I started the evening with 8 students… by the end I was down to 7. One young man, I’d guess in his early 30s, former military, had actually emailed me the day before to say that he did not approve of one of the books I was using entitled “Healthy Religion” by Walter Kania. These are some of the quotes he said he didn’t like:
The cause of the most devastating conflicts in the world today, are based more in the passion and the beliefs of religion.
The claim that any religion makes regarding its exclusive possession of truth marks it as both deceptive and fraudulent.
If a religion is devoted to evangelizing and converting others to its belief system it is destructive to positive human interaction.
Religions are man-made. They are not the product of a God, the Gods, or some Infinite Reality…They are a subjective interpretation of reality and are not the essence of Infinite Truth.
He made it clear that he is a fundamentalist Christian, that there is only one way to God, and that I was insulting him with the use of this text-book. I think he’s gotten his beliefs about God – what the church told him, what people wrote long ago – all confused with the unbounded love that we call God. He was not even willing to entertain discussion, to stay at the table, to think critically about his religion.
What people often don’t understand is that faith is deeper than theology and doctrine. God can’t be confined by our beliefs. Our belief system is simply our attempt to understand God and that it keeps changing and evolving as we try to understand better.
The bottom line here is that I don’t at all want to take away the security you feel with a God who loves you, comforts and strengthens you. I want to affirm that and strengthen your connection with the Divine, to constantly remind you that you are loved and held by the One in whom you live and move and have your being.
Life will cause us to question what we believe to be true about this Essence of All. That’s ok. Faith can just be faith underneath it all… faith seeking understanding.
Love & Light,