Tag Archives: faith

Losing Faith?

A dear troubled friend recently told me she lost her faith.

Although I understand what she means, I don’t believe her statement. In the world I see, nobody loses his or her faith. If faith goes, it’s because a person gives it away.

To avoid semantic arguments, I’ll give my definition of faith: belief in and trust in something or someone. Since my friend was referring to spiritual faith, specifically faith in the Christian God, I will address that in particular.

Her father was a Methodist minister. He taught that if we do right, God will bless us here on earth. He wasn’t an advocate of what folks call prosperity gospel. Still, he proposed that if we are good, work hard and help others, our lives will be rewarded in material ways. So my friend grew up expecting that the degrees and honors she earned would lead to a satisfying and secure teaching job, and later that her attention to diet and exercise was bound to lead to excellent physical and emotional health. And so on.

Her expectations haven’t always been met. Neither were her father’s, by the way. So, either God is at fault or doesn’t exist, right?

Sure, an easy answer is: maybe her expectations were in some way misguided. I’ll buy that. But let’s dig a bit deeper.

I grew up with two parents who didn’t abide by any particular religion, a grandma who professed to be a Christian Scientist but paid little attention to the creed, and another Christian Scientist grandma, this one very devout, who was in my estimation an angry and demented person (The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles exposes my feelings about her). Anyway, with the exception of a mild dose of fear, I grew up having no use for religion.

But my mind changed (see Reading Brother Lawrence). And at a Billy Graham crusade, I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe my friend’s and my different backgrounds give clues to decoding why she feels faith can be lost while I maintain it can only be given away. Her faith was given to her, and given in a package with expectations. My faith was chosen, and not blindly as I had experienced enough of what else the world had to offer to make a reasonable decision that what faith in Christ offered appeared far better than living in any other way. I stepped over a border into another mysterious world about which I held no real expectations.

I’m not proposing that teaching our children about God is wrong, only that we should be careful what expectations we give them, and that we should allow and even encourage them to make their own decisions.

Question People and Answer People

I have a new novel coming out soon, entitled The Good Know Nothing.

The title came from a quote from novelist Paul Auster: “For only the good doubt their own goodness, which is what makes them good in the first place. The bad know they are good, but the good know nothing.”

Soon after I decided upon the title, I mentioned it to my son Cody, which prompted a discussion of the value or danger of “knowing”. He contended that unless we know or believe we know something, we will have no passion to fight for it.

I maintained that we can believe with a mighty passion while holding onto a portion of doubt that our belief is valid. This portion of doubt (however small), I argued, can keep us from murderous fanaticism and help us obey the admonition to love even our enemies. For all we know, they may possibly be right. A portion of doubt can also leave us free to grow, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, and to live unburdened by the defensive posture that troubles and often ruins so many friendships.

I’ve noticed a distinction between types of people, whom I’ll call “question people” and “answer people”.

Let’s apply the distinction between question people and answer people to their attitudes toward belief in God. Either sort might assert “I know God exists”.  But a question person would probably define the word “know” as a deep feeling or an existential choice based upon both intuition and experience. I’ll call this faith, and point out that faith is not an appropriate synonym for knowledge. Knowledge more properly refers to understanding based strictly upon evidence. And where there is sufficient evidence, there is no need for faith. Faith is a kind of knowing apart from, or only partially based upon, evidence.

Now let’s tackle a more nuanced question, and imagine ourselves in a small group of believers. Someone asks, “How can I resolve the fact that the Bible says our prayers will always be answered with my experience that makes that claim look false?”

The “question person” may have an answer, but it’s liable to be tentative, and she is likely not to express it right away. Rather, she will wait to see if someone else’s answer might offer new thoughts or angles on the question, or a new insight or awareness.

The answer person generally seeks closure by delivering a formula, such as: “God always answers prayer, but sometimes the answer is no. ” Or, “The answer may not come right away, but it will come eventually.” Or he may come to the dangerous conclusion that the person who prayed lacked faith or didn’t pray according to God’s will.

The question person is comfortable with mystery. The answer person is not. Essayists, I suppose, can be answer people. Poets or writers of fiction had better be question people, or else they’re not making art, they’re making product, which those of us who consider life on earth far too short don’t have time to bother reading.

 

 

How to Love Whom?

One of the benefits of reading Soren Kierkegaard is, he compels us to learn to read differently. He won’t allow us to skim, or to overlook the depth of loaded words.

So, the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” becomes a study of the words shall, love, neighbor, and of the phrase as yourself.

Consider as yourself, a critical phrase in my attempt to apply the wisdom of Kierkegaard. Especially when wrestling with his assessment of the obedience God requires, I need to remember that when God commands me to love even my ornery neighbor, he commands me to love myself as well.

Still I wonder, what does it mean to love myself? We who believe God is love can give a ready answer: we should love ourselves (and others) in the manner that God loves us. Then we who believe God loves us ought to ask, in what way does he love us?

He certainly doesn’t gush or fawn, or let us forever get away with our pranks. The tough love theory–don’t let your feelings stand in the way of applying or allowing consequences for harmful or dangerous actions–might provide a reasonably sound description. Except miserable consequences often appear to arrive in spite of our best efforts at obedience.

We are advised that God treats us with such deep concern for our welfare that his every response to our pleas and needs is meant to draw us closer to an eternal realm where the fullness of joy awaits us. Unless we fully accept that premise on faith, during hard times we may feel rebellious and abused, certainly unloved. And we may descend into self-condemnation, which is surely not the route to healing melancholy.

I’ll submit that those of us who often or occasionally battle melancholy ought to consider applying all the faith we can muster to the notion that everything that befalls us, God allows for a beneficial reason. And we should also attempt to better understand the way God’s love works. Because such understanding is a key to our ability to love ourselves and others.

According to my current understanding, the tough love equation factors into God’s love. But, as Kierkegaard points out, so does Jesus’ answer to Peter, that we should forgive our brother seventy times seven times.

While reading Works of Love, in the chapter entitled, “Love Believes All Things”, I saw that to forgive seventy times seven times means forgiveness could become a useless concept. Because if we do love well, we will decline to judge or take offense, and so will have nothing to forgive.

That chapter is a treasure.

Ken Kuhlken’s award winning novel Midheaven recently came out as an ebook.