As I have recently explored various theologies, I have noticed some confusion among a few of my friends, family and readers as to why such things matter to me. I have received some comments questioning what this all has to do with faith. This is a worthwhile question. After all, if we cannot ever fully comprehend God then why try? Why not just take it on faith and trust God is good, God is there, and what more do you need anyway?
For me there are several reasons these answers are inadequate. If our faith is not based in reality, if it is not in some way connected to how the world works and the evidence of our experiences then is it not reduced to either wishful thinking or brainwashing? Furthermore, this kind of “just take it on faith” attitude only works for people inside the church. While I am not terribly concerned with converting anyone (see Why I don't Believe in Evangelism), I still desire to have meaningful conversations with people who do not hold the same beliefs as I do. When speaking to my thoughtful and intelligent atheist friends, or teenagers who are trying to understand the world and their place in it, comments about “just have faith” would set off their crap detectors so fast they would probably blow a fuse.
As part of my Lenten discipline, I have been meditating upon Philippians 4:8, which, in part, calls us to think upon what is true. Telling me to “just have faith,” in a sense, asks me to quit seeking truth.
The theologies I have been exploring are attempts to understand the way God works and the way the world works through the words of scripture, the traditions of our ancestors, and the experience of life. I want to learn from the thoughts of others as I seek what is true. Though I know I cannot fully know truth or fully know God, I do not think this should prevent me from exploring and finding some elements of truth.
This is not to say faith does not have value to me. There are certain things I do take on faith because the gift of faith within me calls me to want to order my life as though these things were true. My faith calls me to order my life as though Jesus was the clearest revelation of God’s love, a love which draws us into loving one another. Yet if Jesus was the clearest revelation of God’s love than it is rather important we learn what we can about who Jesus was, the culture in which he lived, what he was trying to communicate and so on.
Furthermore, “just take it on faith” for me becomes nothing more than mental gymnastics, trying to pretend I don’t doubt when I do, trying to ignore the things that don’t make sense, etc. It is difficult for me to imagine a God of love and truth who wants us to fool ourselves into believing things we don’t. God as nothing more than a way of thinking seems pretty empty. This is why prayer as something which changes us and not God, likewise seems empty. While I value meditation as a way of strengthening control over my mind and such, it seems prayer should be more than mental exercise. So, I continue to seek truth about prayer which makes sense in the realities of this world but does not reduce prayer to mental gymnastics.
Truth seeking, questioning, doubting, are not the opposites of faith. For me they are what makes faith more than wishful thinking. And I surely hope it is.
What do you think? What place do doubts and questioning have in your faith or lack there of? Have their been times when intellectual explorations have rocked your faith or strengthened it? What does it mean to you to think upon “whatever is true?”
by Sheri Ellwood