If you’re a long time reader, you might get a chuckle at this obvious understatement…but I’m the kind of guy who likes to figure stuff out.
One of the main reasons this blog even exists is that it becomes a processing point for my thoughts, as my logical mind tries to make sense of my spiritual journey and tries to draw conclusions from the evidence. I often question myself as a creative person, because I’m probably one of the most left-brained creative types I know. (The Director and The Wild One are decidedly not so.) 🙂
Anyhow, I think one of the reasons I’ve had such a deconstruction/reconstruction on the subject of faith is that I had a whole misconception of what faith really is. I grew up in a spiritual tradition that taught me that faith was a lot more tangible than it really is–that it boiled down to belief, and that if I believed something strongly enough, it would happen. Faith was a tool by which we got things done, and learning to use that faith as a tool was a key to victory in life. I thought I had faith figured out.
Now, I’m not dismissing the idea (even Biblically) that positive thinking and words have power. I’ve seen too many positive people living very productive lives; there has to be something to it. But obviously my picture of faith needed some tweaking–because faith is much more than belief. Faith is trust.
I once heard it put this way: It’s possible to believe an airplane will fly across the ocean, but not have the faith to fly in it. In order to get on that plane, I have to entrust myself to the structure of the plane and the ability of the pilot. I have to put my life in their hands. I don’t have to know how all the knobs and buttons work in order to trust. In fact, the trust factor comes in because I don’t know how it all works. If I had it all figured out, there would be no need for trust. Faith is about embracing the unknown, embracing the mystery. Somebody knows how to fly that thing, and somebody “in the know” is in the pilot seat. 🙂
For many years I lived by a set of beliefs in my head about how faith works and how to use it. When the trials came, I would grit my teeth and hold on with all my strength to my “belief”. When I had no more strength, I had no choice but to let go of my grip–and that’s actually when my answers came. I’ve actually seen that pattern repeat many times since: at the point when I “give up”, God intervenes. Seeing this is what has taught me a lot more about the nature of faith–it isn’t an act of holding on. It’s an act of letting go. It’s the place where we say, “God I don’t get it; but I still trust You.”
I listen to people sometimes who consider themselves agnostics or atheists, or people who say they have lost their faith. Some of them genuinely want to believe in God, but they just can’t get their logical minds around Him–too many apparent contradictions, too many unanswered questions. I can relate. 🙂 But the truth is–and even the Bible echoes this–God can’t be fathomed with the human mind. (If He could, He wouldn’t be God!) So the question of belief in God isn’t about gathering enough evidence to support the claim; it’s a question of trust. Are we willing to take God’s word for it that He is who He claims to be, and that His intentions toward us are good–even if we can’t iron out all the details of what that means? We cannot come to God without faith, by the sheer nature of the fact that we can’t figure Him out. No matter how much we think we know–there’s an element of mystery we will have to embrace in order to believe in Him. Otherwise, we aren’t really trusting Him, but in our own ideas about Him.
For that matter, I also know of believers who every time they face a disappointment, their whole faith structure is shaken, and sometimes they walk away from God. Perhaps they believed with all their might that something would happen, and it didn’t go the way they thought it would, and they feel like God failed them–or conclude that it was all an illusion. I think sometimes this happens because we didn’t really have faith in God–we had faith in our picture of God, the one we thought we had figured out. Viewed in this light, it wasn’t actually God who failed us–it was our own perception.
I don’t want to ramble here–this is why I bring all this up. I’ve been in a process of dealing with some situations in my own life where there are a lot of things I don’t understand. Why? is a huge question in my heart these days. I reaaally want to figure it all out. 🙂 But I notice a peaceful place in my soul that I haven’t had in days past, and I find myself running there when my fears start to overwhelm me, or when my mind gets exasperated with all it doesn’t know. It’s not necessarily a place where I find answers; it’s a place where I make the choice to trust despite my lack of answers. It’s where I go to God with all my questions, and decide to trust that He is there and working on my behalf, even if He doesn’t clue me in on all that’s going on. It’s where I let go of my feeble attempts to figure it out, and instead embrace the mystery.
Many people quote Hebrews 11:1 for their understanding of what faith is: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But for me, the understanding of faith actually is reflected a few verses down: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6) I think this is the “home base” for faith. When everything else is confused and shaken, the starting point for faith is in believing these two simple things:
- God is there; and
- God rewards those who seek Him.
In other words–if we can trust that God is present and that His intentions for us are good, then we can trust Him with all the other stuff we don’t know. And that, I believe, is enough. For me, at that point, I no longer have to know how the airplane works; it’s enough for me that Someone knows–Someone who has my best interests at heart. That’s all I need to know.
That’s what faith looks like to me. 🙂