Monday, May 10, 2004

Over the weekend a theological discussion that has been lurking under the surface at several family gatherings, finally broke through. It was, at times, vigorous, challenging, tense, and painful. Are we the better for having it? I’m not sure.

One of the most contentious issues was that of belief. Is belief in the Bible and what the Bible says about Jesus, in particular, essential to being Christian? The others involved in the discussion argued that belief is essential. Their point (and I may be misstating it, but I am also inviting them to read this blog, and if you do, you’re welcome to correct me – and add anything you’d like - in the comments section below) was that without belief, what’s the point of being (or calling yourself) Christian? One Bible verse they quoted was Hebrews 11 (NRSV):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

I responded by mentioning that my faith is about more than just belief. Read this post for more about faith – I don’t want to repeat the discussion here. I don’t think my argument did much for them – they responded that the Bible says faith is belief, therefore that’s what faith is. I think they would argue that faith strengthens belief and visa versa.

I tried to say this then, but I’m not sure it came out very well. I think what we are talking about, to an extent, is certainty. They would argue that certainty of belief is essential – that being faithful (other definitions of faith, aside) leads one to the conclusion that no other truth is possible.

Here’s what I’m afraid of – We all create mental models, systems and theologies that fit our understanding of God. When we are certain, I think we want to believe that those mental models, systems and theologies are correct. But I think that we’re trying to fit God into our theology, rather than fitting our theology to God. But when we try to fit our theology to God we recognize that God is infinitely more complex than we can comprehend.

We realize that God doesn’t abide by our logical rules. Grace is a fantastic example. Radical grace breaks all of our rules and doesn’t seem to make sense. But yet, that is what God promises. I think the danger of certainty is that when something happens in our lives that doesn’t fit our theology, faith/belief can be weakened. When God doesn’t live up to our expectations, that certainty can begin to shatter.

I don’t see my skepticism and doubts as a lack of faith. I’ve given up trying to fit God to my expectations. Instead I’m putting my trust in God and pledging to live faithfully. I’m not saying that I can’t be rattled – rather, I’m expecting it and I believe it is an essential part of the Christian life. After all, while on the cross didn’t Jesus say, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46 NRSV).



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