Tag Archives: faith

‘?’ or ‘!’ ?

What world would you rather inhabit, the world of ‘!’ or the world of ‘?’

Consider:images
‘!’ is certain; it instills confidence because it declares stuff.
‘?‘ is uncertain, wavering because it’s always adding another question.

images (1)!’ therefore seems more powerful. After all, it exclaims the Truth about things. But ‘!’ has a secret: it’s actually terrified of ‘?’ so it tries to crush questions whenever they appear.

Religious systems in particular love ‘!‘ and despise ‘?’ So questions are not welcome. But, certainty doesn’t actually need faith. This leaves us with a sudden irony: the essence of faith…belief within the humble world of ‘?’… stands opposed to many religious communities.

Linguist Victor Klemperer argued that the ‘?’ is actually the most potent human symbol. Perhaps that’s why true faith is ultimately a more powerful force than certitude.

So I think I’ll hang with the doubters of the not-so-certain world of ‘?’ Faith seems safer, after all.

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Why We Believe Stuff

Whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are driven by what we believe…and we all believe in something.  What we believe determines how we expect the world to work, what we call good or bad, what’s real, normal, out-of-bounds, etc. Ultimately, our beliefs determine what we think and how we behave. But why do we believe what we believe?

We like to think that our beliefs are based in facts. We imagine that we’ve objectively reasoned our way through data and have formed sound conclusions. However,  we humans are not objective. Instead, we bring assumptions and biases to to our calculations. These assumptions (like people are basically bad or basically good, or like God exists or doesn’t) are the result of our experiences which create an interpretive grid. This grid is fueled by desires necessary for us to survive and thrive. Think of it like an operating system that manages data for our welfare. Yes, we really do believe what we want to believe. Belief becomes a decision, not a conclusion. As disturbing as this may sound, we humans have no other option.  

This means that we’d do well to test our beliefs differently than we may have thought. Facts, logic, reasonableness and other data should be considered, of course. And we should listen to the perspective of others because identifying their underlying assumptions can help us discover our own. But we need to take the step most often neglected:  We need to ask ourselves why we want to believe what we believe. After all, we all live according to some system of belief. Discovering why can change everything.

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Thumbs Up for ‘Noah’

Conservative critics are particularly unhappy with the recently released film, ‘Noah,’ and for all the predictable reasons: it strays from a tight reading of the biblical text, weaves in a bit of environmentalism, implies evolution, seems to endorse promiscuity, etc.

 I sure hope you see this movie.    noah

Why? Never purporting to be the Bible’s account, I think you’ll find it more ‘biblical’ in the whole than what many preachers do with the difficult chapter in Genesis. In fact, the writers offer audiences an authentic confrontation with the following truths:

The sequential creation of the world by the voice of a sovereign God who remains invested in its well-being.

The free will of man and the consequential nature of choice.

The presence of Evil and the abiding power of temptation.

The tension between justice and mercy.

The paradox of the good, suffering.

The wisdom of humility.

The reality of mystery.

The apparent silence of God vs. evidence of his active presence.

The danger of dogmatic certitude.

The struggle that is faith.

The pre-eminence of love.

In all these things and more you will find ‘Noah’ offering honest inquiry and, ironically, biblical responses.  The question that remains, of course, is how far do we go in engaging the Bible imaginatively.  I’ve no doubt that boundaries of respect are important- even necessary- but we do well to probe the principles of our Faith with minds unbound by unnecessary conventions.

 

 

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Is God good?

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I know I’m supposed to think so. After all, the Bible says he is, preachers  preach it, Sunday School teachers declare it. Guilt threatens me when I doubt it.

But is God good? Look at this picture.

My grandmother was as godly a woman as I ever knew. Right before going into brain surgery she took my hand and said, ‘God is good.’ When she woke up from surgery she spent nine years in a state of borderline incoherence and anxiety…a state of confused present tense from which there was no relief but sleep. When she finally died, the preacher said that ‘God had given her a season of rest after serving others for all those years.’

Sorry, Reverend…but nice try.

My grandfather was a Bible church pastor for decades. Before he died, I visited him in the nursing home where he was tied to his chair that sat beneath a plaque of Romans 8:28: ‘All things work together for good.’

Really? I had a lot of trouble with that.

I’m sure you have more terrible stories, and the history of mankind is certainly replete with human suffering. This fact is the greatest obstacle to faith. If you doubt that, walk through a children’s cancer ward and then be honest with yourself.

So now what? Well, I’m just an ordinary man who thinks too much. I’m not a grand theologian, an expert philosopher or sage. So I’ve struggled like most of you, and without benefit of all the resources that don’t seem to help anyway. So here’s a few of my ‘notes to self’ on this whopper of a problem:

First…I expect to learn someday that God was very pleased with those of us who were angry at him for all the misery in this world. Our anger reflects spirits of love and compassion for those whom I do actually very much believe God loves.

Second…the issue is not as simple as it seems. We could just conclude that if evil is, then God isn’t. Or we could believe that evil proves that God is weak, or that he doesn’t really care. It’s actually pretty easy and very tempting to just take that and be done.

But if I’m willing to look more deeply at the world around me, another mystery emerges. I see love. I see people everywhere outraged at suffering and doing all sorts of good things about it. Why outrage? Why not indifference? Why is there love in the universe? Where did it come from? Why is it here? So now I have two mysteries to wrestle with: the presence of evil and the presence of love.

So where does THAT leave me?

Well, what if God is love…just like the Bible says…but that on account of his love he chooses to limit his presence so as to not overwhelm his creation? Overwhelming us would mean turning us and the natural course of his Creation into a robotic playground. Further, what if, for our freedom’s sake, he allows evil to exist? That’s a deep one, but simply said, freedom requires choice, and choice would therefore require the existence of opposing options. Still, the child in this picture does not appear to be the victim of her own choices, and I would like to think that God wouldn’t mess up his universe by intervening more often. Like so many other attempts to explain this mystery, this particular scheme helps a little but is not entirely satisfactory. So, I’m stuck back on mystery.

In fact, the real issue is what do I do with mystery?

I understand that my mind and my spirit are finite. Like an angry child, I don’t have the full picture of all things, I just stomp my feet. Am I willing to recognize this at a meaningful level? If I CAN’T actually figure this problem out…or others…on what basis do I believe things? After all, we all actually do believe SOMETHING.

I thought about this for a very long time. And I still do wrestle. But here’s where I’ve landed, at least for now: I’m left depending on the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Book of Hebrews) who have gone before, who suffered worse, and who still believed in the goodness of God. Facing the mysteries of evil and goodness, I’ve CHOSEN to believe the witnesses of a good God. Further, I find the presence of Love to be more convincing than the presence of Evil. Love wins.

But barely.

I’m still angry when I see pictures like this, and when I remember my grandparents. If that’s weak faith, poor faith, terrible testimony…well so be it. I’ve decided that I’d just rather tell tell the truth than pretend. So here’s my prayer: ‘Lord I believe that you’re good, but help my unbelief.’

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