Your Faith Is Foolish9:00 AM
Andrée Seu Peterson wrote an article called "Faith is the thing: believing in the absence of receiving." She said that the psychology of faith means that faith is only exercised, well, in the absence of the receiving. As soon as you receive the object of your faith, you stop believing. You've received. Just go read the article and then come back.
I struggle with faith. I'm an intelligent, college-educated young woman who double-checks facts, pokes holes in arguments, and doubts like the best of cynics. I don't believe. I know. And I know not just from experience, but from rigorously fact-checking my experiences, backing them up with logic. My worst nightmare is the idea of not being able to trust my senses, to live in a world of unknown reality, to be going about my life and suddenly someone says, "Everything you knew is actually a lie."
For me, seeing is believing. I'm obtuse to faith. My spiritual mentors get exasperated with me: "That doesn't make sense. How do you know for sure? What about this? You forgot to mention that. Sure, that seems right according to everything I know, but what if I'm missing an important piece of the puzzle?" I take things in with a dose of skepticism (whether healthy or unhealthy, I have no idea). And it's because I've been wrong. It's because I've changed my mind about things I once thought fundamental. It's because I've trusted people who I later discovered to be wrong. It's because people believe really, really stupid things and run after false gospels and live in delusions, and who am I to say that I am inherently smarter than them? If I could somehow objectively determine that I am not prone to error and emotions, then maybe I'd feel more confident to believe my hunches and my experiences and my inductive reasoning.
That's why I can think through with confidence important theological problems and systematize them: this makes sense, this doesn't, this matches the Bible, this doesn't. If you asked me what is true, I might be able to tell you. If you asked me what I believed, I'd probably say, "I don't know."
"You really don't have faith, do you?" my faithful boyfriend tells me when I lay out all my speculation and doubts. And I really don't. I walk by sight.
I used to teach my elementary kids in children's church that faith was like sitting on a chair even though you don't know for sure if it will hold you. Faith is more complicated than that. If you want to know if the chair will hold you, you can just sit on it. That's a scientific process. It involves your senses. The greatest cost will be a sore bum and an old broken chair. Faith in God, faith in certain ideas about God, cannot be sat on and tested with obvious cause-and-effect. It involves wisdom, truth, and faith itself...not subjective things, but not obvious like a chair. And the greatest cost to getting the object of your faith wrong ranges from nothing to burning in hell for eternity.
If you don't struggle with faith like I do, this article will probably discourage you. You can stop reading now, for your own sake. If you do struggle with faith like I do, the actual act of faith, let me break it to you: the reality is that faith looks stupid, and faith feels foolish. It's nothing like your high school chemistry co-op experiments. It's not like sitting on the chair in Sunday school. It won't feel as solid as your pastor's confident proclamations.
You'll feel dumb. You'll feel presumptuous. You'll feel as uncomfortable as you feel right now. Because faith isn't the kind of deductive objectivity our Western scientism wants applied to everything. It's why so many kids go agnostic -- the presumption of saying no, there isn't a God feels as foolish and subjective as saying yes, there is a God. They admire the confidence of both atheists and Christians. How do you arrive at that conclusion with so much certainty?
It probably starts with acknowledging how scary, precarious, and counter-intuitive faith is. Faith is about the not having, as Peterson points out. Trusting God to complete your faith, to make known to you the answers, to be real and yet a mystery...that's all not having. Believing on promises, living with hope, experiencing peace...it's based on not having all the tangible facts.
Knowing that faith feels foolish doesn't mean that the object of your faith is foolish or that what you believe is stupid. (For us Christians, though, Paul did say the cross is foolishness to those who don't believe...so don't be surprised when that doubt comes up, either. You were forewarned.)
Believe. It's going to feel weird and crazy and terrifying. It goes against the reductionists you read in class and the smart bloggers on the internet and the snarky agnostics at your school. Get used to it. :) You'll want to be on the agnostics' side, on the side that seems more "logically sound," on the side that seems as sure and noncommittal as possible. Just remember that in the end, no matter how much research you do, now matter how logically you work things out, a step of faith is a step of faith. It operates in the not having. You don't have. So step out.
Friend, if you're struggling with faith, please feel free to reach out.
And if you've struggled with faith and have learned to believe, don't hold back your testimony! Emails, comments...let's grow together, okay?