Sunday, November 13, 2011

FAITH


~PLEASE LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF THIS SONG BEFORE READING~

I knew I would eventually come to the concept of faith. Now before anyone tunes this out as some "preachy" diatribe, give me a chance and read on.


"Skepticism is the beginning of faith" 
Oscar Wilde (Irish Poet, Novelist and Critic - 1854-1900) 
"Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible"
William James (American Philosopher and Psychologist, leader of the Philosophical Movement of Pragmatism - 1842-1910)
"Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods"
C.S. Lewis (British Scholar and Novelist - 1898-1963)
"To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly"
Benjamin Franklin (American Statesman, Philosopher, Scientist, Printer and Inventor - 1706-1790)
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase"
Martin Luther King Jr. (American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader - 1929-1968)
"Faith must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies"
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Philosopher, Renowned for non-violent protests - 1869-1948)  


Faith is a word that is often misunderstood. Many people profess faith and it is used as a way to comfort their fears. It is a belief in a mansion in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. They were raised in a church and never left, more importantly, never questioned. It answers questions, mundane and complex with - "it is God's will". Sadly for many it never goes any deeper. To be honest, faith has never been easy for me. I have a very skeptical and critical mind and have far more questions than I have answers. That may be why when I when to college I focused on Greek and Textual Criticism. I wanted to see if there was historistic
support for the New Testament and for the historical fact of Jesus Christ. In graduate school I pursued Biblical Hermeneutics - which contains studies in Greek and Hebrew, Textual Criticism-(looking at variants in manuscripts),and a study of the times in which the passage was written. This methodology of looking at passages in their original context sheds a great deal of light on interpretation of the Bible, yet the most famous verse in the Bible "defining" faith is not as simple as many believe:


"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"
Hebrews 11:1 - English Standard Version


A few of words translated from Greek may help here:

  1. hypostasis - nature, confidence, assurance - translated here "assurance".
  2. elpizomenon - hope for, expect - translated here - "hoped for".
  3. elenchos - conviction, "argument of disproof or refutation; cross-examining, testing, scrutiny esp. for purposes of refutation" is the central technique of the Socratic method. The Latin form elenchus (plural elenchi) is used in English as a technical philosophical term. - translated here - "conviction".
  4. blepomenon - see look at, observe, shown concern, caution - translated here - "seen".
What I see in this passage, which is followed by an extensive list of people of faith, is that faith is not "magic". The faith of the first century church was seen as an extension of God at work within His creation. The writer of Hebrews follows this list with the line - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2a - ESV). In the first century, and especially in the Jewish community, this was relatively simple. They had an entire history and the people in that list were familiar. To us in the 21st Century the writer could have listed Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White or Winnie the Pooh.

This where those words above come into play; we are not expected to blindly accept the Jesus of the New Testament like a young child believes in Santa Claus. Rather, faith is built by putting together the evidence and weighing that evidence against evidence to the contrary. Faith is far more than belief. People all over believe or do not believe in God based on, really, nothing more than sentimentality. They have never grappled with trying to find out what is true. Add to that the superstitions, meaningless rituals and at times senseless bloodshed in the name of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that people say they do not believe in God? Today the airwaves and the Internet are filled supposed faith healers that more resemble snake oil salesmen, hypocrisy in the church, stories of infidelity and child abuse among church leaders and confusion of Jesus Christ that has morphed into something that doesn't even resemble the historical Jesus Christ. Churches have become religious bureaucratic behemoths that resemble Fortune 100 companies rather than the group of followers attempting to be like Jesus.

THIS IS TRAGIC!  

As a person of faith, I can say from the core of my being, this breaks the heart of God. I know that a large number of people who read this blog do not profess any kind of faith in Jesus Christ. If after careful study, you have come to that point in your life, I understand. I would recommend you take a serious look at the work that Dr. Gary Cage and Dr. Bob Hemenway assembled for our small congregation - http://www.foothillschurchofchrist.com/christianevidences/christianevidences.pdf.  If you have rejected faith because of some of the things listed above, I am sorry churches have failed people and you in particular. Carrying that pain will only lead you further down that pit. There may be a time you will look at the unblemished Jesus Christ of the New Testament.

In my previous blogs I have spoken about the difficulties, failures and hitting the bottom of life. I believe with all of my heart that my faith, even when I thought I lost it, was my North Star. The difference between belief and faith is that faith causes action. When you have faith, you are drawn to something way beyond yourself. You see people as they can be, you see yourself as you can be - life becomes truly meaningful. Life with faith is not lived on "Easy Street", you will still have ups and downs, people and maybe God will disappoint you - but there will always be a North Star to steer the rudder of your life home. For me, faith is the thing that causes me to get up each morning and put one foot in front of the other and to coin Winston Churchill, to "NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!"



I hope I have at least caused you to think about what drives my life. I know there are numerous situations that cause people not to look at God. However, I can say, in my life my faith is what allows me to face each day knowing that I have placed my faith in someone who is worthy.

Peace,
~Al