Friday, November 19, 2010

Three Things I Know . . . and One I Don't

Faith is a tricky subject.  It inflames passions and gets people riled up.  It often winds up making people feel judged.  We almost never talk about it unless we are arguing . . . which makes it the sacred ground of the experts or the kooky.  

As a result, people keep their faith private . . . and as a result of that, the faith that grows inside of us never gets to see the light of other people's thoughts.  So weird things grow in the musty dungeon of our hearts.  It comes up for air a few times a year - at funerals or around Christmas and then it runs back down to the darkness of our innards.  

I have heard some really strange things from people.  Businessmen, single moms and school teachers alike - they all develop their faith in the confines of their heart for fear of someone making them feel judged.  

As I get the chance to talk with people, these stories come out.  One man I sat on a porch with at the shore tried to convince me that it was Jesus' mastery of tantrism that enabled him to slow his heart rate down to appear dead and then roll the stone away and flee for safety.  I was most intrigued by this theory and really wanted to know where Jesus went next.  He had no answer.  I mean, you try carrying out the biggest hoax of humanity and then trying to figure out where you spend retirement.  

There was another guy I talked with who just felt that we transcend ourselves at death.  I pressed him for what that means, but all I got was the T-word.  I guess to transcend yourself means that you somehow rise in the air?  I think he was more enamored with the word 'transcend' than he was the idea of resurrection.

I also remember working at one time for a man named 'Gus' who owned a Greek pizza shop.  His real name was over five syllables but everyone called him Gus.  When he found out that I was studying theology he made it his pet project to try to convert me to a way of thinking that was not just unorthodox, but actually a little perverted.  I don't think we need to go into too many specifics, but lets just say that I tend to stay away from Greek pizza shops.  I know, its culinary profiling, but I am human.

All this is to say that I think everyone has theories about faith and what to think about God.  It is a shame that we live in an era in which we keep it to ourselves, though.  Not only do weird things grow in the slime of the ill-informed theological swamps of our souls, but we don't get to help each other grow as spiritual people when we are so individualistic.

A lot of the impetus behind keeping faith so private has been the battleground between faith and logic.  Scientific skeptics face off against faith-minded apologists and it may be a lot of fun for them as they play word games or intellectual ping-pong.  For the rest of us, we become collateral damage as we are forced to align with one side or the other.

Or do we?

I say that there is a third way - a spiritual perestroika that can enable us to embrace our intellect and our faith.

So in that spirit - here are three things I know:  (I actually think I know more than this, but this is some of the better stuff).

1.  I know that there is a God.  

I know that there is a God because of all the motion around me.  Yes, I have three kids, but I am speaking of a different kind of motion.  The philosophers called it "prime mover" - I know that there had to be something that put this entire universe in motion because . . . this entire universe is in motion.  Aquinas and Anselm said it so much more eloquently (with assistance from the likes of Aristotle) but I will summarize the thought by saying that everything goes back to a first cause.  A ball in motion was put in motion by a foot kicking it.  It does not decide on its own to roll.  Similarly, the motion of the planets and stars indicates that we were all set in motion by someone.  To those of you who say that it was an incredible explosion that started it all, I am certain you are correct . . . but you have said nothing substantial.  Imagine sitting in a concert hall listening to a beautiful piano concerto.  Someone asks, "where did all of that beautiful music come from?" If you point to the keys on the piano you are right . . . sort of . . . but you have missed the point.  

2.  I know that this God is described of accurately in the Bible.

Of all the ancient works - the Bhagavad Gita, Qu'ran, Dao De Jing - you name it, there is nothing that has the same degree of historical attestation as the Old and New Testaments.  Geza Vermes, one of the most renowned Egyptologists (and not a believer, as far as I know) has remarked that the preservation of the Old Testament is nothing short of miraculous.  As a historical witness it is unparalleled among religious works.  As a document that continues to exhibit head-scratching self-deprecation, it testifies to its reliability as a book that tells the truth regardless of the outcomes.  From the exposing accounts of morally-challenged leaders like David to the attention to honest detail in the New Testament including shepherds hearing of the birth of Christ and women witnessing His resurrection; the scriptures paint an accurate picture - warts and all.

3.  I know that the Biblical ideas are divinely inspired.

The Bible is full of (what we would call) ridiculous ideas.  A God who creates from nothing, with nothing, from nowhere.  A Son of God who is fully divine and fully human.  Grace as an ethic.  These are absurd when viewed from a rational perspective.  But that is exactly what encourages me about their divine authorship.  When I look at two ideas - one is completely logical and the other is wild and weird - the one that does comport with reason looks suspiciously like it may have come from the human mind.  On the other hand, those things that seem ridiculous exhibit signs of something from somewhere else.

Okay - so there are three things that help me place an address on what I think and believe.  But it is the thing that I don't know that is most compelling.  

Since I am human and I have limits that are set on the things that I can see and sense and reason, I have to arrive at the conclusion that there are things outside of my present understanding that exist.  In fact, if you take philosophers like Kant or James seriously you have to think that there are things that are not just unknown to me, but things that I purposefully 'tune out' because I am not able to 'make sense' of them.

Okay, okay - for the less philosophically minded.  Basically we are all creatures that love to see what we want to see.  Faith has had that charge leveled at it for centuries.  The same is true in our daily experiences.  Sometimes we see things that aren't there (optical illusions) or we hear things that weren't said (try talking with people about song lyrics).  Chances are that you cn read ths sntnce bcuse your brain is trned to look for pttrns among thngs evn whn thse thngs are mssing.  We are creatures that look to fill in the blanks - we project what we think ought to be onto the world around us.  This is the same for logic.   Logic is not 'in the world' - it is in our minds - it is a way of looking for patterns that has a hard time with things like faith.  

The fact that faith eludes reason does not make me doubt faith - it makes it more real!

No comments:

Post a Comment