What is Faith?

 

“Let all things be done decently and in order” I Corinthians 14:40

 

The above verse was repeated so often by my father that it became a joking family rejoinder to whatever was askew at the moment.

My Dutch grandparents epitomized the verse. Their tiny two-bedroom bungalow in Bellwood, Illinois was immaculate. The bungalow’s smaller yard was well-manicured and well-guarded by a chain link fence against intruders of all kinds including rabbits that munched on Marigolds.

My father, before I was born, left the Dutch Christian Reformed church and what he considered its old-country austerity, an austerity that seemed to be reinforced by his hot-tempered foul-mouthed truck-driving father, who “cleaned up” for the Sunday Morning service.

My Swedish grandparents and my mother belonged to a Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church in the Andersonville area of Chicago were they also lived. Like Dutch immigrants, Swedish immigrants were very concerned about cleanliness and presenting a proper and well-kept image to their neighbors. These two immigrant groups were thrilled to be in the New World. The Old World had become too unyielding to make a decent living.

At one point my parents met (in a decent and orderly fashion, of course) and my father aligned himself for a time with the church my mom attended. They would soon marry and later attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. That is when and where I was born. The word became flesh and was placed in a crib over a Chinese take-out restaurant.

Fast forward to eleven years after my birth and I am sitting in a Bible church hearing the Four Spiritual Laws for the thousandth time, during a Vacation Bible School assembly. I decided then and there that I would ask Jesus into my heart. My friend did so at the same time. We both received a new Bible after we came forward. The New Bible was the draw for me at the time. A kid will take anything that is free, except peas and carrots.

 

Now, why am I telling you this? Everything in life emerges from relationship. Everything!

 

When someone considers God, they view God through a lens of their worldview or weltanschauung. Most, I suspect, view God through the relationship they have or have had with their parents. The parental relationship may be one of ‘happily ever after’ or one of rancor, division and divorce. A child’s view of God may become skewed when only one parent cares for him or her and the other parent is out of the picture most of the time or all of the time.

The person considering God may also have their view of God reinforced by whatever authority is in their lives, whether it be benevolent or malevolent. He or she may further view God as distant or absent or a non-issue. He or she may view God, as I believe most do, as himself or herself projected. Much of what is called social justice today is a projection of “what would Jesus as me do?” And, he or she may view God as “values-adjusted-God” to reflect one’s compromised ‘ethical’ life, as many Christians do.

But, what about God external to all rational thought and emotional bonding? Our limited minds, our limited reasoning can only summon the past to outline what it is we think we know in the present. And then such determination is a matter of interpretation, whether affixed on atheism or on theism. I suggest that relationship is key to knowing what it is you know and to what you don’t know. And yes, not knowing (meekness, teachableness) is a matter of acquiring humility in today’s Post-Enlightenment world. For a Christian worldview, holding rational thought, paradox and mystery in tension is, I believe, essential. Truth-seekers require both left and right brain hemispheres to be put to work. Why?

The Left-brain does not know what it does not know. The right-brain looks at the big picture and sees that there is mystery. It receives the paradox and supplies the left brain with context the Left-brain doesn’t see. The left brain sees detail and seeks certainty to manipulate the world. The right brain sees the big picture and hands off the context to the left brain for processing.

The Enlightenment has pushed thinking including the consideration of God, into the realm of black and white “certainty” and away from paradox and mystery, away from big questions. The media’s constant barrage of images, of ad-hoc fantasy overwhelms the right-brain, hindering its imagining of a cosmos greater than a tweet or 1440 x 2560 pixels.

Truly, the medium is a message evangelist. The perverse rapid-fire images that we view daily in anonymity enjoin us to paganism.

And as reflected, today’s Epicureans say the gods are distant and so I’ll surround myself with friends who will let say what my truth is and I’ll find sensate pleasure to offset any questions or concerns.

The many atheists (they call themselves “atheists”) I have engaged in conversations all at some point demand certainty. They will ask, “How can any rational mind accept that there is a God?” Well, a purely rational mind cannot know that there is a God. The Left-brain hemisphere will always seek certainty and never find it. The Left-brain hemisphere will always see fragmented pieces of data that mean nothing in themselves. The right-brain ‘sees’ the whole picture including what it doesn’t know and is OK with what it doesn’t know. The right-brain intuits that there is more that can be known while the left-brain balks at such ambiguity.

In my debates with atheists I say that I cannot prove that there is a God but that there is a very high probability that there is a God based on the design of Creation and the extreme fine-tuning of the universe. I mention the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity. All four finely adjusted constants make life on earth possible.

I go on to say that we only are aware of 5% of the universe and there is 95% of it that we don’t know about, including dark energy and dark matter.  I ask them that “if they can accept the mystery that light is both a wave and a particle why can’t they accept the mystery of a God beyond their understanding?” They are held in check for a moment. They expected me to “blather on about what the Bible says”.  I go on then to tell them that I have a personal relationship with the Infinite-Personal God that is reinforced by my reading of Scripture and my knowledge of the universe and prayer. (This is experiential knowledge that is at least equal to any atheist experiential knowledge). At this point, the atheist will often resort to calling me names and dismissing me out of hand. Out of these many conversations I have come to see that these same folks reject any notion of a relationship with God. Their worldview blocks all other light. So, I try to present a reasonable doubt for the case an atheist presents to me

 

I didn’t know it at the time but my eleven-year-old acceptance of Jesus would become an intimate relationship with Jesus. The big thrust in those days was to get saved and get your ticket to heaven and be ready to get raptured out of here. Sure, there was mention of Jesus as your personal Savior, but the personal part seemed to be that “Jesus died for you and you better behave before you leave this earth on the day of rejoicing”.

As I recall those days, the rigmarole surrounding being “saved” seemed artificial and trite. I heard the same salvation message week after week after week. I was starving for more than the reduction of the get-saved-and-get-the-hell-out-of-here salvation-gospel into 140 characters. As an eleven-year old the only big-ticket ‘certainty’ I had was the intuition that there was a Creator God who loved me. And, my intuition told me that the Eucharist was where to find the immediate reality of Jesus. After all of the twists and turns and sinful trajectories of my life I found a church where the Eucharist provided me the True Reality I sought.

Years later, I have learned to trust the Lord’s covenant faithfulness, which is the righteousness of (not from) God:

God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith.” Romans 3:22

What is faith then?

I observe God working in my life daily and in the lives of others I pray for. I see and wonder at the intelligent design of the universe as unfolded over 14.8 billion years. Prayer, mediation and contemplation through music, art and literature informs and strengthens my relationship with the Lord. I hear God speaking to me. My worldview, once colored by projections, has become less opaque, less cloudy, as I am led by the Spirit.

You see, faith is an eye-opening relationship in the absence of logical certainty.

 

“I pray that the God of King Jesus our Lord, the father of glory, would give you, in your spirt, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because you are coming to know him, and to have the eyes of your inmost self opened to God’s light.” -the Apostle Paul writing to the churches around Ephesus, 1: 17

~~~

My parent’s life verse speaks of relationship, of covenantal faithfulness, of things working out decently and in order in God’s purview:

“We know in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

~~~

Open thou mine eyes

Open thou mine eyes and I shall see, Incline my heart and I shall desire, Order my steps and I shall walk In the ways of thy commandments.

Open thou mine eyes and I shall see, Incline my heart and I shall desire, Order my steps and I shall walk In the ways of thy commandments.

O Lord God, be thou to me a God And beside thee let there be none else, No other, nought else with thee. Vouchsafe to me to worship thee and serve thee According to thy commandments In truth of spirit, In reverence of body, In blessing of lips, In private and in public.

 

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)

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