Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Problems of Faith

[The thoughts present in this post germinated from my ponderings of the past responses and discussions. I was going to reply to the previous thread, but decided to make this an entire post by itself. Therefore, this can be read by itself; however, its intellectual predecessor is the thoughts of Porch Rat, Duct Cleaner, and Skrignov. It is rather lengthy and the beginning is confusing…but please, bear with me.]

My first statement will seem entirely contradictory, but hear me out: When it comes to PROBLEMS OF FAITH, I believe the issue is usually not a problem of faith, but instead a different problem. What is this different problem? There are countless answers, but I will draw on two, since they hit closest to home for me. First, OBEDIENCE AND PERSONAL STRUGGLES: truly believing in something means that we need to act according to a certain code of ethics --- and this code may not always be pleasant to our lazy, selfish selves. In fact, this may seem extremely difficult to us, especially if we’re struggling with something contrary to this code. Second problem: FORGETTING OUR CONVERSIONS or personal moments of spiritual connections --- personal moments of spiritual power and depth.

Let me first begin with the ostensible PROBLEMS OF FAITH. This may not be applicable to someone who grew up as an atheist. I am referring to those of us who say we want to believe, but struggle with skepticism, the inability to objectively grasp the idea of God, the inability to prove God, certain apparent weaknesses in theology, etc. I could go on and on. We often sit long and hard, arguing these points with others and ourselves. Now, it’s not to say that these dilemmas aren’t in fact dilemmas --- because they are. They are intellectually daunting questions: Can I love a God I cannot rationally grasp? Can I pray, even if I don’t understand the efficacy of prayer? How can I believe MY religion, when I am surrounded by thousands of religion? In what way can I justify my beliefs? These sorts of questions go on. There are real questions.

However, what I’m claiming is that we are often deluding ourselves by pretending that these are the things that are keeping us from growing closer to God. “How can I love a God I don’t know exists?” we ask ourselves. “How can I pray everyday if I can’t intellectually grasp the idea of prayer?” Is it really these intellectual debates that keep us from God; or the fact that we struggle to maintain a prayer-life? Is it truly our intellect that keeps us from God; or the fact that we struggle with personal sins? Hiding behind our vast and clever skepticism, our sins don’t seem as bad. “Since I can’t even intellectually accept the idea of God, how can I apply a specific sort of morality to my life?”

In this way, our minds are unconsciously using our intellects to allow us to wallow in mediocrity. As Kierkegaard said, “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”

Although it is OK to bring things to an intellectual level, what we leave behind in this sort of thinking is any experiential knowledge that refuses intellectualization: such as any type of personal moment of conversion or spiritual depth. We are using a lens to view a subject; but this lens cannot see the very things that make many of us true Christians. It’s alright to argue these things logically, but logic falls very short.

Christians do not believe in Christianity because they logically proved their religion. We believe it because Christ came down to Earth. We believe it because Christ came into our lives. On a certain level, these sort of experiences refuse intellectualization. We don’t believe in God because we can intellectually justify it; we believe because something happened personally in our lives --- something spiritual and powerful.

When struggling with questions and problems of faith, it has helped me to step back from my philosophy, skepticism, and egotistical intellect. From a distance, I ask myself these questions: What is causing my questioning? Is it a laziness, or a desire to remain mediocre? Is it an area of personal problems or sin? Let me recognize these as the issue and disregard rationality for a moment.

Then I tell myself to remember that faith is not about proof. It is about a personal experience and a personal relationship. If Christianity were about proofs and rationality, it would have died long ago. My intellect is not why I believed in the first place, so why should it be something that stops me from believing now?


  1. a fun quote brought to mind by your post: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." - GK Chesterton

  2. Skrignov, well done with that post. I think that often times people do not to put things into categories and end up chasing tails. However, it is difficult to work things out in a clear way.

    I am going to basically ramble for a moment and hopefully it touches on some of what you are talking about..

    These are thoughts after reflecting on the themes of faith, obedience, and freedom. This is more like cheap poetry rather than logical discussion.

    There was a group of people who lived lives under oppression and slavery. They were bound and suffocated by the systems and laws in place.
    Then one day they saw a way out. A particular event took place. They found the strength to resist the oppression and live in freedom. They ran accross the country side escaping and found themselves in little skirmishes and sometimes all out battle. Sometimes they were without food for a long time. They knew that this freedom required much sacrifice but they also knew that it was worth the ultimate sacrifice.
    After years went by the people learned to live a certain way to protect their freedom. They had children on their journey and taught them about the price of freedom. When the children grew up they wondered how real this effort was. What do we need freedom from? they would ask. Why does it require such sacrifice? The children did not fully understand the context of the committment that they saw in their elders. The elders gave all they had to the cause, and the children found it difficult to give with such certainty. (atleast authentically anyway)

    This is not just a story about community but it is about the church, and i think trust.

    The first generation did not need to be convinced about obedience, they knew the goal and remembered the past and did what ever was asked of them. The second generation did not have the same experience and their adherence to "the rules" seemed to be a dry act of the will.
    The first generation trusted their past and the second generation had to trust the story that was told from the first generation.

    Here is another illustration. Youre standing at the top of a waterfall and a person you trust (family member, community member, friend, Christ Himself) is saying if you want to be free, you must jump and if you stay here you will die. You laugh as you think to yourself that if I jump I will surely die.
    You are looking at a life and death situation, you rack your brain as quickly as possible, you search your mind and remember your own experiences and frantically try to make a decision. You realize that you have been here before with Christ and have jumped already, and yet somehow you must do it again. You use your knowledge of philosophy and theology and of nature itself to aid your decision but they seem to be lacking and there is not enough time.
    You still need a savior.

    on another note

    Basil Stag could not GK have said that about most religions?

    yes, I will stick with my day job.

  3. Yes indeed, monsieur duct cleaner. I did not mean it to be taken as a line of apologetics for the Church, I just thought it touched on the point that many times I can speak in the abstract to point to problems with "the rules" or "the system" to hide the fact that I'm simply sinful. I like very much your waterfall illustration

  4. I, too, truly enjoy your waterfall analogy. It speaks of the limits of philosophy and theology. Although these are wonderful, helpful, and at times necessary tools, they are simply that: tools. Life in any form is lived via experience, relationships, struggles, faith, and adventures.