Sunday, April 1, 2012

Faith in Faith? Or, Faith in God's Will?

Five years ago much of what I loved doing evaporated overnight. One might say it was due to depression, but it was more than that. Everything I did was reevaluated for relevancy, and I lost interest in the nonsense that comprised 30% of my life. Inane TV and movies, foolish small talk, politics, etc...Anyhoo, I was a book junkie, and only within the last year have I tested to see if that desire was still resident in my personality - my most favorite past time/hobby/education/love.  I mix it up - everything BUT ROMANCE. Tight bodices or men with steel blue eyes and a shock of sandy hair (who never, by the way, KNOW that they're devastatingly handsome - whatevs) - escapism without provoking intelligent thought. Between my Kindle, that my awesome kids bought me for Mother's Day, the library, and a few cheapos purchased here and there, I'm slowly building up a stack of books "yet to read" next to my bed - like old times.

As of late, I've read a few nonfiction novels written by women who were either saved from religion, or saved by their own smorgasbord mix of "faith." Faith is a popular trendy term that often indicates a belief in a power, but not necessarily the power of God, often a power inside oneself.  In one sense, I love their in-your-face honesty about relationships, God, and internal angst - to a degree revealing the common emotional threads linking all us fragile humans. The Bible instructs us to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellence, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). So, most Christians write about the end-result of wrestling with God, the good that came from it, and the lessons that they learned - not the gore that got them there. We glorify God for allowing the tough stuff in life to bring out our sinful reactions, so we can improve as "saints," and continue to do the right thing (I Peter 4:16,19).  But those who have been "saved" from our supposed trappings of religion, and who are not spokes-people for God, don't feel pressure to present to friends and neighbors a prettily packaged life  (which in our defense, is not lying - we just choose not to dwell on our struggles, give people fodder for gossip, and to persevere in faith through our trouble - like Paul in the NT). If I wrote an autobiography, the juiciest parts would be the antics of the wicked and the weak Christians!

This is where I now part company with the authors. Some had the good fortune to grow up in homes where their parents were attempting a semblance of a godly life. The adult children are now making many more mistakes than their parents, but somehow feel that they are "free" from the constraints of religion (ie guilt). How does acquiring more trouble in your life equate to freedom?  One gal, free from her Mennonite religion, went on to live with an abusive, bi-polar man for 15 YEARS! Not once, throughout the book, in all her brazen honesty, did she confront how twisted and sick this was on her part. Her continued lament was the gross and embarrassing lunches that her thrifty parents packed her for school lunch, the odd clothing her culture required her to wear, and the pain of not fitting in. After leaving her relationship, she dated a man wearing a cross made of nails on a string around his neck - boy, did she and her friend have fun mocking him. She, of course, went on only one date - who would want to date a crazy who believed in God and wore a symbol representing that belief. But, hmmmm, 15 years with a certified nut job - people could sure malign her choices - but, not if your a decent, compassionate, human being.

The other book, also true, detailed the  journey of the author to "find" herself after deciding she didn't love her husband. The Eastern religion she incorporated had some pretty wacky components - but she was free from the "guilt" of Christianity. I think the idea is to find a "faith" that can heal them from pain, while they hang on to their self will, and justify sin (or bad decisions) as part of their destiny or path that leads to some kind of nirvana. Although, the last part we incorporate in Christianity when we quote "And we know God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).  But the key is that we Christians aren't supposed to be acting out of self-centered desires and depositing destruction and pain in our wake.  We know we could have gone a better way, but God can even use our mistakes, be it as a repentance for selfishness, avoidance of doing the right thing because of fear, or lying to get ahead. We don't justify our sin.

Suffering happens to all of humanity, "man is born to trouble" (Job 11:16). Our Lord experienced trouble (John 11:33,12:27, 13:21 to name a few). But it's how we grow through the suffering that separates the men/women from the boys/girls. And, suffering is a tool to bring up resident sins that we can be free from - IF we repent. The common theme for the "Faith without God" crowd seems at times to be a selfish "faith." The religion of "Me." I was forced to read the semi-autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," by James Joyce. My professor was greatly enamored by Joyce's ability to abandon his faith and culture, be free from the shackles of religious guilt and sail away from his family and culture (if memory serves).  It was the only "B" I received throughout college (because I openly challenged the instructors opinion). I believe, like all of us, Joyce battled with his sinful desires, and was irritated at the wrestling match between his self will, love of sin, and angst from guilt (I realize the Catholic religion, like all of our religions, have inflicted damaging doctrinal errors on its followers: But that's not God's doing, that's man-made nonsense). Joyce went on to live an ugly life and exchanged his freedom in Christ for slavery to sin.

My friend at work, a lesbian, misses God. She wants to attend church with her family, but she's trying to find a faith that will accommodate her lifestyle. Our coworker attends a buddhist temple to receive comfort for her pain, but wants to remain free from obedience to God. Both are sincere people, and I pray that they will find their way back to Christ because it is obvious that they are hurting.

Faith is a powerful gift. I believe that the non-believers have a good point when they exercise faith, and embrace their mistakes as a path to growth. Christians tend to beat themselves when they slip back into sin, and suffer all kinds of condemnation and guilt - even after confessing and repenting. But our God desires us to relinquish our will, not cling to it by "faith," or have faith in faith alone. Our faith is that God "plans to prosper (us) and not to harm (us), plans to give (us) a hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). We don't adapt faith to our will, we adapt our faith to God's will. We don't continue in sin, we repent and continue in obedience. Subtle, but an enormous difference. Faith is risk-taking. Keep throwing yourself out there, in ministry, dreams, jobs, family. Believe for the best, hope for the incredible. Look for miracles in tiny spaces. I have lived an American Job-life, and if I can exercise this kind of faith (my DNA is 1/3 Melancholy), so can you.

Let's do this thing!


  1. Man, there's a lot of meat in this post...

    "How does acquiring more trouble in your life equate to freedom?"

    Good question...

    As I type this, it is 2am, and I'm exhausted... I'll revisit this with a more fitting comment as soon as I get my head back together.

    Great stuff.

  2. Thanks for stopping by.....appreciate your comments.