Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thoughtful About . . . The Nature of Faith

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, painted 1883 by Jean-Léon Gérôme

My church has been doing a study of the book of 1 John leading up to Easter. It's such a rich little book, full of the foundations and mysteries of faith. And as I read it and study it out, it does indeed make me pause to examine what this thing is that fills me.

This past week we were on chapter 4, and as we discussed it, we got on the subject of searching for proof of faith...and by contrast, the extreme doubt of everything that entered with the modern period. And I began to wonder if the two were related.

In the late 19th century, science was expanding by leaps and bounds. Discoveries were made constantly, technology was rapidly evolving, and even literature was responding with amazing, fantastical books that explored the what-ifs of this changing world. What if we could travel to the center of the earth? Or under the sea? Or back in time?

Fueled by this new understanding, religion began asking the same questions. What if we could prove life after death? What if we could call up the spirits of those gone before? What if we could cross that veil? Cue the Spiritualism movement, with its tea party seances and knockings and rappings and rather frightening invitations, like when they would produce a child who couldn't read or write and invite a spirit to use his body to convey a message with a pencil. Yikes!

I can understand why the idea of proving faith would appeal. Just think--it they could produce scientific evidence of heaven and hell, of the spiritual world, then who could possibly doubt them??

And yet directly after that came the skeptics. The movement that not only questioned faith, questioned God, but questioned their own existence. As a professor at my college said in a seminar one night, "I just can't talk to you anymore if you're going to say such things." The skeptics took questioning to a whole new level, literally doubting everything. How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow? You can't prove it will. How do you know you're still you when you sleep? Are you still conscious of yourself? (Insert Roseanna replying in that seminar, "I'm not conscious of any moments when I'm not conscious of myself" and earning riotous laughter...)

Now I can't say that these desires to prove and to doubt are actually linked, but I'm going to speculate. What if they are? What if, by searching for that proof of faith, we remove all certainty? What if when we question that most basic human yearning for something greater, we end up knowing nothing at all?

Questions are natural. Doubt is natural. The seeking of proof is natural. But the more I ponder it all in relation to faith, the more I think faith is not meant to ever be proven. Because faith is the proof. It's the evidence of our hopes. It's the substance of the unseen. Faith is itself a thing, a force, a form, an ideal. One of the few things that can exist purely within us.

Yes, people can question its existence. Just like they can question love, life, their very existence. They can question anything. But just because you doubt the laws of physics doesn't keep them from operating. Just because you doubt yourself doesn't mean you wink out of being. And just because you questions faith and God doesn't mean they're not real.

Some things demand proof, yes. And some things are the proof. I've come to the conclusion that faith is often miscategorized. Don't ask me to prove that an apple will fall--take it instead as the proof of gravity. Don't ask me to prove faith is real--take it instead as the proof of our hope in the Lord.

1 comment:

  1. Ooooh, I like this. I once heard a pastor say something to the effect of, “we are not meant to know everything. What we do have is His Word, and that is what we should dwell on. Take comfort in what God has told us about Himself, and do not worry over the stuff that He hasn’t.”