Friday, February 20, 2009

Phil's Faith

It's been an interesting week in the life of my faith in the blogoverse and Facebook. From last week's post on the phrase Intellectual Agnostic, Experiential Believer through Facebook/Twitter statuses, I've been questioned a lot on what I believe and why I believe it. It's almost felt like that while my faith hasn't been on trial, the reasons that I give for my faith are on trial and for some, those answers have been lacking in substance or a firm foundation.

I guess I've found it interesting that it seems like if I had said that I experienced a profound moment of God's love and grace in my life and accepted that love and grace, that that might have been a more plausible answer than saying that in the face of no empirical evidence I've made a decision to have faith. So I guess I should explain one of the answers I gave.

Do I believe that my faith is based on where and how I've grown up? To a great extent, yes. Now, does that make my faith greater or less than someone who converts from another religion? I don't think so. I believe that God can use a person's background to bring them to faith whether brought up in another religion or in Christianity. But from a sociological level, I don't think I'm off base to say that a reason that I have faith is because I grew up in the United States into a Christian home to parents that got divorced while attending the church that I have attended for 31 of my 37 years of life. I think God has used all of that to bring me to faith.

Do I believe in Jesus and rest in the Grace provided through Him? Yes. Do I understand it? No. Do I sometimes think it's unfair (at least how grace is typically understood from an orthodox Christian perspective)? Yes. Does that sometimes make me feel like God is unfair? Yes, sometimes it does, and so sometimes I wonder if God will make a special disposition for those "righteous sinners," and to be perfectly honest, I hope God will. Do I KNOW that? No, I don't. Do I KNOW that God has provided for me and other Christians through Christ's sacrificial and victorious death and resurrection? No, I don't know that from any intellectual sense, but I believe it to be true.

Which leads to another question... do I believe that faith and intellect are separate? NO. I do not. I have read too much and listened and studied to people much smarter than I am to believe that I have to turn off my brain to have faith.


There are certain leaps of faith that have to be made that cannot be confirmed from a scientific or empirical standpoint in order to believe in a Supernatural being that loves us more than we will ever understand and sent Jesus the Son to be the example of what it truly means to be human and to die and rise again, leaving the Holy Spirit to guide us in paths of truth. That requires a leap of faith and if I have a straight intellectual conversation with an atheist, I don't think I can prove any of that to him or her. It doesn't mean that I don't believe it or try to live my life as though that were true. But as the Hebrews writer astutely pointed out, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen."

But realizing all of that and also recognizing the tenuous nature of my faith at times (like perhaps now), it makes me resonate and identify with a song by Caedmon's Call back in 1999 off their 40 Acres CD.
Sometimes I believe all the lies
So I can do the things I should despise
And every day I am swayed
By whatever is on my mind

I hear it all depends on my faith
So I'm feeling precarious
The only problem I have with these mysteries
Is they're so mysterious

And like a consumer I've been thinking
If I could just get a bit more
More than my 15 minutes of faith,
Then I'd be secure

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

I've begged you for some proof
For my Thomas eyes to see
A slithering staff, a leprous hand
And lions resting lazily

A glimpse of your back-side glory
And this soaked altar going ablaze
But you know I've seen so much
I explained it away


Waters rose as my doubts reigned
My sand-castle faith, it slipped away
Found myself standing on your grace
It'd been there all the time

(Chorus repeated)
I don't know if any of those answers are going to be satisfying to people. What I will say is that this conversation has caused me to think deeper about my faith than I have in a while and for that, I'm grateful. If you feel my answers don't show enough faith, pray that my faith will be strengthened. If my answers have helped in anyway or you identify with them, I pray that God walks with you and brings you faith.



jeffdod said...

Phil...this is a good post. I'll mull it over!

nick gill said...


I don't doubt your faith for an instant -- nor do I think that anything you've said suggests that your faith is weak or questionable in any way. I'm just not sure that your language is saying what you actually mean or what you actually believe. I think you are underestimating the power of what God has given you when you articulate it in this way.

You keep saying that "in the face of no empirical evidence, [you've] made a decision to have faith." When you say that, I hear you saying that there are *no* reasons for your faith.

But then you say that your faith is based in part on where and how you were raised. If by that you mean that your faith is based in part upon the examples of faithful living with which God has surrounded you, then how is that *not* empirical evidence?

The faith you have seen is the evidence of the Christ you have not seen -- that is precisely what the Hebrew writer says (and precisely why James says that faith cannot be mere mental assent).

Part of our problem is that so many people value brute facts. We want to be in control -- just the facts, ma'am. Since so many people think this way especially in the wreckage handed to us by modernity and the Greek deification of the mind, they think that God must operate in this way. Human values are deeply skewed this way.

I think of how, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore could not convince Harry that his ability to *love* was more powerful than anything Voldemort possessed. It couldn't get through to him until he walked that path.

In the same way, God has chosen not to provide the kind of data so many people want -- precisely because that kind of data does not lead to relationship. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

We haven't been left with faith, hope, and love because they are inferior, but because they are the only ways to true life. Part of our mission in our culture is to model faith, hope, and love as superior ways of knowing and being than the epistemologies of laboratory and manipulation.

This conversation has challenged and enriched my faith as well. I hope I have not suggested in any of this that your reasons are unworthy. I merely mean to say that you denigrate your reasons by saying they are not "empirical evidence."

in HIS love,

Elysa Henegar said...

Phil, I love the honesty with which you expose yourself in your blog. Good stuff, brother...

Thomas McKenzie said...

Hey Phil,

I'm really glad you are writing this stuff. Thank you.

And . . .

You don't need to prove your faith to me or anyone else.

If I indicated in any way that you do need to prove it, or that your faith is on some kind of chart against other people's faith, I am truly sorry. That was not my intention.

TCS said...

Phil, I had this long (and of course GREAT) comment in mind, but let me just say that your faith is REAL because I can see the fruit it produces.

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