Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Informed Faith

Faith - a real, vital, life-giving faith - is always prone to these kinds of distortions, to our own whims and intellects and ways of seeing the world. There's no way to have a faith that transcends these things, so our best guide is to become aware of how our unique perspective comes to shape our faith and to watch for the pitfalls of our limited eyes.

The reason that faith must be this way is because it must both be informed and do the informing. That is, it is shaped in us as much as it shapes us, and there is no other meaningful way to do it.

We shape our faith because we have to; it's how we come to understand it. We shape it when we understand something in a new way and make sense of it. The way we make sense of it is the shape that we give it. We have to be careful here, of course, because we can mis-shape our faith and distort it into something it was never meant to be, but we cannot escape that we must shape it somehow if we ever hope to make it meaningful and reasonable for our own lives.

Imagine someone handed you a tool and gave you a name for it, but you never learned how to use it or even what to use it for. Several years pass and a repairman comes to your house and asks if you happen to have this tool. Yes! Yes, you do have this tool! Great, he says. That'll fix your problem. But only if you know how to use it. If you never put it in your actual hands and actually used it, it has all the potential in the world to fix your problem, but it never will. The same is true of faith. Until you put it in your own hands and learn to use it in a way that makes sense for you, it has all the potential in the world, but it will never be real, vital, and life-giving for you. Someone will ask you one day if you believe, and you will say yes, but you will have never known how a real faith can impact your life because you will have never exercised it in a way that's powerful for you.

We understand by doing, by living, by experiencing, and that is how we shape our faith.

At the same time, our faith shapes us. At least, it should.

Our faith, once we figure it out, teaches us how to live. It teaches us how to love. It teaches us how to forgive. It teaches us how to worship and how to pray and how to extend mercy and grace to those around us. It teaches us how to be a friend, a spouse, a parent, a neighbor, a member of a community. Those of us who live by faith are constantly guided by its wisdom, and it does make us choose one thing over another, act one way as opposed to another.

Because when our faith is real, vital, and life-giving, it is nestled deep inside of us, and it radiates out from our deepest places. It can't help it. Then our entire life is invested in living with integrity, being true to this thing that is profoundly true in the depths of our being, this thing that has become so much a part of us that we could not ignore it or reject if it we tried. (And yet, for some reason, we still try.)

Imagine the same tool. You own it. You have one. The repairman tells you that this is the tool that you need to fix your problem. But you give him kind of a sideways look and say, "I have the tool, but it's not the kind of tool that I use." You still stand zero chance, then, of actually fixing your problem.

This is why it's so important for us to be aware of how the way that we see the world shapes the way that we hold our faith. It is because these things inform our faith and shape it, and our faith then informs and shapes us. If we don't know how our faith is being shaped, we will one day look in the mirror and not even recognize ourselves because we, too, will have been formed in an image we cannot understand.

And yet, if we inform our faith but do not let it inform us, it's empty. It doesn't do anything. It's not real, vital, or life-giving. It's something we have, something we know, and something we can articulate, but it's nothing we live by, and faith, by its very definition, is lived out. It is not merely something known or held or believed; it is something practiced.

So the question, then, is not whether your faith is susceptible to becoming a shallow, dead, empty, or dangerous theology; every faith is, by the nature of our being human. The question of vital importance for each one of us is in what way is your faith susceptible.

Only when we know this can we know how to pull ourselves back, in what direction to pray, and how to make sure that our theology remains real, vital, and life-giving.

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