Life often brings us to the most fundamental question of our spirituality. Namely, we must ask - and answer - what is faith?
Most of us have been taught at one time or another, or perhaps over the course of many (many, many) years, that faith is "trusting God, no matter what happens." And yes, but also quite importantly, no. In fact, I absolutely hate this "definition" of faith.
It comes from this fatalistic understanding that we have of God, this notion that is not all that different from the Calvinistic idea of predestination - namely, God is God and He will do whatever He wants to do for whatever reasons He wants to do it, and our job is to jump on the faith train somewhere in our journey and enjoy the ride. Wherever we end up.
It's a very common teaching across many diverse denominations of the Christian faith, and if anyone were to question whether this is how we ought to engage God, it's fairly simple to step in and say, "Absolutely. Yes. Yup. For sure." And if you don't understand that, then we'll probably say something about how your ego is probably getting in the way, how you're still too self-absorbed and self-involved, how you haven't really "surrendered" yourself to God because you're still trying to have any control, any input in your own life.
Quite frankly, this is not a God any of us can love. We say we do, but we can't really. This God is a narcissist (which, weirdly, we will also defend and say that, well, God is allowed to be a narcissist because He is, in fact, God). This God relates to us as pieces on His chess board, as mere ideas that He moves around in the world according to His own whims. Whatever those might be. And even if we're privy to what God thinks He's doing, we still don't get a say in it. We're just along for the ride, and we're told that if we really have faith, we're supposed to be not just okay with this, but happy about it.
Woo hoo! God controls our lives, and we can never know what's happening in them or why except to blindly put our trust in a God we think we know, except we quietly confess that we really don't because if we're being honest, we have a lot of questions about who He is and what He's doing and why...
And all of a sudden, do you see how trying to have faith actually blows up our faith? It becomes this circular thing that digs us down deeper into this crazy hole where we're trying to believe what we can't understand so that we can understand what we believe, except that we're not sure we believe it after all because it doesn't make sense. We cannot make sense of our lives just by saying that God is in control of them because we cannot make sense of God if we do not understand the life He's given us.
So it doesn't take much to give up and to just turn away.
But faith was never meant to be like this. Faith is not some passive thing, some orientation toward life where we just let go of everything and let whatever happens happen and then try to convince ourselves to be okay with it. Faith isn't hands-off.
Faith is an active movement toward goodness, toward God. It is not sitting back and letting things happen, but choosing things and going after them. Jesus said that it is the narrow road that leads to God, and if it is a road that takes us there, then we must be a people who travel. We must be a people who move. God must be calling us to move. To choose. To decide. To live. And to trust along the way. We're not hitching a ride; we're blazing a trail. And that requires us to be engaged, to be actively choosing our way through this world with eyes toward God and what He's doing and a heart that draws us closer to Him with every step.
We're going to talk about faith for a bit because, well, we need to. I need to. Faith is one of my spiritual gifts; God has blessed me in these places where this world and the next one meet, where faith bumps up against flesh (and vice-versa), and this stuff...it weighs on me. Like the prophet Jeremiah, it shuts up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot. So let's talk about faith itself for a bit and see where this road takes us.