Dear Inspiration Seekers,
Faith is one of my favorite topics of conversation. I do not necessarily expect someone to come right out and state “This I believe…” (Unless they belong to the Tea Party or listen to AM talk radio). I am referring more to listening carefully to conversations to discern what someone’s beliefs are through the topics and line discussion they pursue. This is the difference between content and theme. At the same time, I have great doubts about beliefs. From my personal experience, whatever I may have most fervently posited at one time, I am likely to be tepid about, or even disagree with, five years later. In retrospect, beliefs often look more like wishful-thinking. So, what is faith?
Paul asserts at the beginning of Romans 5 that we have been justified through faith. Following the law and inheriting a relationship with God are insufficient because we are insufficient to uphold these traditions. Forgiveness, atonement, justification, salvation through faith, how simply complex. Regarding the realm of faith, I keep a few concepts in mind. Faith relates to our beliefs and values; what is important to us. Faith answers questions about life that cannot be analyzed or debated through facts and data, as in the scientific process. Faith is the basis for morals and ethics. When we assess our beliefs, especially the differences we may hold, we are really reviewing our premisses about life. Does God exist? Is the universe a random, chaotic process, or an organized, controlled process? Do physical and social laws exist inherently or are they artifacts of our minds which we codify through scientific literature and legal precedent? Do we use organic farming methods or RoundUp Ready genetically modified crops? Did Christ really say, “Shoot thy neighbor, as you would have him shoot you.” or was that Charleston Heston leading the NRA? Sorry, there, I watch too much Monty Python.
Paul follows justification by faith with a string of experiences, which lead to hope, a variant of faith: suffering, perseverance, character, hope. He catches onto the most common of human conditions, as Buddha emphasized, suffering as a starting point. Unlike Buddha, though, Paul pursues a different trajectory for life transformation. Buddha would have us pursue overcoming human suffering through detachment from the desire, whereas Paul would have us break through the suffering through effort (perseverance), development of the better aspects of personalities (character), and hope. What distinguishes hope from wishful-thinking then?
Both share the characteristic of anticipating something what one does not yet possess. I write these blogs in hope that someone might read them. I write them in hope that someone else might be amused, inspired, enlightened, or maybe irritated by my thoughts. I write in hope that someone might reply (HINT), thereby verifying that my efforts are worthwhile. I write them in hope that my obsessive thinking will be dissipated allowing me to get on with other tasks and interactions through the day. If my faith in this blogging process is hope, then I believe there should be some probability that the outcomes of hope might actually occur. My blog statistics give me a way to tell how many “views” have occurred that day (though with anonymity of who viewed them). When someone makes a comment, I receive an e-mail notice which I can review for posting on that blog. By the type of response, I can conjecture how the reader took my writing. That obsessive thinking, is another matter, in that while I am working on the garden, clearing ditches, rebuilding the deck rail, etc. my hermit’s mind is usually writing the next installment. Seventy-five percent faith, based on moderate to high probability, is pretty good.
Wishful-thinking is another matter. Wishful-thinking is based on either low probability for something to occur, or situations for which we do not have the ability to know whether they will occur. Wishful-thinking seems like taking the most desired speculation about what might occur and demanding that this will occur. Country music, as much as we enjoy listening to the Sunday morning Stain-Glass Bluegrass and Country Gospel show, is full of wishful-thinking about what occurs after death. “Blessed Assurance” to “Jesus, Kick me Through the Goal Posts of Life” (my favorite) are based on desire, tradition, and speculation. So far, I have not found anyone who has evidence about an afterlife or Heaven. I have listened to many who hold various views about such a state, most of which are variations of their current existence without hassles, pain, and suffering. We can state from now until death that we will be reunited with love ones, have healthy bodies, be in the joy of Jesus, etc., but I suspect that many will find that either they are greatly disappointed that these states do not exist or amazingly surprised at how much more wonderful the afterlife is. I shall let my hope about heaven rest on “I do not know”. I recall a Chines scholar saying (unrelated to Christian doctrine) when someone asked him about life after death, that he knew so little about living while alive, that he would not worry about living after dying.
I think that most poignant articulation of the concept of Christian faith that I can relate to in my lifetime is a line from Larry Norman’s song, “The Outlaw” (full text below). “that’s who i believe he was/’cause that’s who i believe”. For nearly 30 years, I viewed this a circular reasoning, “I believe this because I believe this”. However, in a post-humus CD release (“The Colossus of Roads”), I heard Larry recite, rather than sing, these lyrics. His cadence of the words, “’cause that’s who I believe”, brought a new understanding of the line. He believes Christ’s, because he believes what Christ said. He accepts of premise the Christ spoke authentically, therefore what Christ said is accurate. Faith, an interlocking argument, where reason cannot step or mis-step.
Until next time Inspiration Seekers.
some say He was an outlaw/that He roamed across the land/with a band of unschooled ruffians/and a few old fishermen/no one knew just where He came from/or exactly what He’d done/but they said it must be something bad/that kept Him on the run
some say He was a poet/that He’d stand upon the hill/and His voice could calm an angry crowd/or make the waves stand still/that he spoke in many parables/that few could understand/but the people sat for hours/just to listen to this man
some say He was a sorcerer/a man of mystery/He could walk upon the water/He could make a blind man see/that He conjured wine at weddings/and did tricks with fish and bread/ that He talked of being born again/and raised people from the dead
some say a politician/ who spoke of being free/He was followed by the masses/on the shores of galilee/He spoke out against corruption/and He bowed to no decree/and they feared His strength and power/so they nailed Him to a tree
some say He was the Son of God/a man above all men/but He came to be a servant/and to set us free from sin/and that’s who i believe He was/’cause that’s who i believe/and i think we should get ready/’cause it’s time for us to leave
Larry Norman, Only Visiting This Planet, 1972
By the way, in transcribing these lyrics, in the context of this blog’s theme, I noticed a wonderful play on words, for which Larry Norman had a skill: “The Outlaw”. Christ is Outside the Law.