reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'd like to have faith but I just can't.

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |
This was a very common question from people at Newcastle mission. I think in a sense it is a really good sign, as I think it comes from people seeing a real difference in the lives of their Christian friends and just thinking "I just don't think I can be like that!"
I tended to take 2 different tacks, and you can tell me what you think.

1) The assumption behind this question is that faith is a qualitatively different thing when talked about with regard to religion than it is in every day life. Having faith in your chair to hold you is different, in some way, to mustering up this moral quality "faith" within you to believe in God - that some people have that and some don't. In fact, the two are, if not exactly the same, then pretty similar. You examine the evidence for something, and you rely on it to help with your problem - whether that is not having somewhere to sit, or not knowing where you will spend eternity! This can then lead to an interesting discussion- because if you get into enough depth people can often see that they are relying on something to give them what the Gospel offers: "functional Saviours" as I have heard them called. The "front foot" nature of this reply is to say that "I'm just naturally cynical, and therefore could never accept this" won't wash as a reason. The real question is "Is there a reason to be lmore cynical about Jesus that whatever you are relying on at the moment?" The answer is, after some discussion, usually no!

2) This is slightly more offensive answer, but Jesus does say that people don't believe because they don't want to - they love the darkness. If we reject him it is not because the evidence is insufficient or unworthy of our trust but because we have an inbuilt predisposition not to want God telling us what to do. So this, "I can't have faith" can be a smokescreen for "I actually don't want to." A useful question here is "If I could prove 100% now that Jesus rose from the dead, would you admit that you whole life belongs to him and live that way from now on?" If the person says no, and you ask why then you have really unmasked the heart of the issue for them.

The latter approach I would take very gently and carefully, only after the person has themselves seemed to have some realisation that not being able to believe is not their only problem. At the end of the first conversation you just want to invite (firmly!) to look carefully at the evidence - both for Jesus and comparing what he says to their own experience of the world - and see if it is trustworthy.

Anyway, that's what I did, but I would love your thoughts!


Blogger Chris said...

hi mo!

Love the 2nd approach - reminds me of Luke 16 - "even if they see someone rise from the dead, still they will not believe".

I've begun to wonder whether it's the difference between faith in God as a creator, and relying on Jesus to redeem us. What the bible calls us to is not just "faith" in the european sense of "choosing to believe that there's some sort of sovereign creative provider over all things, who gives moral purpose and meaning to the random things in our lives", but faith into, upon, or in Jesus himself, to do what he's offered & promised to do. I've found this analogy with Gordon Brown helpful, but it does bring with it the need to start trusting God as creator.

mike ramsden thinks this question is symptomatic of not properly explaining what we're inviting people to, so he rephrases "I wish I had your faith" as "something has caused you to have a special ability to shield yourself from reality and live in a bubble, but at least you are happy, and I would embrace that insanity to be happy but I just can't". In which case, Michael tries to talk about faith as a verb not a noun, trusting the God who is there, in which case perhaps someone needs to be able to imagine what it would look & feel like for them to believe that there is a creator.

Post Kant, faith has causes not reasons, so enlightened people see through the christian's good motives because something something much more base MUST be going on. I think that's driving Chris Hitchens - the sort of know-it-all cynicism that claims the high moral ground. I find CS Lewis' quote helpful, that everyone has a ground point - "the point of seeing through something is to see something through it...if everything is transparent then everything is invisible. To see through all things is the same as not to see".

1:59 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

ps thanks for the good news from newcastle this week. Have a good weekend.:)

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's really helpful Mo and they are the two approaches I've taken. I agree you have to be more careful about the second! With some of the people I've been chatting to I've hesitated in going for the second one straight away out of concern that they seem to not yet know what and whom they are called to have faith in. I trust that God saves despite our ignorance and wrong knowledge. Yet for their discipleship I really do want them to put their faith in the Jesus of the Bible rather than just any Jesus. That said I'd want to be careful not to define a certain level of knowledge one would need to master before one could put your trust in Him.

One of the things I've noticed is that people talk about having faith as if it is an object itself that they've lost behind the sofa somewhere and that they think Christians have found and possess. I've been trying to talk to people about having faith 'in', in the person and work of Jesus. Otherwise people can end up putting their faith in faith! Obama with his language about hope falls foul of the same thing - he (perhaps purposefully) leaves the object of that hope undefined. This can lead to people putting hope in hope, in human capacity, in Obama himself which is obviously problematic!

Hmm, just done a super fast word study and it appears that Matthew, Mark and Luke do take about having faith whereas John consistently says faith 'in him'/'in me'. Might need to think about that a bit more.

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Longing to Know" by Esther Lightcap Meek (what an incredible name!) focuses on helping people understand that "knowing" God is like "knowing" your car mechanic and that there isn't anything qualitatively different between those to acts of "knowing". I don't agree with everything that she says, but the book is helpful in that regard and has ridiculously short chapters!

God bless.

Dear Freedom

3:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erm, take a biology class or two. Study quantum mechanics. Everything has a logical and scientific explanation. People believe because they want to. It's easier than understanding mathematics and physics. It's comforting, and they want to. You will see patterns and "god" if you want to. -22 years Christian, now Atheist (I decided to learn about the opposing side, aka that side they say the "devil" implanted. LOL.)

10:45 PM  

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