Monday, July 9, 2012

Not-so-simple Faith

Caris Adel recently wrote a poignant tribute to her grandmother, in which she also considers her faith in comparison to her grandmother's. She speaks of how her grandmother's life was “infused with the daily goodness of God,” and how her grandmother epitomized the words of the old song (which she loved to sing): This is my story, this is my song / Praising my Savior all the day long.

Adel obviously loved and admired her grandmother and the faith that flowed in her life. Yet, she shares, “Now, as an adult, I can't figure out how to infuse my life with that same type of daily song.” I relate to Adel's struggle. Although I did not see the same degree of innate faith in my grandparents (though I loved them dearly), I have seen it in others and wondered why I can't have that same simple faith myself. As much as I wish it would be that way, faith has rarely been a simple thing for me, certainly not in my adult years. I cringe when I hear phrases such as “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” and as much as I want to believe it, I wrestle with the well-known statement: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Statements like these are so nice and simple and package the complexities of the world into such a convenient bundle. But they don't ring true, certainly not all the time. They don't capture the true complexity of life and faith.

I grew up in the church. I went to Sunday School and participated in a great youth group, which played a significant role in my formation. After high school I attended a Christian liberal arts university, where I began to encounter people from faith backgrounds different from my own. Although I did not grow up in a highly legalistic or fundamentalist environment and in fact had a fair degree of exposure to models of faith outside of my own, I had not really encountered significantly different ideas about the Bible, God and theology. In my sophomore year at university I took an introductory class on the Old Testament and nearly had my faith destroyed by it (remember, this was at a solidly Christian university) because the professor challenged my understanding of what the Bible is, how it was written and therefore how we should approach it. Eventually I recovered an equilibrium in faith but since that time I cannot say that faith has been a simple thing for me. The older I get the more I feel like I have more questions than answers and with the experience that comes with life I find myself less certain about many of the answers I once thought I did have.

Sometimes I envy those who, like Caris Adel's grandmother, can approach life with a simple faith that reflects the oft-quoted phrase “Trust and obey.” I try to trust and obey, but then I look at the world and my life and I begin to ask questions of God. I doubt God's goodness and faithfulness because I see that many do not experience the benefits of these, although when I look at my life with a more balanced eye I realize that I have little cause for personal complaint. I've become more comfortable with my doubts and questions. I'm confident that God can handle them and that they don't preclude me from being part of the Kingdom. But, like Adel, I wonder sometimes if in my struggle to have an authentic faith I am missing out on something, some simple treasure that could be mine if I just lay aside all my doubts and questions and accept God as he has been presented to me by the churches I've been a part of. (I wanted to write “he/she” but then that would not be accepting God as presented to me for most of my life.)

Unfortunately being honest with myself does not allow me to just set aside all the issues I have with the Bible and the questions and doubts I have about God. But maybe, somehow, while still working through those I can find a way to express praise daily, to worship this God whom I do not claim to be fully at peace with, to accept that his or her involvement with this world and with my life is working for good, both for me and the world. I don't see it all the time because it's not fully realized. But I want to walk in faith that it is being realized and will someday be fully so. Faith, at this point in my life, requires holding a lot of things in tension. It means accepting antimonies and paradoxes. It asks me to embrace mystery rather than seek certainty. The Church as a whole, and particularly the branches of it I have most often belonged to, is uncomfortable with this type of faith. It prefers certainty. It likes clear doctrinal statements with definite points. Small surprise then that I often feel out of place in church these days.

I continue to hold on to the hope that someday I may find a place of peace and rest in regard to faith. I'd like to have a faith like that of Adel's grandmother. Maybe someday I'll get there. For now I continue on with my journey.


  1. In the words of U2, "While I'm getting over certainty . . . stop helping God across the road like a little old lady." God is not concerned with our ambiguity. It is only humans who want things nice, neat and easy.

  2. It lets us feel like we're in control. Of course, I like that illusion of being in control, even when I know deep down I'm not.