First published July 11, 2014
It's been a while since I wrote one of these 'faith-life' articles and life tends to shoehorn its way pressingly in between my abstract reflections on any particular topic. Last month I wrote an article on Faith that was steeped in debate about the theory of faith. But sometimes you just have to ground the thing in your own life. And admit to yourself, and like everyone else, I too struggle to have Faith.
Yes, I did just say that.
I struggle to have the Faith I strive for and occasionally profess. Because the truth is, more than anything, I am a man that finds doubt a natural inclination. And I don't believe I am alone in this. In many respects it is easier to doubt everything than to believe in things. This includes Christianity.
Ever since the days of the Philosopher Descartes who founded an entire system on doubting everything he knew, we, for some reason, think we are smarter if we doubt things. And we all pass through stages in which God seems distant, or we don't desire for whatever inexplicable reason to draw near to him and read his word as we should.
It occurs to me when writing an article for a Christian audience, am I a hypocrite for struggling with my own faith myself? I find my answer to that question must be no, because I know were my allegiances lie, and I have a surety that my name is written in the book of life. But occasionally I find myself identifying with the man in Mark chapter 9 who brought his possessed son to Jesus and to which Jesus proclaimed 'Everything is possible for him who believes' to which the man immediately exclaimed 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'
In my life I have had both the certainly of conviction and waving doubts. And so such things remind me of a particular definition of Faith explored by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.
I've also been thinking about the way in which the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard characterises faith as daily committing oneself to something that by its nature is not completely certain. For to live for something with conviction and purpose is to truly live life. Rather than to hold the illusion of rationality and openness by practising excessive doubt in my own case.
Someone fully committed to living Christianity and the gospel is what Kierkegaard terms the 'Knight of Faith' and this is the most meaningful and transcendent way of living. Would I rather live out a limped rational scepticism my base instincts are so naturally inclined to, or live out of love, compassion, and forgiveness? I should take the venture on love compassion and forgiveness all the time. But my life is often a struggle to try to live out of that place.
Lewis provides some more helpful advice on faith when he mentions that due to our inclinations to experience changing moods we should keep before us some of the main doctrines of Christianity:
That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?
Indeed. Ironically it's been my experience in the past that I am thinking best and most clearly when I am situated in the middle of a Christian world view. I believe the idea that it's more rational to be secular and vaguely atheist or agnostic in thinking is something that needs to be continuously challenged by the spirit and by Christian practise.
My hope is that perhaps these reflections on my own struggles with doubt and faith may be helpful to even a few others. In the immortal words of Augustine which ring so true, "You have made us for yourself, 'O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you."
Peter Rope is a Financial Economics and Theology graduate from Auckland.
Peter Rope's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-rope.html