Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Do We Really Believe?

It's a rough morning (quite honestly, it's been a rough few months, since I started this post in June and am just getting around to finishing it, yet it seems as timely as ever.* The truth is, I'm having a hard time believing these days. It's not really a crisis of faith - at least not faith in God, that's pretty secure for the most part. What I'm having trouble believing is that all these Christians around me really have faith. I mean, I know they do. Intellectually. I see the fervency with which they live and, being in some measure of relationship with many of them, I get it. You don't have to convince me. I have a sincere belief that people deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to faith. Nobody's perfect - we're all great big hypocrites in some way (or many). At the same time, as I'm understanding in my head, my heart struggles; it hurts. I see a lot of words and actions that confuse me, that send a message that doesn't quite make sense - words and actions that, frankly, break my heart.

So much of our actions in this world (and by that I mean, human action) come from a place of deep fear. In the end, we're scared that someone will take what we have. Even if it's not something tangible, we live in this delicate balance where, in an instant, it could all be gone. Call it, "there, but by the grace of God, go I," syndrome.

And it's not as though that phrase isn't true. There really is nothing separating my relatively mild (or non-existent) suffering from those people and places where suffering seems unbearable - nothing except grace, or maybe just dumb luck. The problem is not that the phrase is untrue, but that we don't really mean it.

We more often mean, "there, but by the amount in my savings account, go I," or "there, but by the loaded gun under my pillow, go I," or "there, but by my obedience to God - or there, but by my cunning intellect - or there, but by my good job, go I." We talk a lot about blessing or grace, but we don't really mean it. Many of us overtly.

If we let these refugees in, they'll bomb our churches and take our jobs. Society doesn't have any right telling me what to do with my money or my guns. Sure, I could help that guy out, but what if he takes advantage of me - I might lose my home or my car.

So much of our fear is about control. We're afraid we won't have any. Without control, we can't protect those things we hold most dear. Rarely, rarely, rarely, is one of those things we're afraid of losing our faith. We're scared of losing comfort, security, possessions, money, family - and none of those are impossible scenarios. They're probably pretty natural fears. The difference, though, is how Christians face them. How do we deal with the thought of losing what we have, or, more fearfully, how we deal with having those things we love taken from us.

We buy into the myth of scarcity. That there isn't enough. "If we tried to give everyone what they need, we'll all be poor." "I have to look out for myself - or at least for the people I love."

Not only are these individual actions challenged by the words and life of Jesus and the historic tradition of the Church, but they betray a larger denial, the one I have trouble understanding sometimes. do we not believe in a God with the ends under control? I recognize that things might be a bit chaotic now, but do we really believe that love will win? That my suffering today is part of that victory, the very means by which it comes about, in imitation of Christ?

Maybe we really don't believe. That's my doubt.

That's my doubt when I see such hateful rhetoric addressed toward any group of people. We are not called to love some people more than others. I think the Luke passage says as much - everybody loves their friends and family; everybody loves those who are nice to them. Some people are even moved with compassion towards those who suffer. That's not really the challenge of Christianity, though.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be afraid (although God does say that a lot) - I'm saying we can't let that fear dictate what we say or how we act. I don't understand how people can claim the power of the cross and also advocate the power of the gun, or the army, or the law, or the power of some big-ol' freakin' wall.

And I don't mean to say we should just be able to believe unconstrained (I have a bank account and a mortgage and locks on my doors). I am saying we should be honest. We have to say either, "I'm scared of __________ and I'm reacting out of fear," or "I'm not convinced this will work in the short term, but ultimately it's the right thing to do." Faith and love and grace and peace will not save us from pain or suffering or heartbreak or death - in fact they'll likely invite more of each. But warmongering and mistrust and self-protection will never get us what we desire.

There's no such thing as a regrettable means towards a glorious end. That's a lie we tell ourselves when we're scared to justify doing what we know is wrong.

That's why my doubts are just doubts, not beliefs. I don't believe these people I see saying and doing things that make me sigh and shake my head are really without faith. They are merely human, doing what comes natural. If we were the kind of people who could act entirely on our beliefs, well, we wouldn't need each other, would we? We wouldn't need to meet each week and remind ourselves of who we are and what we're called to do. We just wouldn't need that bread and that cup, because we'd already be transformed.

Do we really believe?

Of course not. It's darn near impossible, but the very fact we still ask the question means there's hope somewhere. I think.

*Seriously. I didn't change a bit of it after the events of this week, just cleaned up the language some, made it a little more readable. It was all there.

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