As a Pastor, I spend a lot of time thinking about Faith. For many, faith has to be tangible, something that they can touch or manipulate. Nevertheless, as we know from stories like Thomas, the faith in what we cannot see is even more desirable. While it is easier to believe what you see, the truth is not always held up within the tangible world. Think of the magician or illusionist that can make one thing appear to be something completely different. Moreover, what if what you see is only part of the whole. Like magic, it could even just be a façade. When we think of faith, it is something much deeper than anything tangible.
The Bible starts in Genesis 1:1 with “In the beginning God created. . .” the significance, not only in the setup for how things come biblically, but in the life of faithful people, it is a reminder that our ultimate foundation is in God and God alone. With this theocentric (God centered) faith, we recognize that our life is ordered under and in relationship with God. However, in order to understand what this faith is, we have to have a language to discuss and understand it; this is where theology becomes important. The simple definition of theology is that it is the words we use to describe God. In that respect, Theology, dogma, traditions, etc. are tools, which better help us to understand our faith, and grow in our belief in our God.
The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms says that faith:
“In Christianity (is) belief, trust, and obedience to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is the means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) or eternal life (John 6:40). Faith affects all dimensions of one's existence: intellect, emotions, and will.”
When we talk about faith, we recognize that it means so many different things to so many different people. Some people have a great deal of faith, and you would never know it. Conversely, there are many who you think are deeply rooted in their faith and are not. To that end, faith can be a very touchy subject.
When I was in seminary, I participated in a class offered at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. While there, I had a sit-down interview with Alexander Beloposky, who was in the Orthodox tradition working on issues of youth and Ecumenism. It was a fascinating interview for many reasons. Most interestingly, I vividly remember the discussion on faith. He said that one of the most difficult areas in ecumenical dialogue was to talk about what people believed, not because they were afraid of the discussion, but because they did not want to offend others.
My experience is that regardless of the age, many people have a difficult time talking about faith. Often, when people do begin to talk about their faith, they leave out those times of struggle, creating what appears to be a perfect and unquestioned faith as if the individual's faith was untouched. I remember visiting a Presbyterian Seminary where an individual was telling us the story of how God clearly spoke to him as he was eating a hamburger, telling him to go to seminary. I did not go to that seminary. While there may be the occasional person (I have yet to meet him/her) who has never questioned his/her faith, the reality is that we all struggle at one point or another, and often it is in the struggle where we get that moment of clarity about our faith and begin to see God in a new way.
The further reality of faith is that it is messy and often not very clear. It sometimes puts us in difficult situations, and often it lifts us up for no apparent reason. Ultimately, faith is this incredible relationship that we have with God. Paul speaks often about faith throughout his letters. He reminds those in his communities that the faith is open to all since it is not a faith owned by humankind, but one that is owned by God. He writes in Romans 4:16: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham”
As you can see faith can be a messy thing, but as a church, it is the foundational call that we have to be a tool helping each other and helping the world to develop a theocentric life. Where our faith in God is not a façade nor is it tangibly seen, rather it is a faith that both transcends everything and is all-encompassing of our whole being.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen