This is Part Three of the ongoing series “Maps and Territories.”
What do we mean when we say that we must have faith in Christianity?
We know that we should not just believe in Christianity no matter what new information comes up. That’s the same mistake I made at the start of this series; it means forgetting that we can be wrong. For example, in the very unlikely case that we suddenly discover conclusive proof that Christ never existed, then we should simply stop being Christians. And since we are constantly learning more, it is always possible that we will have to change our minds.
We also know that we cannot allow this to petrify us. As we talked about last week, we should not just give up hope in the face of uncertainty. Even if we can never be sure we are right, we can get more and more confident about what the truth is; and in order to do this, we must believe something and put it to the test to see if we are correct.
Faith is what allows us to test our beliefs. We think that Christ came down and promised us certain things would happen if we followed Him; so we put trust in Him and his Gospel and see whether these things happen.
At this point, however, we should begin to feel a little bit uncomfortable. Surely faith means more than saying “Sure Jesus, I’ll trust you so that you’ll prove yourself to me.” That sounds cold and distant and arrogant.
Faith flourishes. The decision to test something is not all of faith; rather, it is its seed.
Think about your best friend. At some point, even though you knew you might be wrong about them, you decided to take a leap of faith and confide something in them that you normally wouldn’t, or rely on them for something very important. They came through, and so you continued to do things like this. Today, you’d trust them with anything, because you have faith in them.
In other words, faith refers to both the willingness to test someone or something, as well as the feeling of utter trust that grows from that first leap.
Think back to your best friend. You know it’s possible they’ll betray you, but you know they won’t. That is to say, you live your life utterly trusting them and not worrying about betrayal, but you acknowledge that it’s not impossible that you’re wrong about them – just very, very unlikely. And if that betrayal somehow did occur, you would be forced to reconsider your trust; but you don’t live your life constantly in the shadow of that thought. We can acknowledge the possibility that we are wrong and still act on the faith that we are not.
The issue we run into in religion is this: for most of us, God is way harder to get to know and test than our best friend was. There are some exceptions – people who apparently have such a close walk with God that they know Him intimately – but they are few and far between. Faith in a friend is easy, because we constantly interact with and talk to them. How are we to extend this sort of faith to God?
Well, it’s much harder. With God, we return again and again to that first leap. We develop a relationship with Him as well, but we are constantly asked for greater devotion, and we are always very aware that it might be this leap that proves us wrong, that shows that maybe Christianity can’t live up to its claims. But, as we said last week, we must constantly take that leap or never know the truth.
Part of what allows us to take that leap is courage, yes; but there’s another piece of faith, and that is love. Here is what I lack most, I suspect – this love of God that transcends logic, which leaps not only because it desires the truth, but because it desires the God it jumps towards.
In its purest form, this love leaps both to reach God and to discover Him. It loves Him for what He is, not what it thinks Him to be, and will therefore take any risk that offers a chance of discovering what God is truly like. It’s this love, in fact, that Christ spoke of when he commanded us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10).
We now know that faith is both relational and truth-seeking, and that these two things fulfill each other – that is, to seek the truth of God is to love Him, and to love Him is to want to know Him better. But the question remains: with so many different religions and ideas of what God looks like, why should we be Christian?