Thursday, September 01, 2016

The agony of faith

I started writing this post some time ago when yet another picture appeared on Facebook declaring that "religion" was the cause of all the violence in the world perpetrated by terrorists. I find myself wanting to shout back that it's simply not true and that if only people would stop and think for a minute then they wouldn't post such inane and stupid stuff. But I won't do that because I'm caught between personal outrage and the reductionist perspective at work and the desire to be "full of grace". I'm desperate for people to discover the grace of God for themselves and winning arguments over petty mudslinging memes is not the way. Perhaps this commitment to grace and desire to find a way to point people to God is what creates the agony of faith that I seem to experience.

I've been contemplating writing some reflections on the Psalms and calling them The Agony of Faith. It's an idea that has been in my head for a while. Agony because if anyone tells you being a person of faith is easy and comfortable, then I'm either seriously lacking something or their experience is not rooted in the same world as is mine.

I find faith hard. Not necessarily believing, but just making sense of life sometimes. Faith is not easy. I get angry too. Angry at the way faith is often portrayed as a crutch for the weak-minded, or an opt-out for those who are less enlightened.

I find myself angry at the portrayal of faith as the root of the world's problems as if terrorism never had a home in political ideology. I grew up in the 20th century. A time when left and right wing politics resulted in millions of deaths. But no one seems to remember that when someone using their faith as an excuse detonates a bomb in a crowded market. I remember planes being downed, pubs being blown up, hostages taken (and sometimes killed), all in the name of revolution or communism or supporting some right wing dictatorship. Faith does not have a monopoly on fanaticism. If you want an example, think about Stalin's purges or the Khmer Rouge. How about the genocide in Rwanda or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

If that is not enough, the triumphalism and selfishness of some expressions of 21st century faith also get me down. Do I really need to "feel" God's presence in order for it to have been a good worship experience? Exactly what does it feel like anyway? I remember preaching a sermon once based around the idea that worship was always an appropriate response irrespective of the circumstances. It is never a case of worship when you feel something.

So faith is hard. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's open to misinterpretation as well as misrepresentation. We get things wrong. When I read my Bible I read about struggles as well as triumphs, mistakes as well as successes. When someone tells me they can't believe in God because of all the bad stuff that happens and because of all the unanswered questions or because of things that simply make no sense, I understand. As for me, it can only ever make sense if God exists because that means there is someone to answer for it, some to address the the basic question we have: Why?

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