Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mystery of Faith

I don't like not knowing. I don't like ambiguity. I don't like mystery. But if I'm going to be a Christian I have to make friends with all three.

St. Paul put it simply, "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Even though God has spoken to us in past times in partial and various ways through the prophets, and more recently and powerfully through his Son, (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2), we still do not know everything.

How could a puny human mind ever comprehend the height, breath, or depth of the wisdom of God? God's ways are unsearchable, his judgments inscrutable. "Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" ( Romans 11:34).

Jesus ' teaching was not without ambiguity. He says we must love everybody, even our enemies (cf. Matthew 5:44), and then he insists that only those who hate their parents, their siblings, even their very selves can be his disciples (cf. Luke 14:26). He was fond of couching his message in paradox: to be the leader, you must be the servant (cf Mt. 20:27).

And the mysteries of the kingdom have never been resolved. Jesus spoke about them in parables (cf. Lk 8:8-10) but even when he explained his stories, his disciples were still confused. "But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them, and they failed to comprehend what he said" (Lk 18:34).

St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the existence of God can be proved. His first argument was based on the need for a prime mover. Then the need for an uncaused cause. And then the need for some intelligent being to direct natural things to their end.

Others have argued that "evil in the world" suggests there is no God, for if God is loving then God should prevent evil, especially the evils of natural disasters. Since God does not prevent such evils, either he is powerless to do so or he is not all that loving.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal concluded that one cannot prove that God exists nor prove that he does not exist. Unable to offer proof one way or the other, Pascal proposed what has become known as Pascal's Wager. He reasons, in effect, that although we cannot prove or disprove God's existence, one has better odds in believing in God since one loses nothing if there is no God but gains eternal life if there is.

Christians come at this issue from an altogether different angle. They generally believe in God's existence because the world and its complexity require an intelligent creator, but they add further that faith is a gift from God, freely offered to those willing to accept it.

Christians not only believe in God, they also believe that God made the world, loves it dearly, and sent his divine Son to help us cope with the mess we have made of it.

This Son of God we call Jesus, and Christians accept him as their Savior and their Lord. They accept his message as Gospel truth and they make an effort, with varying degrees of success, to overcome evil and live according to the divine plan.

There remains for many of us, however, in spite of our faith, a degree of uneasiness. Faith by its very nature implies risk. It means trusting in something, or in this case, Someone.

The uneasiness that leads me to feel uncomfortable about not knowing, about ambiguity, and about mystery is normal and natural, but it does not have to rob me of peace of mind.

Saints and mystics have long offered the assurance that the uneasiness of faith can be reduced by deepening one's personal relationship with God. Faith, then, is supported not by reasoned proofs for God's existence nor by quotes from Jesus' Gospel, but rather rests on a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Prayer can be a a religious exercise of words and actions and song, or it can be an avenue of intimacy with the Divine One.

If or when I finally come to trust Jesus implicitly, I will not need the surety of answers nor will I mind the ambiguity or mystery which faith implies.

I have come to believe that the best answer anyone can give to those who question why I believe in God or why I am a Christian is simply, "Because I've met him. I know him. We're friends."

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