A Question of Faith
This is a difficult subject for me to address. Partially because I am embarrassed to admit that my faith in God is not as strong as so many of you have proclaimed it to be. In fact my faith is weak. Weaker now than it has ever been. It is difficult too because that which I have held on to with waxing and waning strength throughout my life has been put to its biggest test ever over the past three years. I have said - and I still believe - that it is good and healthy for one to question one’s faith and to put it to the test. I don’t believe you can claim your faith as your own until you do this and convince yourself that what you believe is true. For me, this has not resulted in having stronger faith in God, but rather I am left with the knowledge that it is impossible for me to claim that God exists. I cannot claim that God does not exist either, for to believe with certainty that there is no god requires just as much faith as the belief that He does exist. My weakness in faith goes both ways. I cannot say the God exists, nor can I say that He does not exist. And yet, I must still be holding on to something, for I continue to capitalize God and the personal pronouns I use when I refer to Him. If He exists, then I can at least show Him that much respect.
What is faith? Essentially it is a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. That’s where the problem lies for me - no proof. Some may argue that all the proof I need is right outside my window. Others may say that the proof I have been looking for is easily acquired at the local Christian bookstore. Still others will give testimonies about how God has affected their lives personally and try to explain how wonderful He is and all I really need to do is believe in Him and the accept the gift of absolution from sin through Jesus Christ.
When I look out the window, I can see the point that many try to make regarding how the complexity and balance of life itself is proof. How the whole world, and indeed the entire universe is so wonderfully made. How the properties of chemistry and the laws of physics all work together perfectly to sustain life. How life itself is a beautiful dance of complex chain reactions that allow us to adapt to changes in our environment and to heal ourselves without even thinking about it. It is perfectly balanced, and life is good. The odds that this could all be the result of a random series of events are so astronomical that it is impossible to believe that it could be anything other than designed by an almighty God. However, we are talking about the entire universe. We are literally talking about an astronomical number of possibilities, and when you factor in the passage of billions of years for these things to randomly occur, it is no longer beyond belief.
I can walk into our local Christian book store and find hundreds of books on the subject of God and faith, but perhaps the only one that holds any proof would be the Holy Bible. It is after all, God’s inspired word. The difficulty I have with this is that I would be relying on the bible to prove the existence of God, but I would first have to believe that God exists for this to be His inspired word. You see the chicken-and-egg problem this poses for me. I have to believe in one before I can believe the other. And what of all the other world religions that claim that their proof is held in their texts on the subject? All you have to do is take a look at The Big Religion Comparison Chart to see that there are at least a couple dozen world religions with memberships over one million people. Each of those religions will have members that believe that their religion the truth and that their god or gods - or lack of a god - are true and that their texts contain proof of that. What we believe and have faith in are largely determined by the environment in which we were raised. A Christian home will raise generations of Christians, an Islamic home will raise generations of Muslims, and so on. There will always be people who convert from one religion to another, but for the most part what we believe is what we have been taught to believe. I am still heavily influenced by Christianity in my analysis of faith and the bible has some compelling text that comes close to being enough proof for me. I am not going to quote any specific text, but I refer primarily to the prophesies of Isaiah regarding the coming of the Messiah and the the fulfillment of those prophesies by Jesus Christ. The purported fulfillment of those prophecies has the hook in my mouth, but it has not yet been set.
I have several friends who have a strong faith in God and seem to have absolutely no doubt about His existence and His love for all of us. I also have many friends who do have some doubt, yet still manage to not only keep their faith but also feed and strengthen it. As a child, my church attendance as exposure to God was sporadic at best. It wasn’t until I started attending a Lutheran school for Junior High that I started getting regular exposure to God and learning more about Him and the bible. After that I went to a Catholic high school, but throughout that time I still did not go to church regularly. That did not happen until I was an adult and married to my beautiful wife. I have now been a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Templeton since about 1995. I have met and made many wonderful friends, who I love very much. I love seeing them at church and sharing hugs with them. I have heard many testimonials over the years about the greatness of God and how He is still working through us today. I have heard of His modern day miracles and how He has changed peoples lives so profoundly that they have given up their occupations and moved their families to other countries to minister to people in great need. I have stood in front of our church and given children’s sermons. I served three years as a deacon; two of those as moderator. On May 17, 2009 I stood in front of our congregation and gave my own testimony regarding my acceptance of my nomination to be a church elder. On May 18 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Not long after I began to seriously doubt my faith.
So here I am, not knowing what the truth is. I still pray, though the nature of the prayers has changed. Mostly they go something like this, “I don’t know if you’re there God, but if you are please help me to see you and to know you,” followed by whatever other petitions I may have. My faith is weak, so I ask all of you who have stronger faith - no matter what your religion is - to pray for me to know the truth.
One of my favorite books in the bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It is not a long book, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with it I will quote it here in it’s entirety from the New International Version.
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The greatest of these is love. I had always assumed that faith was the second greatest, but I have recently come to believe that hope is. Hope is very powerful. It gives us the strength to carry on, to keep fighting. I hope to beat cancer. I hope to see my children grow into responsible adults with integrity. I hope to see them graduate high school and college, to get married and have children of their own, and for them to be happy. I hope to celebrate my 50th anniversary with my wonderful wife.
Yes, my faith is weak but my hope is strong, and I hope to have a strong faith again some day.