Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Faith, Doubt, and Dogma



(Conversations with Bob! More thrilling than 70s songs!)



John. Thanks for the explanation. Sometimes I think I’m an F Christian! At least you have a passing grade. Of course, we don’t earn our way into God’s favor. Grace is a gift. So while we might score low, God, through Jesus, gives us A’s.

I’m going to talk about this first from a personal perspective first. While I agree with you that faith and doubt are things that affect our whole beings I tend think about faith and doubt in several categories.

I have intellectual faith and doubt. Even though I am an INFJ I was trained in school as a thinker. That, after all, is what they want in school. Isn’t it curious? Big advancements in science tend to come from AHA! Moments by people who are well trained intellectually in their fields. But all the training cannot produce a moment like the Theory of Relativity. So anyway, I was trained to think and reason and I have intellectual faith and doubt.

That means that sometimes I am absolutely sure in my mind that Jesus rose from the dead. I know, I can’t prove it, but I can see historical evidence suggesting that it happened. Nevertheless, I have my moments when I think, “What if it isn’t true? Then I have wasted my whole life and made promises that aren’t true.” I stand up at funerals and talk about the resurrection and God’s promise of life beyond life, given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Usually I believe it at the time but I do have my moments when I think it isn’t true. And frankly, particularly when I’m depressed a long cold nothingness seems like it would be better than eternal life. I know, God will probably take away my bipolar disorder in the Kingdom of God and maybe even let me play the bagpipes! But yes, sometimes I wonder if it is all a lie.

Sometimes I have moments of feeling God’s presence and grace. Other times I feel like God could not possibly love me. Other people sure, even the people I pray with in prisons! But not me. While I preach grace, I have this place in the back of my head and way down in my heart that says that there are different rules for me, that I have to earn God’s love. And then I sit in the sanctuary during the Lord’s Supper, holding the bread and I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding me with love, taking me into the center of the Trinity and time seems to stop. (It doesn’t. Often at those times I forget to look up and see the elders waiting to walk back to the chancel with the plates of bread!) Faith and doubt can come as feelings.

Faith and doubt can be expressed in actions. Even if I don’t feel God’s presence, even if I doubt the promises of Jesus I still can go forward and act according to the commands of Jesus. I’m trying an experiment right now! I promised God I would try to stop saying nasty things about my fellow drives and that I would try to have more patience while driving. The not verbalizing is going pretty well. The thoughts still cross my mind but I keep my big mouth shut, most of the time. The patience is coming slower. Fortunately I no longer live in So Cal! Stop and go on the freeways would probably be my undoing. (For those of you who know the Philadelphia area, I avoid the Schuylkill Expressway from 6 AM until 7 PM on weekdays!) So no matter what I feel or think I can still obey.

And then there is worldview. As I think about it that is the area in which I am fairly faithful. I tend to look at the world through Christian eyes. I’ve been living in this worldview for so long that trying to look at it like an atheist or a Muslim feels almost impossible.

I agree with you, John, I think the roller coaster ride of faith and doubt, is part of God’s intention for us. Times when we doubt, if we insist to ourselves that the faith is true, if we live as Christians no matter what we may think or feel, we can grow in faith. In fact I think faithful doubting is a gift from God that actually strengthens faith.

Something we have not talked about is the effect of being part of a community on our faith. We Americans tend to think of ourselves as individuals first and members of a community second. That is not the case through most of the world. In many places people see themselves as part of a family or village or tribe first and as individuals second. I suspect this is definitely and Old Testament viewpoint and probably a New Testament viewpoint as well. While I do see emphasis on individual decision making in the New Testament, (Jesus’ statements about hating parents, siblings and wives and giving up all including family to follow him), I also see family emphases too. There are hints in Acts that suggest that households became Christian because the leader of the household became a Christian, like Lydia’s household in Philippi. (Acts 15:11-15) While I see myself like most Americans, as an individual first, I think we need to reclaim at least a balance between being a part of a community and an individual. The community of faith is vital to the well being of the individual and vice versa. I’ve even suggested that the congregation sell their houses and buy an apartment building! Strange, but there were no takers. We exist as part of the community.

And yes, I used the word dogma up there in the title. I’ve read the responses to your last post that talk about the movie. Thanks flycandler! Most of the time Americans hear the word dogma and think of the Spanish Inquisition. (Okay, it has to be said: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) What I see and hear in these post modern times is that if you say what you think, particularly on religious issues, people think that you are persecuting them if you make a claim of absolute truth. I think dogma has a place in the life of the Church. We make truth claims. Yes they are claims of faith and people can freely disagree with them. But part of the job of the Church is to assert those truth claims. We have learned, at least here in America, that everyone has the right to say what they think, (as does the president of Iran. I may think he is a fanatical anti-Semitic . . . hmm, I better stop there, but I think Columbia was right to let him speak.) One of the best things about America is our tolerance for diversity, even if someone asserts something as true that most think is absolute bunk.

Of course, what I just said means that I think there are essentials of faith in the Church. And in the PCUSA presbyteries and sessions are guardians of that truth. As I’ve said before, I get one vote. We make decisions together. But there are things that we decide together are essential. I assert that faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is essential. I’m not going to spell out what Lord and Savior means in this post. I’ll save that for later. But faith is an essential, even as we ride the roller coaster of faith and doubt. May our doubts lead us to greater faith.

Grace and Peace

Bob

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