Monday, August 06, 2007

What’s the point of “faith in things unseen”?

What is the purpose of God requiring his followers to trust in One they can’t directly see, touch, feel, smell, or talk to?

This has become a real head scratcher for me. I know of no intimate human relationships in which one person deliberately makes himself or herself scarce, doesn’t return calls, goes away for long periods of time, and sends ambiguous or mixed messages via courier - as a way of deepening their partner’s faith and trust in them. The chief effects of such behaviors – which amount to neglect, when you come right down to it – are usually a loss of trust, love, affection, and ultimately the breakup of the relationship itself. Yet somehow in a relationship with God, the very same behaviors on God’s part are expected to (and sometimes do!) increase the adherent’s faith.

But how and why is faith such a big operative in God’s economy to begin with? Does it have something to do with our free will and ability to choose God on our own volition? In other words, if we all regularly encountered God in a burning bush, might we be so overwhelmed by the Almighty that we could do nothing other than choose him? And because God values our free will that much, he does not want to skew our ability to choose by visibly revealing himself to us? I don’t know…that seems pretty shaky given that Satan got to hang out with God in heaven yet he was still able to deploy his free will to rebel against God.

I also wonder about the fact that in Old Testament times God did seem to reveal himself to man on occasion… but after Jesus any truly personal, tangible, earthly, direct encounters with the Divine pretty much disappeared. How come? Has faith in things unseen become more valuable, more important to God somehow in New Testament Christianity? If so, why?

Which circles back to the question I started with: what is the point of having "faith in things unseen"?

17 comments:

lowendaction said...

Welcome back slap,

EXTREMELY valid and important question!

As you may know, I'm a big fan of analogies and visual comparatives when attempting to better understand a quandry. This one is super-cheesy, but I like it!

Think of our life here on earth as a really crappy episode of "Making the Band" (in case you don't watch the show regularly, not only won't this make ANY sense, but you'll also miss the irony of my previous statement...). All contestants start on the same page, and are shown the final prize as motivation to "make it". Then along comes Diddy (to suggest that God and Diddy have anything to do with eachother is NOT what I am implying!), and starts throwing out one challenge and hurdle after the other. All of which are designed to "weed out" the weakest contestants, those that don't "really want it" or aren't willing to "stick it out" eventually get cut.

In the end, Diddy ends up with a small group of individuals who have proven themsleves worthy, based on a number of categories and obstacles they've overcome. They endured all of this with nothing more than a promise of a prize for the winner. Diddy meanwhile stays aloof, appearing only occasionally, and then usually distant and seemingly only to hand out critique or further challenges.

Yes, this is probably one of the worst examples ever, however, I think it does illustrate my undertanding of what God expects from us. As you mentioned, He could easily make His awesome presence known here on earth on a regular basis, then there simply would be no more discussion. There would be no "de-converted Christians", or angry skeptics out to debunk Chrsitianity. But would we really be "hungry" for a relationship with God?

I believe that the only real limitations to experiencing an intimate relationship here on earth is oursleves. If anything, God enabled us to have even closer access to God via the Holy Spirit with the advent of Jesus.

I strongly believe that there are amazing plans laying in wait for each and everyone of us with God in eternity that go beyond our comprehension. But we must prove ourselves worthy of these previleges. God is not interested in those who aren't really "hungry" for Him. So this is the time, this is the place to show God you are willing to stick it out dispite our doubts, fears and lack of faith (which are all pre-designed Godly obstacles).

becky said...

But how and why is faith such a big operative in God’s economy to begin with? Does it have something to do with our free will and ability to choose God on our own volition?

great question.... from my perspective it has to do with the battle in the garden between the knowledge of good and evil versus faith trusting in something we cannot see. It is a difficult concept to understand (I still don't get it) but I keep seeking.

I really liked your point about when a being is not present it builds mistrust and abandonment. I can relate alot to this statement.

I read somewhere that it is in failure not success that faith is better tested.

I want to tell you I think it is good that you are questioning. I have found that when I honestly seek truth I find it. It has not been easy road. Thanks for your thoughts.

becky

Heather said...

I think this is an excellent question, and raises a valid point. The relationship developed with God, as presented by many religions, is not how one develops a relationship in any other circumstance. I stated on another blog that I think the word "relationship" isn't the best -- a relationship one has with a spouse is a give and take. Both sides compromise. Religions are pretty much, "YOu do it God's way."

**Does it have something to do with our free will and ability to choose God on our own volition? In other words, if we all regularly encountered God in a burning bush, might we be so overwhelmed by the Almighty that we could do nothing other than choose him? **

I would say no. The Bible is full of wonderous, miraculous accounts, and yet a lot of people still didn't follow that religion. Even if God did reveal himself in a way that was obvious to everyone, there would still be people who sought something else. And honestly? I think occurances like that would make people even more hungry to know God.

Oh, and welcome back. :)

lowendaction said...

heather,

I'd like to make a quick suggestion regarding your "relationship vs religion" comment.

I would argue, that Christianity, in it's purest form (ie. early church and it's design according to the bible)--not what the mass modern Christian Church represents itself as today--is anything BUT a religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

I think wiki does a good job of laying out the many variations in usage of this word, but usually it references the traditions, laws, and communal oneness. The birth of Christianity, through Christ's time on earth, has allowed those who believe in Him to establish an intimate 1:1 relationship with God. Though fellowship and other corporate activities amungst fellow believers is encouraged, for its varies positive reasons, it is the individual that determines the streangth and nature of that bond.

I think the large amount of references in the bible to the church as "the Bride", or God as "Father" and such, should be a pretty good indicator that this relationship is the very foundation of Christianity.

I also believe, that we have managed to completely screw this concept up, both by example and through our insecure distortions of this original design.

There you have it...my two worthless cents.

thanx

bjk said...

IF we could see it and know for sure, would it still be faith?

Slapdash said...

***IF we could see it and know for sure, would it still be faith?*** (bjk)

I don't know, but why does it matter?

In human relationships, I see and know for sure that my family members exist. And, I have quite a history of tangible experience with them... but I would still say it takes a certain amount of faith/trust that they will, TOMORROW, behave in the same loving, supportive ways that they have behaved in up until today. Like any prospectus says, "Past performance is no guarantee of future performance."

So seeing and knowing for sure, in my mind, don't preclude a need for faith... but the central question for me remains why faith is the central deal.

Slapdash said...

LowenD--

P Diddy as a metaphor for God... now that's something I haven't come across before!

I can kind of get on board with the perseverence argument - making the effort because you're hungry for the end game/reward...

...still, though, I'm not totally sure why that requires distance and aloofness on God's part. As I note in the comment above this one.

Slapdash said...

***I read somewhere that it is in failure not success that faith is better tested.*** (becky)

Thanks for your comments, Becky. Yes, for sure, what we're made of comes out in the hard moments, not the easy ones. And maybe I'm guilty of folding in the face of a prolonged "hard moment" - years of asking God for answers, only to hear crickets in response. You would think, though, that God would know when someone has reached their breaking point and would know that that's the time to "reach out and touch" them. I admire people with faith that has no limits or end. I am not sure I am one of them.

bjk said...

Has anyone briefly defined faith?
belief that is not based on proof...is that a true definition of the word?

I'm in over my head to argue any of this......but I will look forward to where you go with it.

lowendaction said...

bjk,

For a more indeapth and rounded answer, check this out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith

I think to say that faith means the absense of proof would be stretching it. I believe faith kicks in when ALL the facts are not readily available. But your faith does need to be based on something! Otherwise it would be fiction.

Heather said...

Lowendaction,

The reason I would disagree with you about Christianity not being a religion is because there are quite a few creeds associated with Christianity, and so the involvement with God is dependent on the creeds -- as in, you can identify who has a true interaction with God based on their description of God.

What I think you're touching on is how Christianity can be associated with legalism, and how certain strains of Christianity are incredibly legalistic. That's how I think you're using religion, as synonomous with legalism. I was going more for there are certain creeds/behavior/actions that one must do in order to be considered Christian (as in repent, or believe the right way, or a radical change in the person's life).

But my overall point was that I don't think the interaction with God can be called a "relationship." With the interaction, God does not change, God does not ever compromise when dealing with people (as in, one day he does what the person wants. You can decide something against God, but the only way for one to re-interact with God is through repentence -- change on the person's behalf.

Now, when we think of the relationships we have with friends or spouses and so on, part of what's involved in a relationship is learning to compromise, for both people to grow and change and become better. God doesn't do any of that.

If someone says that I have a relationship with God, the idea is that the person has surrendered his/her will to God and lets (or tries) God have control and guide one's life. If I say I have a relationship with a spouse, there is the element that I have made a choice to surrender portions of my wants. But when reversed, the same would apply to a spouse. My spouse has surrendered. If this is reversed in terms of God, does God surrender portion of his wants?

Now, it could be argued that the "relationship" term only applies to humans. Except there's generally a sense of reciprocity when the word "relationship" is used.

lowendaction said...

slap-o-godliness,

I'm not totally sure why that requires distance and aloofness on God's part.

Think of it like this. It makes the pay-off (heaven) all that much more sweeter! I know that sounds like a cheap and dull-whitted answer. But I really believe this.

Have you ever seen the show "Ninja Warrior"? I've never even really watched a whole episode, but if you've never seen it (on G4), it's all about these crazy asians (no racial slur, just the facts) who tackle these unbelievable set of obstacles, only to push a red button at the end. But you should see their faces when they do!!! On their way there, and many don't have what it takes to get there, they put their bodies through unimaginable pain and suffering. But when they finally do complete it, there facial expression says it all, "It was TOTALLY worth it!"

I think this is what God is asking of us. "Do you REALLY want it?" *small insecure nod from man*
"Fine. Then show me."

Though I won't even try and explain/understand the reward system that awaits us, He does make reference to it. So it seems that just finishing isn't all He's asking of us. He really wants to USE us when we get there. And I think it will be proportional to the effort we put out here and now.

Of course, all of this is pretty "out there" and lacks a great deal in the "evidence" deparment. But here's how I see it.

I could be wrong, and thus I've spent a life striving to be more like Christ (who was by ALL accounts, a great guy!), and then it's lights out.

or

I could be right, and after having lived my life after Christ model, I go on to an existance that is beyond our comprehension in the presence of the One who invented and happens to BE love.

The alternative to those, is I live a life according to my own wishes and desires, and then it's either lights out, or I get to the gates and it's "DOH!"...but it won't be funny.

All the arguements and evidence in the world isn't going to change those scenarios. That leaves us with a choice: step out in faith...or rely on our brain, and hope it doesn't end to soon.

good times...

lowendaction said...

heather,

Great points about relationship/religion!!!

I think your assesment is fair if we compare this relationship to interhuman ones.

You are correct, is does seem a bit lob sided, in that God does not and will not ever change (thoug many might see that as a wonderful characteristic, one that we humans should not only be jealous of but strive towards!). But I would argue, that God does talk about rejoicing when we reciprocate His love.

So, I wouldn't say that the word relationship should be removed from the Christian experience all together, but if surely does need to be redifined. Also keep in mind, we are also just barely able to consider the here and now. Who knows how the dynamic of this relationship might change in His eternal presence.

becky said...

I have been reading your past and this is a comment regarding the church, GOD and abuse

I am a counselor and I could tell you stories that would make you want to literally vomit of the dastardly things people do to one another. One of the things you have to understand and I realize this post is more on GOD than it is the person, but you have to understand the problem of abuse with what is called the attachment to the perpetrator, the power of co-dependent relationships as well as evil.

I could write a whole post on this but it will take me some time. Not all believers make excuses for GOD for me personally I go at it with GOD regarding many of the horrors of this world. For my part, it is my passion to make a place for people who are abused, raped, beaten, tortured etc and help them find a place of rest.

thanks for your honesty.

becky

jON said...

but do any of us know what real faith is? i've been mulling this post over for a couple of days and all i get so far is one phrase from the words of jesus that even a tiny amount of faith would allow a person to move a mountain. i've never seen anything like that. so perhaps i've never known anyone with genuine faith.

hmmm...

jennypo said...

Slapdash,
Glad to see you back. I have only a few minutes but I'd like to share what I know of God. But first, I'd like to point out that faith based on nothing is not faith. You can call it stubbornness if you like, or wishful thinking, or willful stupidity, but please don't call it faith. Faith is something you can only exercise when you have proof. When I know that God is worthy of my trust, then it is my responsibility to trust him, even if I don't know what he's doing. If I don't know that he is worthy of my trust, then what kind of faith can I possibly have?
God is not, in general, hiding himself. He hasn't created a giant obstacle course with himself as the prize.
He is a spirit. By nature, he is something that we can't see, hear, touch, or smell. The physical world is greatly limited in its ability to recognize anything beyond itself. We as humans are most comfortable with things that we can count or measure. But if God WERE such a thing, it would limit him. When he did take on a body that we could see, touch, hear, and smell, what did we think? Many people think Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, a progressive thinking man, or a figment of popular imagination. Did his appearing allow us to know him AS God?
Slapdash, I'm not sure how you expect a God to reveal himself to you, but I'll bet I could get five different expectations from as many people. Someone would want to hear a thundering voice, another person would want to see a fantastic lightning show, someone else would require a re-enactment of the burning bush...
Science has explanations for all of these things. Some people go out at night and see UFOs. Their neighbours swear it was the northern lights or something like that. How is this stuff convincing? How does something that you can see tell you that there is a real, living Spirit?
A spirit can only be known by a spirit. When what is deeper than the physical is too easily known through a physical representation, it is human tendency to accept the representation rather than what it conveys. That is why God forbade the Hebrew people to create an image representing him.
Knowing what is deeper is naturally difficult because it requires the exercise of our whole person - spirit, mind, and body. The body is the easiest to use, followed by the mind, and lastly, the spirit. There is a knowledge and a joy that the mind can have which can never be experienced by the body or the physical alone. Likewise, the spirit has a scope not accessed by mind or body. God, a Spirit, can ultimately known by the whole person only through the exercise of mind, body, AND spirit. And he can only be worshipped when the spirit is allowed control over the mind and the body.
The other lifeforms of earth know God. There is no wondering about God's existence for a cow. If God says "go", she goes. God told the animals to get into the ark Noah had built and there was no questioning, no pleading. They went. When Jesus rode the ass's colt into Jerusalem, it neither kicked nor reared. They know the Master instinctively. But humans are a higher life form, made like God, and so we have a higher responsibility. Noah preached to people's minds for years before the door of the ark was closed, with only eight people inside. It is our responsibility to exercise our spirits, our minds, and our bodies - all - in knowing God. In order to recognize the creator of all, we must admit that there is a moral order of spirit over mind over body. If we fail to recognize this order, what good will it do us to know that God is?
It seems to me that you would like to know that God is without knowing who God is, just as our society is content to experience sex with little or no experience of the love it expresses. The physical ought not be ignored in relation to either God or love, but its knowledge is imperfect, and when put first, leaves us partially blinded to higher forms of knowledge.
God has, at times, hidden himself from me when I became too content with my limited knowledge of him. Sometimes, I have thought it enough to worship him as a deity from afar. God knows, and I know, that I was created for better than this. I will someday be his child - almost a peer. In the end of his withdrawing of himself, I have come, by searching, to know him more deeply, more surely. My faith in him is not a wish for him to exist. It is a personal trust, because I know who it is that exists.

Jonathan Blake said...

Please excuse me for being late to the party.

By way of introduction, I don't believe in God - I'm an atheist. I am a husband and father. I love my wife and children dearly. I do my best to help them be happy. I try to be kind to everyone and do what I can to alleviate suffering. I'm no saint, but I do my best.

In these things, I'm probably very much like everyone else here. One difference between me an many of the other commenters is that I lack a faith in God.

I prayed for many years that he would help me to have faith in him. From what I could tell, no one was listening. So now I live my life the best that I can according to my conscience.

Is anyone really willing to say that - if I meet God when my life is over - that God will say to me "You did your best to do good and to love other people, but you never really had much faith in me. You're going to Hell."?

If so, is that really the kind of loving God you want to worship?

If God will show compassion and not judge me harshly, then does faith in God really matter?