The nature of belief is a funny thing. There has been much speculation as to what constitutes real faith, and if you ask two people you will likely get three opinions.
Perhaps most salient is the observation “there are no atheists in fox holes”. I think I would take that as the concession toward things we will reconsider as we go through life. What we once thought of as dumb, may come up for a second glance.
And so it goes with religious faith. Many people will go to Sunday School as a child, or be forced to sit through sermons as a less-than-enthusiastic teen, thinking “what has all this got to do with real life? You would have to remain a child to believe this stuff.”
Exactly. Jesus said, “Let the little children come, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” A more current take on that is something French theologian Paul Ricoeur calls the second naiveté. In a nutshell, that describes the process whereby people become educated, scoff at religious belief from the standpoint of rational enquiry, but much later on end up thinking better of those things they have so glibly dismissed. They become as little children, all over again.
I know it doesn’t make any sense, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense.... Some truths are larger than can be expressed by the scientific method. We sit on the outside of a great mystery, and the wise are not so easily dismissive of that which we cannot account for. In the first chapter of Romans, Saint Paul points out that nature itself testifies to the wonders we cannot explain. To refuse to acknowledge this is a sin of pride, and the proud never learn anything.
Sören Kierkegaard was also all about this. He postulated that no man will be convinced of Christianity by way of rational argument. Rather, they will end up having to take a leap of faith instead. It is not as much a journey of the head as a journey of the heart.
I have heard people pronounce, that if God will only show them a sign... they will believe. Such protests come from those who prefer to keep the demands of the Gospel at arm’s length. They are not disbelieving, as much as unwilling to give up the driver’s wheel. All of that may come up for reconsideration once someone has wrestled with a messy divorce or perhaps a bout with cancer. Such circumstances might make you run toward whatever goodness you can find – likely those very things you cannot find in a mathematical equation.
For those who have at one time or another abandoned faith, I totally get it. We have all been there. Bad stuff happens. But this is when I start to think of faith as the vector of your heart, more than what is going on in your head. We all ache for goodness, especially in its absence. It is what Blaise Pascall called the “God-shaped hole” within each and every one of us. We might start out demanding guarantees and end up merely wishing for the good to show its face. When we see it after a fallow season, we see God in a new light, as hope in the middle of darkness. Isaiah has penned much the same thought. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2). John the apostle saw this truth come full circle when he witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the first chapter of the book of John, he says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Those who ache for the appearance of that same hope, know something of the heart of God who shines that great light into our own darkness.
The inexplicable thing about faith, is that some who profess it have undoubtedly experienced times when they walked in the driving rain raising a fist to the sky and railing at their creator. I know. I am one of them. You never know in life, what might come up for reconsideration just when you imagine you are older and wiser.
Life just seems to keep on teaching that we don’t know it all yet, and that is OK. But I have faith. Hope you do not have to wind up in a foxhole, to get there yourself.