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Each of us has to develop our own viable faith

When people grow up they re-examine the beliefs and values they had as children. That just seems normal, doesn't it? It's commonplace. Nothing astounding in that. Yet, when you watch someone close to you go through it, you might wonder where it's leading, and if you care about that person a lot and know that where it's leading matters, then there's something at stake in the developmental process.

It's what a parent goes through watching children grow up. They don't give lip service to the political, moral, religious, or social values they heard in their homes when they were children. As someone else recently implied, the time to dye your hair pink, put metal through your body, wear ripped-up clothes, and try outrageous and offensive language is when you're on the way to who you really want to be. My problem is that all of us are always on the way to who we really want to be, so while we're on that way we are what we do, we are what we think, we are what we feel, and the only way we know who and what we are becoming is to experience who and what we are this very moment.

Anyway, I was talking with someone close to me and she said that recently she'd been wanting something more “reverent” out of church. She is rethinking “God”. Some things in church didn't work any more. For instance, she was listening to a sermon recently, and she found herself able to agree, but then the service turned to music, and they started playing something about being soldiers for God, and they lost her.

Now, there is a way in which a person can become hypercritical, finding fault with every nit-picking thing as a way not to have to consider the important things being said and acted out in the form of the service itself. This is to miss meeting God when He's there to be met. That's not the developmental process that I'm talking about and that God actually uses and I believe is pleased by. No one gets into heaven because they are the children of so and so. Each of us has to develop our own viable faith; that developmental process is unique to each one of us, and often these journeys are marked by some tortuous turns.

One person told me that being in church was like listening to people talk to each other in Hallmark cards. Wow. When I think of the language in Hallmark cards, I think it is superficial, sentimental, and syrupy sweet. It's the world as people might like it, but it lacks the sense of reality, and it certainly can't stand any kind of critical thinking.

Is that what church is really like or is that what church is like for her?

I believe that when a person is willing to stand face-to-face with God and ask difficult questions, express misgivings, state grievances and other emotions, then the Hallmark language must give way to smudgy, disorganised, inconvenient, disruptive, and threatening uncertainty.

The Bible says that faith “ … is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Just as faith without works is dead, faith without uncertainty is unnecessary. We walk by faith and not by sight. This kind of faith is not a blind leap into the darkness with no reason to believe. A person steps out onto the tightrope of life trusting that there will be ground enough, enough tightrope, the hand of God enough to support. You can't do that if you do not believe there even IS a God, and you cannot believe there is a God unless at some point along the way you had a positive attitude toward that possibility and you heard something substantive about God, and you actually in some way perhaps quite small were touched by God.

There is a developmental “learning curve” to such faith, and it's also related to the family system, the world into which a person is born. Consider this: which is a more challenging influence in which a person might develop trust in God to grow up in a family that was atheistic, and the culture in which that family existed was “post-Christian”, or for that person to grow up in a superficially religious family in which people spoke to one another in Hallmark language about the presence of God in their lives?

James Fowler wrote an interesting book about how faith develops in people and the role that faith plays in the development of people. In that book., 'Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning', he described faith as follows:

“For most of us, most of the time, faith functions so as to screen off the abyss of mystery that surrounds us. But we all at certain times call upon faith to provide nerve to stand in the presence of the abyss naked, stripped of life supports, trusting only in the being, the mercy and the power of the Other in the darkness.

“I realise that these kinds of developmental pathways in life are tenuous. It's like giving your child a licence and a 5,000lb turbocharged machine to drive around in and hoping he or she will realise the magnitude of what is going on when they press the accelerator. In some cases it's not just this life that is on the line. With some things it's an eternity that depends on what one thinks, feels, believes, and acts upon. Such is life, I suppose.”

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Published August 09, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 09, 2011 at 9:40 am)

Each of us has to develop our own viable faith

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