My latest for the Longview News-Journal
As humanity looks back on its storied history there are eras that are marked with great advancement in philosophy science, art and theology. There was the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment to name a few. All of these have offered humanity a new perspective on how to view the world and further contemplate our role in it. Today, historians and scholars are still trying to name this period of time we find ourselves currently in. I believe “post-Enlightenment” is a good summarization of where we stand. On one hand, it is a wonderful thing. The revelations of the Enlightenment have brought about some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last 200 years. Much of what modern science is built upon was first studied and analyzed during this time. On the other hand, it has made us quite skeptical to many things. We look for facts and evidence before we further believe in the claims being presented.
In 2017, we find ourselves in a world where humanity has access to more information than any other time in history. If we have questions we simply perform a search on the internet and 9 times out of 10 we will find the answer. It is a wonderful tool that we have at our disposal. Couple it with the ever-advancing changes in computer and mobile technology human can now search for answers that plague our minds anywhere and at any time. This constant information access has made our quest for facts and the truth more desirable.
There is one thing I believe that even in a post Enlightenment age still is a difficult burden for many people: faith in God.
Faith is a challenging thing to wrap our minds around. It forces us to believe in things that not seen or measurable. We can analysis and scrutinize the stories of the Bible for their plausibility or historicity and will often come up short. For many this is not acceptable. Why believe in a God or in Jesus if I do not for certain know that it is the truth? This is not a new phenomenon but I believe that it is becoming more and more difficult for people to find and keep their faith. No amount of searching on Google will ever “prove” the existence of God or Jesus the Christ.
James Fowler was a theologian who studied faith across the life cycle. He believed that there was different stages of faith that a person went through during their life. The biggest and most foundational stage is what he called “synthetic conventional.” Most people enter this stage around 13 and during this time a person is trying to synthesize (or understand) what the world (of the church) as told them is normal or conventional. If you have ever worked with or taught middle school aged students this where the wheels begin to turn and the questions of faith start to bubble up to the surface. (My favorite is “If Adam and Eve were the only people on Earth then where did Cain’s wife come from?)
During this time people begin to question their most basic held beliefs. Questions of faith and its practical application in the world become important growing tools in a person’s life. Churches and ministers should not dismiss questions of faith. Questions are profoundly important in exercising one’s own interpretive lens through which they see the world and God. This means that as a faith community the Church is going to need to be honest and open about matter of faith. Telling someone who has questions regarding their faith to just “have faith and believe” only discourages them more. I’m not saying that the Church or ministers or lay leaders will have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Rather I believe that questions are about learning, sharing, growing and journeying together. Just because I have a Master’s degree in Divinity does not mean that I understand fully the complex world of theology nor does it mean that I cannot learn from my parishioners about matters of life and faith. We are all on this journey together; recognizing that we all have questions, we all struggle and that deep-down faith can be difficult and trying at times means that we all find something that brings us back each week.
It is hard for some to find faith in God in a world of hate, greed and malice. It is hard for some to find faith in a world that is not that “very good” place described in Genesis 1. It is hard for people to find faith when someone dies unexpectedly, receives a poor diagnosis or faces an uncertain future. These are difficult situations not just for people struggling to understand God better but also for Christians as well. It is wrong to suggest that questioning God or even one’s circumstances is “wrong” or “blasphemous.” The Bible is filled with prayers and stories of people questioning God, God’s motives and actions (or lack thereof). The Psalms for example give voice to almost every human emotion. We need to share our frustration and share in our common struggle as humans. I believe that if God give us an emotion then God can handle that emotion. Our questions speak to the deep seeded desire of our soul to fully understand our place in this world. Saint Augustine of Hippo summed this up well when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Faith does not come with easy answers but it does give our lives meaning. Finding a place where questions are welcomed and even encouraged, where cheap clichés are thrown out the window is the best for a person looking for faith or struggling with faith is what is most important.