A recurring theme you will find in my posts is how spirituality and religion have often been hijacked by people seeking to use them for their own agenda. One of my goals in this book will be to separate spirituality from the rhetoric often associated with it.
We have seen this happen with faith. On the one hand, public figures can use public expressions of faith to either push their agenda or to excuse their own bad behavior. When we get into public discussions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have often seen the proponents of these wars avoid discussing the real issues by calling into question the faith and patriotism of their critics. Similarly, when a public figure is caught in a sexual scandal, we often hear about his strong faith. Who cares? But somehow because he publicly expresses his faith there are some people who will excuse him.
These approaches to faith in the public arena mirror similar misuses of faith on a more personal basis. Faith can be called upon to excuse laziness, bad behavior and irresponsibility by individuals you may know. It also can be used as a justification to stop thinking. That is not what faith is all about.
When I went through my greatest crisis of faith in my late teens and early twenties, I was told repeatedly that my problem was that I was thinking about faith too much. I was told that I simply needed to feel it emotionally, not intellectually. While I may feel it emotionally as well, if it can’t be understood intellectually, then there really isn’t much to it.
Due to the fact that faith is often expressed in these terms or is misused by some people, many others take a dim view of it. Many very intelligent people have come to view faith as something they don’t want to have a part of because so often it becomes an excuse for lack of thinking or a refuge for scoundrels. We will attempt to rescue faith from that view here.
I have also seen where faith can be used to divide people rather than unite them. Certain people claim to have been given the gift of faith and wear this as a badge of pride, separating themselves who shy away from such public displays. Again, this small-mindedness contributes to the sense of some that faith is not for them.
You should not allow the behavior of some people to turn you off from the goal of living a faithful life. People by their nature are imperfect. Allowing the bad behavior or closed-mindedness of certain individuals to turn you off from what could be a good thing only hurts you. Faith is in fact not about small-mindedness at all. It is not a means of separating people, it is a means of uniting us. Its public display by some who want to hijack it is a statement about those individuals, not faith in particular.
Faith is certainly a gift, but it is a gift that is available to everyone. We acknowledge that it takes hard work over a long time to build a long-term loving relationship, to build a business, or to do anything else worthwhile. But somehow, we seem to think that faith just comes down to us from on high without any effort on our part. Like any other gift, faith takes work to turn into something worthwhile.
My son is a very gifted musician — something he certainly got from his mother, not me. Despite his gift, if he doesn’t practice, he still can’t play. Why do we think faith doesn’t require similar effort on our part? In this book, we will later suggest some exercises to build up your faith muscle.
In describing faith, some equate it with hope. Faith, however, is not hope. Faith may give hope, but hope is something entirely different. Hope is a wish. It is an “if-come.” We hope that something will happen, or we hope for some end result. Faith has two fundamental differences from hope. First, faith is a matter of knowing, not of wishing. Faith is a definitive state where hope is formless. Secondly, faith is not about wishing for something or some end result. Faith is a knowledge, a connection that guides us toward our destiny. Oftentimes, that end result is something we never hoped for or even imagined. Remember, we are limited human beings, not deities. As a result, we cannot truly know where we are going or why. That’s where hope is looking into the future while faith is in the present tense.
Nevertheless, faith can give us hope. When we look into our future filled with either hope or fear, our faith can give us the knowledge that ultimately, wherever we go, we will be given opportunities that will enable us to grow and learn and ultimately accomplish the purpose of our life. This knowledge can be a comfort to us as we face the unknown challenges from one day to the next. That’s the comfort that can be found with faith.
The famous poem written by an anonymous author about footsteps in the sand expresses that sense of comfort very well. Knowing that you will survive your challenges, even thrive as a result of them, will make your difficulties more bearable.