History always has its thought police–the people who want to force others to submit to their version of the faith.
However well meaning, these folks miss a central truth: The trick is not to force people to believe the same things. The trick is to stick together in friendship even while in deep disagreement; to keep an open mind, ask good questions, and wonder together about what is true, and what our way forward should be.
There’s a name for this kind of community. It’s called church, and it is constituted in faith, not certainty, not uniformity of belief.
The attempt to enforce uniformity of belief has a name as well. It’s called war. And Christians are supposed to want no part of that.
Faith and Doubt
Paul Tillich once wrote: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” Faith might just be impossible without a little doubt. When all doubt disappears then the possibility of faith disappears as well, and all that’s left is certitude–knowing. And that’s not the same as faith. Faith involves doubt, and requires the inability to be completely sure.
We exercise faith all the time. Each time you get on an airplane you are exercising a kind of faith. You don’t know for certain the pilots are sober or the plane is sound. You don’t know for certain no terrorist is aboard. But it’s a pretty safe bet, so you act in faith and hop on the plane.
Anyone who is married exercises faith. You don’t know for certain your spouse won’t go crazy at some point. You don’t know for certain you won’t get a better offer two months later. Marriage is moving and acting in a certain trajectory despite uncertainties.
All beliefs are like this: they involve uncertainty and risk. Believing in God is an act of faith. Not believing in God is an act of faith as well, because it may just turn out that 95% of humans over the course of history are correct and there actually is a divine being.
In the end, however, faith isn’t just about beliefs. Faith is about trajectory.
Faith is About Trajectory
Faith is not about how certain you are about your beliefs. Faith is about what direction you’re moving in your life. Faith isn’t about certitude. Faith is about trajectory, and how you actually live.
So, if you want to know what you have faith in, look at the direction you’re moving in your life. What are you chasing? What’s your trajectory?
Take marriage, for instance. Stanley Hauerwas often says that marriage isn’t what you get when you stand up in front of everybody and say “I do.” That’s a wedding. Marriage is what you look back on after twenty years of living in fidelity to each other. The true meaning and significance of marriage comes after you make the commitment. This is what New Creation is like. You can only know it by faith-ing. Moving forward when you cannot know for certain how things will turn out.
What Are You Obsessed With?
Faith is about the direction you are moving in your life. You want to know what you have faith in? What are you chasing? What’s the goal toward which you strive? What are you obsessed with?
Are you obsessed with seeing Donald Trump succeed? Are you obsessed with seeing Donald Trump fail and go to jail? Both of those obsessions betray a true beliefs, a true faith at work. Neither of those should be the Christian obsession. Our obsession should be with the church and its involvement in the mission of God. Hauerwas says that liberal and conservative Christians, “Both assume wrongly that the American church’s primary social task is to underwrite American democracy. In so doing, they have unwittingly underwritten the moral presuppositions that destroy the church.”
If we are obsessed with politics and Donald Trump, we are putting too much faith in the powers and principalities of the age in which we live.
Where’s the Cross?
What Jesus does, is Jesus plops the cross down right in front of us and says: that’s the goal. To pursue the cross believing it’s the way to New Creation — that’s Christian faith. We are meant to pursue life in cruciform ways, cross-shaped ways, as we participate in the life of the church. The cross is the way of Christian faith, this symbol of self-sacrifice and forgiveness and laying down one’s life for a friend. Chase the cross, and you won’t just believe in Jesus, you won’t just have faith in resurrection, you’ll begin to experience it first hand. And there’s no chasing the cross apart from participation in the life of the church.
Faith isn’t about eradicating doubt. Faith isn’t about forcing others to believe just like you do. Faith is about moving toward–together–toward the cross despite of the fact we don’t know for certain how God will bring life from death.
I wish I could get people to be more obsessed with life among the peculiar people of God, and less obsessed with Donald Trump. Not that government isn’t important, but it’s not nearly as important as the church. I wish we all had more faith in God and less faith in society, and Donald Trump.