I have about had it with faith. When Paul says, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three” (1 Cor. 13:13), I hope the order is alphabetical.
I am fine with hope — Shawshank Redemption kind of hope. Andy Dufresne writes, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
I am good with love — Princess Bride kind of love. Westley asks, “I told you I would always come for you. Why didn’t you wait for me?” Buttercup responds, “Well … you were dead.” Westley replies, “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
I am done with faith — Miracle on 34th Street kind of faith. Fred the lawyer argues, “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
Faith is the shaky one, but it has won the day. Googling “Christian hope” leads to about 392,000 results, “Christian love” to 570,000 and “Christian faith” to 11,300,000. The prevailing view is that Christianity is a set of ideas.
Some churches suggest faith is believing things that are not true. I was taught that faith says, “Everything works for good,” “God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle” and “It does not make sense to you or me or any thinking scientist, but the world is 6,000 years old.” For some, faith is thinking that, though it seems cruel, God is keeping your grandmother in the nursing home alive years after she wants to go. For some, faith is believing that God gives leukemia to a 7-year-old so she can sing in the heavenly choir. Some think that those who have the most faith are the ones who argue the loudest that the Christian faith is right and everyone else’s faith is wrong.
Somehow when Jesus said, “Come, follow me,” would-be followers heard, “Come, write creeds about what everyone has to think.” The Christian faith is reduced to opinions about the Trinity, the Bible, the church, sin and salvation. Stingy orthodoxy chokes the hope and love with which the story started. Some of the least loving people win Bible trivia. Some of the least hopeful people say the Apostles’ Creed without peeking at the order of worship.
The church too often measures not by heart and soul, but by conformity of thought. What passes for faith trumps hope and love. The church tells its members, “You have to believe these 10 ideas to be a Christian.” Then a 15-year-old takes tenth-grade biology and has to choose between science and faith.
For many, accepting easy answers and skipping hard questions does not work. Giving themselves to ideas that are less than their best ideas feels like wearing someone else’s wooden shoes. They cannot give their hearts to what their minds cannot accept. They cannot love a God they do not really believe in.
So the smart ones want a broader faith, more education and better ideas. They work to correct the answers they have been given. They make room for everything that is true. They do faith with a pencil and eraser in a loose-leaf notebook (or with an open computer file for which you don’t get to hit “save”). They look for the smallest number of opinions they can hold and still be Christian.
The difficulty with putting our ultimate trust in more open-minded theology is that Paul argues not for a wider faith as “the greatest of these,” but “love.” When Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment he went with “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.”
The questions are still bigger than our biggest ideas. Even the broadest faith does not give the answers we want. Why is there so much suffering? What is the relationship of Christianity to other religions? What about forever? The questions are beyond our ability to answer. The God of mystery does not make us feel smart. We cannot trust a faith that we can explain, but we can hope beyond our explanations.
We can put our faith not in refining our ideas about God, but in God. We can understand Christianity not as a set of beliefs, but as the way of life revealed in Jesus. We can live with hope and love like Jesus. We can live with faith in the wild hope and deep love of God.