A Few Words against Faith

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.

 


 

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The Bible in just six words

Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” is the most famous six word story, but others have also tried to tell an entire story in just six words:
“Hmm, that’s new,” the doctor said.
Python eats porcupine. Regrets it later.
Convicted hacker escapes using hidden file.
Only child, but never the favorite.
My headstone was a participation trophy.

What if we tried to tell the stories in the Bible with only six words?
God makes good stuff really fast. (Genesis 1)
Sly snake. Sneaky woman. Stupid man. (Genesis 2-3)
Should have created more brotherly love. (Genesis 4)
Rain. Boat. Animals. Noah gets drunk. (Genesis 6-8)
Tall tower falls. No United Nations. (Genesis 11)
Abraham leaves for God knows where. (Genesis 12)
Isaac starts to hate Father’s Day. (Genesis 22)
Momma’s boy tricks slow big brother. (Genesis 27)
Climbing Jacob’s ladder makes great song. (Genesis 28)
Jacob is, surprisingly, a big-time wrestler. (Genesis 32)
Joseph dreams, tells brothers, road trip. (Genesis 37)
Potiphar’s wife acts like desperate housewife. (Genesis 39)
Pharaoh’s dream gets Joseph early parole. (Genesis 41)
Baby in boat. Questionable parenting decision. (Exodus 2)
Blood. Frogs. Gnats. Flies. Six more. (Exodus 7-12)
Charlton Heston parts the Red Sea. (Exodus 14)
Ten things you should not do. (Exodus 20)
Aaron learns to make golden calf. (Exodus 32)
Ikea style instructions for a tabernacle. (Exodus 35-40)
Ten cowardly spies. Two James Bonds. (Numbers 13-14)
Poisonous serpents. Bronze pole. Confused commentators. (Numbers 21)
Talking donkey smarter than the preacher. (Numbers 22-24)
How’d they know where Rahab lived? (Joshua 2)
Jericho’s thin walls can’t handle trumpets. (Joshua 6)
Sun stands still. Explain that, Copernicus. (Joshua 10)
Samson becomes argument for long hair. (Judges 13-16)
Cute foreigner seduces rich old farmer. (Ruth)
King Saul is candidate for recall. (1 Samuel 16)
David doesn’t need a ten-foot pole. (1 Samuel 17)
David and Jonathan, Batman and Robin. (1 Samuel 18)
King David dances in his skivvies. (2 Samuel 6)
Absalom’s hair gets him hung up. (2 Samuel 18)
Solomon passes on cash, chooses wisdom. (1 Kings 3)
Solomon says, “Cut the baby!” “No!” (1 Kings 3)
Ahab marries Jezebel, should’ve dated more. (1 Kings 16-22)
Elijah sets off big fireworks display. (1 Kings 18)
Dogs lick up Ahab’s blood, yuck. (1 Kings 22)
Elijah takes fast and furious chariot. (2 Kings 2)
Naaman bathes in muddy river, spotless! (2 Kings 5)
Beauty pageant winner takes down anti-semite. (Esther)
Job’s wife gets raw deal, too. (Job)
Daniel refuses meat. Lions refuse Daniel. (Daniel 1-6)
Whale eats upsetting prophet, throws up. (Jonah)
Christmas: only cold day in Bible. (Luke 2)
King Herod has no Christmas spirit. (Matthew 2)
Simeon stops looking for blue blankets. (Luke 2)
Twelve-year-old Jesus gets lost at church. (Luke 2)
John the Baptist, Willie Nelson’s haircut. (Matthew 3)
Jesus gets baptized. Father attends ceremony. (Matthew 3)
Satan tempts Jesus with temple bungee-jump. (Matthew 4)
Jesus calls, Zebedee loses free labor. (Matthew 4)
Jesus heals mother-in-law, son-in-law mostly relieved. (Matthew 4)
Nazareth congregation unhappy with the preacher. (Luke 4)
Blessed are the who? For sure? (Matthew 5)
Jesus suggests fasting, church potlucks nonetheless. (Matthew 6)
Jesus tells storm to shut up. (Mark 4)
Jesus brings Sauvignon Blanc to party. (John 2)
Nic at Night, prominent minister flummoxed. (John 3)
Jesus takes a little boy’s lunch. (John 6)
Adulterous woman caught, where’s the man? (John 8)
Jesus walks on water. Don’t try. (Matthew 14)
Good Samaritan makes priest look bad. (Luke 10)
Fatted calf wishes prodigal stayed away. (Luke 15)
Lazarus waves at wealthy weenie in hell. (Luke 16)
Leper comes back, provides Thanksgiving text. (Luke 17)
Sycamore tree in Jericho becomes famous. (Luke 19)
Jesus misses Lazarus’ funeral, makes amends. (John 11)
Jesus rides donkey, but crowds cheer. (Luke 19)
Jesus curses defenseless fig tree, huh? (Mark 11)
Jesus ruins stewardship day at temple. (Matthew 21)
Widow’s two pennies, stewardship day saved. (Matthew 23)
Jesus washes feet, doesn’t catch on. (John 13)
Peter promises to be brave, fails. (Matthew 26)
Jesus promises the cross, then delivers. (Matthew 27)
Men hide, women go to tomb. (Luke 24)
Christ is risen, is risen indeed! (Luke 24)
Spirit interrupts first church business meeting. (Acts 2)
Stephen should have rotated off diaconate. (Acts 6-7)
Fire-breathing Saul knocked off high horse. (Acts 9)
Paul in prison: favorite hymn night. (Acts 16)
Old Jerusalem done, New Jerusalem upgrade. (Revelation 21-22)

What if we try to sum up the whole Bible in six words?
We mess up. God loves anyway.

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