Wednesday, December 21, 2005

'How can I get faith?'

Shane at Wesley Blog is planning to lead a study sometime soon and is tossing around a few options for a theme. One such option is a study around the concept of faith. He lists some questions that he might explore, one of which is, 'How can I get faith?' I share here the comment I left there, along with some other musings:

When I see the question, 'How can I get faith?' I think of a doctor writing a prescription: 'When it runs out, it's good for one refill. Then let me know if you need more.'

Something about the question seems to quantify it in a way that it probably doesn't intend. It's probably just how I read it.

So I guess that this is all to say that I tend to stay away from explanations of faith suggesting that one can 'get' it through simple proposals ranging from 'just pray hard' to 'just read your Bible a lot' to 'just go to church and Bible study enough' to 'just ask Jesus to [come into your heart/dump some faith in/save you/fight your demons/etc.].' Those things certainly can have a positive effect on faith and help it grow, but doing those things assumes that faith has already been 'gotten' to some degree.

With Christmas quickly approaching, I've been looking at the birth narratives of the Gospels. The lectionary for Christmas Day is John 1:1-14. This passage is not a birth narrative in the strict sense, but does describe what John's community thought about Jesus' origins: the Word of God which existed before the world. Belief, or pistis in the Greek, in this Word is one of the Gospel's chief emphases. This is not the kind of belief that one has that a chair exists. One might better think of it in terms of the belief it takes to sit in the chair without worry that it will collapse, tip over, electrocute, fart, or otherwise harm or embarrass the sitter. This sort of belief is better rendered as trust. Jesus asks, 'do you trust me? Do you trust what is said about me, what I say about myself, what God says about me? Do you trust me enough to follow, to die?'

Saying you believe is easy. I believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin, Sherlock Holmes, Leprechauns, unicorns, kryptonite, and the little green man who turns off my refrigerator light when I close the door. What has my belief yielded other than a string of fairy tales that most would consider absurd? It's a statement of faith that has accomplished little more than raise a chuckle or smile from one or two people who will read this later. Anyone can make such a statement about faith in anything. But is it a sign that anyone has 'gotten' faith?

What if I prayed enough to 'get' faith in any of these things?

What if I read enough stories about them?

What if I went to enough gatherings that professed some sort of groupbelief about any of them? Well...we usually like to refer to groups that are successful in this area as cults...which raises other questions altogether. Of course, here I refer to mere attendence rather than any sort of techniques meant to artificially instill changed ways of thinking...which could still raise other questions for the church.

So how can one 'get' faith? If there was an easy answer, I probably would have shared it by now. I think it has more to do with trust, with a willingness to step out at any one moment and know someplace deep down inside oneself that there will be ground to step on. There's no tank and mask to strap on beforehand. You just start walking and keep breathing. Long before Thomas' most infamous episode in John where he talks about putting his hands in Jesus' big gaping spear wound, he's given another line before the disciples follow Jesus to Lazarus' tomb. Everyone is freaking out because Jesus wants to go back into the lion's den, back to where people had just tried to kill him. Amid all their uncertainty, Thomas says, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.' If that isn't faith, I don't know what is!

Maybe when we ask how we 'get' faith, we're asking with the wrong definition of 'get' in mind. The question might assume 'get' in the sense of 'acquire,' like when I need to get more salt to put in the water softener. Maybe if we thought of 'get' in the sense that one understands, like 'Get it?' or 'No, I don't get it.' How can I get (read: understand) faith? What do I need to get? What we Christians (perhaps particularly Euro-American ones), in our emphasis on creeds and statements and confession, need to get about faith is that all the words in the world don't amount to faith the size of a mustard seed if nothing is done with it. To go, to follow, to act, is a sign that we get faith, that we understand what it means, that we know what it's about.

You believe that that chair exists? Have a seat. Then we'll know.