Chasing Faith

by R. S. Raniere

Having been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, faith, for me, was presupposed, a given, based in Christian Doctrine under the authority of an infallible pope. It was the religion of my parents, and their parents before them, and so on. As late as through the 1970s, reading the Bible had not been encouraged by the Catholic Church. In fact, in medieval times, it was forbidden. Praise God these peremptory restrictions no longer exist, for it is within Scripture—the sacred and inspired Word of God—that the fires of faith are ignited and burn, over and over and over again. With each reading, a new insight. Certainly, God speaks to us in many ways, but most profoundly through His Word.

As an adult, I came to the realization that what faith I possessed had been inculcated in me and blindly accepted, and faith (grammatically a noun) is in actuality an active verb; it requires action and commitment. It was during this ‘season,’ callously buffeted by the capricious winds of life and dealing with rising doubt that I understood this. And so I began to address my doubts by chasing faith.

Doubt is neither the opposite of faith nor the same as unbelief. Christian philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich wrote that doubt “… is an element of faith.” Where there is the light of faith, then, doubt is also present, lurking in the darkness.

We all have moments of doubt, no matter how godly we are… or try to be. Scripture is replete with righteous doubters (Luke 1:6; Mark 9:24; Genesis 15:7-8 and 17:17). No one is exempt. Even the disciples, who walked with Jesus and saw first-hand his miraculous power, even they doubted. But again, doubt should not be thought of as a negative response. Rather, it can be a building block; the more we pursue knowledge of God, the deeper and stronger our faith grows. Doubt, I submit, is the basis for belief, as it recognizes the existence of the thing that is in doubt. To quote Flannery O’Connor (a favorite writer of mine) once again:

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith… [People] think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe” [1]

Mary Flannery O’Connor was a devout Catholic. You will find the mystery, the presence, and, yes, even the depiction of the absence of God, in her novels, stories and personal journals. Her walk with God was an odyssey, a determined journey during which she chased faith assiduously and intentionally. Clearly a woman of deep faith, arrived at through actively pursuing God, despite—or because of—times of doubt and uncertainty, as she admits above. [2]

Why believe in God? According to Nietzsche, “God is dead!” He is merely the creation of humans in order to make sense of what we cannot understand (evil, suffering, death). This ‘philosophy’ is thoroughly refuted throughout Scripture. Ecclesiastes, for example, tells us that life with all of its unreasonable hardships has no meaning without God, and it is faith in this unseen, but very much living God that brings us the hope of salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9; John 20:29).

Over 84% of the world’s population follow a particular religion, evincing the inborn need for a relationship with a higher power, or creator. The definition of faith is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews (v. 11:1): “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” St. Augustine summed it up perfectly: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.” This is the quintessential response to why we are drawn to believe… and why there is no other rational answer to the purpose for our existence. Our souls are of God, and until they meet in relationship with Him through faith, there is no relief of their restlessness—not money, fame, drugs, sex, power, career—nothing other than God will satisfy the soul.

We doubt because we are human, and we see God through the lens of a limited perspective. But doubt can spur us to build faith: “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3). And knowing God through His Word is the key:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Some time ago, I invited an acquaintance to church. Her response was, “Oh, I’m not religious.” Later on that day, The Holy Spirit convicted me of not correcting her. What I should have said was: religion is a category; it has very little to do with faith, which is all about seeking and attaining a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

We were created for relationship with our Creator. God does not care whether or not we eat meat on Fridays if it is simply to follow established rules by a certain religion. Certainly, fasting is established in scripture as a means of sacrifice and purification. However, God cares more about what is in our hearts. If we fast or abstain from eating meat on Fridays, he wants it to be because it brings us closer to Him. By increasing our knowledge of God, our understanding of what He desires from us and our faith grow stronger, and doubt takes a step or two back every time.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

The words know and knowledge appear over 170 times in the (KJV) bible in reference to God. We cannot have a relationship with God without faith, and faith comes by the grace of God through knowledge, and knowledge comes through His Word.

Our humanness allows us to doubt, to question things we cannot see or experience ourselves. One of the more compelling questions, then, is: is everything in scripture truly inspired by God? The answer is a resounding yes! All the answers we seek are found in scripture, some plainly, and others esoterically; nonetheless, they are there for learning and growing in knowledge and faith:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16);

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third say according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6);

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2).

By stepping over doubt and pursuing knowledge of God through His word, you will find, as I did, that God is faithful, and His love for his creation, while beyond understanding, cannot be measured.

“Now this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Believe!


[1] The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
[2] For more on Flannery O’Connor and Faith go to: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/september-web-only/demanding-faith-flannery-oconnor.html


R. S. Raniere is a writer of short stories, poetry, and Christian non-fiction. Her publication credits include: a short story in an anthology (The Heritage Writers 2016)); a poem in Atlanta Review (Spring/Summer 2015); a short story scheduled for publication in the spring of 2022 (The Avalon Literary Review); and a Christian article pending in Bible Advocate. She also writes a blog on Spiritual Reflections. She’s a member of Crossroads Church, a Baptist-oriented denomination of the Christian faith. She leads a bible study group and is a part of Crossroads’ foster care ministry. She hopes—by means of the gift of writing—to fulfill the ministry Jesus calls all Christians to, and that is to “make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Expressing Christian beliefs and ideals through her writing is her way of fulfilling that purpose.

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