I want to try to tell you what my faith means to me. My hope is that you will read something here that may prompt you to think about your faith and how you would describe what it means to you.
Without going into a lot of detail, let me just say a few words about what this post is and is not. It is a testimony about how what I consider to be a living faith in a living God shapes my life. This is not a statement of my beliefs. If you want that, I’ll post it next time. This is also not a statement about my ministry. If you want that, I’ll post something about that a little later.
What I want to do here is tell you in simple and practical terms what my faith is and how it matters to me. So…
My faith is about a God who is real to me. God is as real to me as any person I know. Of course, I don’t see God with my eyes or hear God with my ears, and I often don’t feel the presence of God with any inner sensation. But God is real to me like air is real. God is all around me, outside me and inside me. God is intimately aware of me – God knows all about me and thinks about me all the time. And I am aware that I am breathing God and swimming in God. As it says in the Bible, “In him we live and move and have our being.” My faith lets me experience a God who is real and who is present.
My faith makes me aware that God wants things for me and wants things from me. This is a way of saying that God has an intention for me. How do I know this? Mainly, I know it by how I feel when I do things. When I do some things, I feel a kind of peace and harmony – I feel a positive flow of energy. Its like being carried along by a warm current. I feel like I’m moving with the flow, and it just feels right. I feel like I am moving forward, like I am growing, and I feel very grateful. On the other hand, when I do other things, I feel all out of whack. Everything feels awkward and out of harmony. There’s a clash and a kind of harshness to things. It feels like I’m swimming upstream, like I’m on the wrong bus, like I’m knee deep in a muddy swamp. Slog, strain, try harder and still get nowhere. I feel frustrated and resentful. My faith teaches me to pay attention to these feelings and seek a positive flow of peace and harmony, because God has a way and wants me in it.
I talk to God all the time. Sometimes I talk in words, but most often I talk in thoughts. I ask God all kinds of questions. I ask about people and choices and things I don’t understand. I ask about the Bible – what it says, what it means, how it matters. I ask about my work for the church – what I should do, what I should say, what direction I should point. And God answers me. Sometimes God answers with the feelings I was just talking about, but most often God answers with thoughts and ideas. Things occur to me. I get ideas. It would be easy enough to say that these thoughts and ideas just pop into my mind from nowhere, but my faith tells me otherwise. My faith tells me God is behind this. These thoughts and ideas are not infallibly correct and fitting. Some don’t work out at all. But many do – way too many for it to be random. Of course I think about things a lot. I read and study and meditate a lot, and my personal history is full of this stuff. So I could say that its research and hard thinking that yields good thoughts and fruitful ideas, and it’s true that my time spent in study and reflection is important. But my faith tells me that genuine insight is a gift – an inspiration – a grace. It comes to me, not just from me.
My faith tells me that God is doing something of ultimate importance in the world. Ultimate importance. To me that means that there is nothing, NOTHING, more important than what God is doing. I don’t know what God is doing in detail, but I’ve got a clue. God is creating a good world. My faith teaches me that God is good and is making the world good. That includes making people as good as they can be. It makes a huge difference to me to be a part of that creative process. To participate as a partner with God, as what C.S. Lewis called “a sub-creator” is hugely important. It gives my life meaning and purpose. This transcendent purpose is what keeps me going. If I didn’t feel like I was part of something much bigger than myself, something much more important than me, I think I’d be tremendously bored. I’d feel like my life was a big waste of time. All this is about having an answer to the big question “WHY?” Why am I alive? Why does my life matter? Why should I care? Why should I get up and keep going another day? Why? Because I am involved in God’s doing something of ultimate significance, something of Biblical proportions! To put it simply, my faith gives my life meaning.
My faith teaches me that God is incredibly clever at using everything to work out His creative purpose. Lots of bad stuff has happened in my life. I’m sure it does in almost everybody’s. I’ve done stupid and hurtful things. I’ve been ashamed with good reason – and without good reason. I have known emotional pain and I’ve experienced loss. I’ve seen people I love suffer and felt helpless to do anything about it. There are parts of my personality that I like, and parts that are broken and misshapen. But even through all the bad parts of me and bad things that happen, God seems to be able to still use this stuff for His purpose. Its as if nothing is irredeemable. Nothing is beyond the hope of still being the vehicle for good. This is what some people have called “the providence of God.” I believe in this. My faith teaches me that God has a fantastic knack for bringing good out of what goes badly. This give me hope. My faith tells me to never give up hope, because God is not frustrated by any kind of setback.
My faith also tells me that the adventure of being alive with God is going to go on forever. A few years ago there was a movie called “The Never-ending Story.” One part of that story always and endlessly led to the next. My faith tells me we are on a “never-ending journey” of creation and discovery. Just when we think we have learned all there is to know about something, bang! Some new insight occurs, some new way of looking at things happens, and we realize that we’ve only just scratched the surface, we’ve only just begun. Sometimes people ask if I have a favorite Bible verse. I always tell them its 1 Corinthians 8:2 “Anyone who thinks he knows something, knows nothing yet as he ought to know it.” There’s always more to know, always new ways to know. Always more to experience, always more to discover. The poet T.S. Eliot wrote,
With the drawing of this Love,
And the voice of this Calling,
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
My faith tells me that God calls me onto a never-ending journey of joy and discovery.
These are some of the most important aspects of my faith.
Now you may have noticed that I haven’t said anything that much resembles a formal or creed-like statement of faith. I haven’t used many traditional religious words. I haven’t talked about heaven and hell, or about salvation from sin, or about judgment or mercy or holiness or being born again or resurrection or any of that stuff. I haven’t even said anything about Jesus Christ. All those omissions are on purpose. You see all that stuff is about religion – the Christian religion in particular. My faith is prior to my religion. Faith is a living trust in a living God. Religion is an attempt to describe faith and to regularize certain beliefs and practices that are meant to help us have faith and grow in it. Unfortunately, its way too easy to get religion and faith mixed up. Faith is what is of first importance. Religion is secondary. I consider myself a man of faith, but I know lots of people who are way more religious than I.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a Christian – a dedicated follower of Jesus the Christ, but I have to admit that sometimes the Christian religion with its many difficult beliefs and practices can actually be an impediment to faith. So I don’t ever want to get the cart of religion before the horse of faith. Do you think Jesus the Christ was trying to become the founder of a new religion? Or was he the true man of faith, trying to teach people the way that their faith in God might grow and become the ultimate guiding light in their lives? Do you think Jesus would be pleased that for over 2000 years those who claim to be his followers have fought and killed over what they thought were or were not correct religious beliefs? I don’t think so. Jesus embodied and taught what is at the heart of true religion – a living faith in a living God. That’s why when I set for myself the task of sharing with you something about my faith, I wanted to make it a more-or-less non-religious statement. I wanted to affirm what the 20th Century Christian martyr Deitrich Bonhoeffer called “a religionless Christianity.” I want you to see that even if you don’t know all that much about your religion, you can still have a deep and meaningful faith – a living faith in a living God that can shape the way you live your life – shape it for the good.
Stephen Quinlan ~ July 2013