Opinion Columns & Blogs

The many shades of faith

Last week, Glenda Wallace of Macon wrote a fascinating and intriguing letter to the editors about faith. She confessed her own faith in Jesus as: “We truly believe in him as those who know… because we have encountered him face-to-face for ourselves.”

I personally know three other women who claim to have encountered Jesus “face to face.” Unlike Glenda, who no doubt used that phrase metaphorically as John G. Kelly pointed out this week, these other women say they physically sat down with Jesus and talked. Whether they were hallucinating or not, they speak of knowing Jesus, not believing in him. But that’s not what Glenda Wallace means, I’m sure. Glenda speaks of faith, not knowledge – but a faith so powerful it almost seems like knowledge. Almost. But not quite. There is a difference.

However, even in this difference there are many shades of faith. I can think of three:

The Childhood Shade. “If mommy says it, I believe it. She said I have a Guardian Angel who follows me everywhere. I believe it. She said God sees me, just like Santa Claus, when I’m bad. Mommy’s never wrong.” Many switch out mommy for their pastor.

The Adolescent Shade. “I believe what everyone around me believes. If I’m a Southern Baptist, I believe dancing is bad; if I’m a Roman Catholic I believe the pope is infallible. I don’t have the time or the interest to investigate all these things. I’ve got a life. You’ll recognize these people immediately; like teenagers, they’re always right,

The Adult Shade. “I ask questions. For example, what happened to the 21 gospels that were not accepted and the seven that were lost? Why do we have only four gospels? Were all of them inspired by the Holy Spirit, and if not, why not? When we use 2 Tim. 3:16 to prove the scriptures are inspired, isn’t this circular reasoning and immediately false?” These people pop up where you least expect it and they make you very uncomfortable.

With these (and many more) shades of faith it becomes very clear why discussion on faith is almost impossible. When somebody asks me if I believe in God and I answer, “Which God?” they think I’m an atheist. I’m not. I just want to know which definition they’re using. I don’t define my God as the Rabbi-God of Gen. 1:1 who created the world in six days and rested on the Sabbath. Nor is my definition the good ole boy-God of Gen. 2:3 who played with Adam and Eve in the garden. My definition is not anthropomorphic.

Which brings us to the New Testament. Many Christians believe the four evangelists were eyewitnesses. I do not. Others believe Jesus was a myth; I have enough historical evidence to believe he was real — born in Galilee and died in Jerusalem. Many believe inspiration means every biblical quote from Jesus is accurate. This would mean Jesus told his fellow Jews he was Yahweh (John 8:58); I believe that would have been culturally impossible. I believe in a “deeds-based” Christianity not in a “faith-based” one because I believe this is the message of the historical Jesus.

I have many more statements of my faith and I believe they are grounded in evidence, but that’s just my opinion. I have studied this evidence for the past 72 years and this newspaper has graciously granted me the space to elaborate on my opinions. However, these opinions are just my shade of faith. I know my shade can be lighter or darker than several others here in Middle Georgia, and I welcome reading about theirs.

But faith, of whatever shade, is not certainty. Faith always implies some doubt. St. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “If God exists, please forgive me.” That sounds a lot like, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23). Voltaire once said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is absurd.” Faith is neither certain nor absurd.

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.