The grace of faith
In the New York Times on 14 August 2021, columnist Russ Douthat wrote an article called A Guide to Finding Faith. In it he tries to explain to his audience a way to find faith, while admitting that the “spell of materialism” is a substantial barrier. “Unbelief has its own comforts: It takes a vast zone of ideas and arguments, practices and demands, supernatural perils and metaphysical complexities and whispers, well, at least you don’t have to spend time thinking about that.” In a way Douthat is saying that it is highly unlikely that a modern person is going to reason their way to faith. I take it further. I say the search for faith is literally impossible with today’s mindset and paradigm about reality. But in that impossibility lies the way to faith.
Finding faith is a bit like being a larvae in a cocoon (if it were self-conscious), trying to see itself as a butterfly. The transformation from one state to the other is discontinuous — you can’t see with the eyes of faith until you have faith. So, one must give up the search and wait. In the larvae’s case wait for the transformation to be complete to understand what it means to be a butterfly. In the human case, wait for the gift of faith to be given. “Be still and know that I am God” says the Psalmist. [Psalm 46:10] In our human case, believing is seeing. But reasoning through all the complexities of modern knowledge and epistemology will never get you to believing. Sorry Mr. Douthat.
The theologian Karl Rahner said this: “The Christian of the future will either be a mystic or he won’t exist at all.” Another thinker said, “Faith will either affect ordinary awareness, create new ways of living and energize every dimension of life, or it will be formulaic, superficial and empty.” So, the journey toward faith is never over. People who call themselves Christians still face an impossible search: how to become a mystic and experience and follow God every day. In my own experience, God’s grace brings us to a point where we give up and admit we can’t find him. Then we wait, perhaps only for a short while, and God comes to us, gives us a gift we don’t deserve, and we see with the eyes of faith. I wrote a book about my own experiences called Living Well in the Presence of God.