Good Questions: Why is Faith so Hard?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

So if believing is more than thinking God exists, if there’s awe, and a personal connection and commitment, then you have to admit that Belief is hard, and not just because of the invisibility of God. It’s the visible, the hard facts that get in the way of belief. Just watch the news. Horrors everywhere. Greed, corruption and hypocrisy among church people and leaders. The harm religion has done (although we should balance this with the hard fact that atheism has done more than its share of harm too!). Maybe we’ve been wounded, or just bored to death, by pious people.

Faith might also be hard because you have a sneaking suspicion that if you take the risk, if you take the plunge, it will cost you plenty – or maybe, finally, be what you’ve always been poking around for. It’s a promise, a pledge. Swearing allegiance to something we can’t prove exists is daunting – but isn’t it hopeful? Secular culture says It’s up to you; if there’s meaning, it comes from within you.

But are you enough? Maybe it’s helpful to step back and ask What’s a god, anyhow? Isn’t your god (or God) whatever it is that motivates you, that makes you pulse rise, on which you stake your dreams, what you believe will deliver the goods? For most Americans, their political ideology is their god. They believe, passionately and unreservedly, that their candidate, their party will be the dawning of all good. But it’s a false god, like so many that simply can never deliver the goods, never be enough.

I’m glad faith is hard. Easy stuff is… too easy to mean much. It’s the struggle, the labor, the long commitment that makes faith worthwhile. At least to me.

Maybe it’s helpful to think of faith as an arrow on a map: here, this way. It’s a journey, not an ID card. Maybe it’s deciding I am not my own. I belong to… God? and to others who make the same plunge of trust. Inevitably there is some not-believing floating around inside believing; but isn’t it inching closer to a God bigger than yourself or any other thing out there?

It’s like humility. Or curiosity. And mostly hope, courageously moving forward with a God we can’t see or prove and who doesn’t seem to fulfill the God-job-description we’d prefer. We hesitate a little, understandably, but if it’s a hopeful, trusting risk, maybe we get bold about it – at least as an experiment, the ultimate experiment. After all, if it’s God, and God made and envelops literally everything, faith lures us to be all in. Leonard Cohen said when you see how big a mess the world is, you have to raise a fist, or sing Hallelujah! – and he tried to do both.

We can distinguish the faith in which you believe, that is the content of what you believe, and then there’s the faith by which you believe, that believing part in your mind and heart. Straightening out the content will be our delightful if tangled quest in the rest of this series. Next we’ll turn to the Bible, and why on earth God gave us such a weird, long, complicated book instead of a dozen easily digestible bullet-points. Then What is God like? And what are some misleading, even harmful ideas about God out there or in your head? And then Why do bad things happen to good – or bad people? and more. Thanks for joining in thus far.