What does it mean to have “faith”?
The definition ‘faith’ has changed
‘Faith’ would have been much easier 200 years ago before evolution theory was thought up. Why would God ask us to have ‘faith’ in a story that contradicts the geological and historical evidences? When I think about God, in His ultimate wisdom and power, I wonder why He would at one single point in history, in one single place, incarnate as a human and state that believe in a single narrative of His death and resurrection as the only way for humans to have a relationship with Him. And if this was, for some strange reasons we can’t understand, what God decided to do, then why would he allow human investigation into the evidence contradict this narrative? Why would He then request that humans ignore all the evidence and have ‘faith in Jesus’? Is this really what having ‘faith’ is about? Does it make sense that humans in 10,000 years time, would still have to learn and believe in the supernatural resurrection of a man from 12,000 years before them?
What is faith?
Prior to the Enlightenment, the truth of Christianity was not questioned, but was accepted by all as given fact. Christianity provided a meta-narrative that gave people understanding of the bigger picture and meaning of life. Presented as fact to the whole population, “belief” was not a concept that took “faith,” belief in Jesus and the Christian creeds, were taken for granted. In 1543 the Copernican of the earth revolving around the sun replaced the Ptolemaic view of earth at the centre of the universe, where the stars, moon and sun revolved around it. And everything changed.
Borg explains that in these times, “faith” referred to “trust in God,” that is, not being anxious, taking comfort in knowledge that God loves you and will keep you safe. Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And “Do not be anxious… you of little faith.”
Our Christian images have been filtered through primitive minds of a group of people inspired by God. At this time, they lived in a world completely different to the one we live today. A world of kingdoms led by kings. A world of mystery and superstition, a world of unknowns. Reliant on the natural world, with no idea how it worked. Not enough rain was a matter of life and death. The devil lived below them, controlling the frightening volcanic fire that could burst up from the earth’s crust and kill off full civilizations in a matter of seconds. God and his angels above, making sure to carry the sun across the sky every day, provide rain from the clouds for their crops, and transform into the most spectacular artwork for them to admire at night.
We no longer live under powerful kings, we know the earth is not flat, we understand the earth’s tectonic plates, how mountains are created, where the lava comes from and how clouds operate. The sun does not revolve around us, but us around it. We know what is beyond the sky is not heaven, but is a universe full of galaxies like the one we are a small part of. Does this take away from the mystery of God? No. Does it take away from the divine inspirations of our ancestors? No. What it does do is motivate us to re-evaluate our interpretations of these god-inspired words.
My interpretation of Faith
Faith is a commitment to God, connecting with him on a personal level so that you might allow His will to manifest in your life. His will IS your will. He is both inside you and outside you. That connectedness transcends any temporary desire your mind may begin to pursue. Hence we must get intouch with God, through our awareness and openness, and trusting that His will is your will too. By allowing yourself to swim with the tide rather than against it, you will not tire, but will get much further and have a much more prosperous, happy and fulfilling life. Faith means loving God, hence loving God’s creations. This includes loving yourself, loving others, loving nature.
Why would salvation be based on a formula?
I was taught that I must accept Jesus as Lord, his physical death and resurrection as his sacrifice in order for my sins to be forgiven so that I might be saved. Only those that know and believe this story will go to heaven. By how does this exclusivity fit with a loving God who created the world? Is this really what the Bible teaches? No!
According to theologian John Williams, the message in the New Testament is that any person whose heart is inclined to God is saved and that God has no favourites. God is for everyone. So why would God make salvation exclusive to a privileged group of people who by their education or culture are able to hear about Jesus, whereas the majority of the people in the world NEVER have the opportunity to hear? And why would salvation be dependent on the articulation of a formula? The Christian message is one of transformation and reconciliation, and a new creation in our inner being by the work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is always the work of the Spirit. It can never be the work of any person. So to keep consistent with the God of the Bible, it can be deduced that salvation must be universally available. The Spirit must be present and effective in all cultures and all religions. Salvation must involve a positive response by each and every person, to the work of the spirit in their life, no matter what external form that may take.
The position of Christian is not one of privileged salvation, but one of privileged knowledge. This knowledge can be shared in a loving way with other people who want to hear it. In the same way, God want us to listen to the views of others, so we can learn more about Him through the ways He has communicated and inspired them. Together a synthesis, an expanded knowledge of God, and experience as to the way God works in people’s lives. Neither a Christian nor any other religious person has the power to save somebody, and hence they should never see another person as a potential convert. All you would be doing is converting a person to a dogma with a set of rituals. To imagine that you are the possessor of salvation is idolatry because you’ve put yourself in the place of God. Salvation is God’s property not yours. Are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheists all equally saved as Christians? Yes, of course. Acknowledging this means our attitude toward people with other views will change. Starting with respect their another’s faith ripples out to respect for them as people.
What happened to people alive before Jesus?
One question which I have found very very difficult to reconcile with the Christian narrative is the conundrum faced when it comes to where all the millions of people that existed before Jesus, went when they died.
How can people be condemned for being born into other religions?
If the narrative of Christianity is true, that you must believe Jesus died for your sins in order to go to heaven, then all the people that lived more than two thousand years ago went to hell. But does that make sense? Why would God decide to send all the Ancient Egyptians, who dedicated so much of their time to wanting to please the God of the world that they dedicated most of their life on earth to building pyramids that they hoped would help provide them a pleasant after-life? The Sumerians, the first humans creative and smart enough to create a written language, were blessed with this intellect yet also condemned to hell? Because they did not know Jesus? How about ancient cultures of far-away lands, unknown to Bible writers, such as the Australian Aborigines, ancient Asians, native Americans… each dedicating much time and effort in hope of having a relationship with the Almighty Power of the universe – did they all go to hell too?
This seems ridiculous. Surely no matter what time and place on our planet we are born, our creator would love us unconditionally? Surely people striving for a relationship with ‘God,’ who record the revelations they receive in their own holy books, aren’t all wrong just because we are right? I think we must be pretty darn arrogant and ignorant if we truly think we are the only group people God loves enough to provide us the ‘knowledge’ of the one and only true path to him in a way that we find comprehensible and believable. The God of such a narrative would not only appear to be racist – ‘choosing’ one group of people and rejecting the rest of the peoples and animals He created; but to me He would also be quite unjust – condemning people’s ‘sins’ that come often from no choice of their own but from a consequence of their upbringing and life experiences.
God in man’s image – jealous and insecure
Another amusing point is comes from the observation of humans. I have noticed that the most attention-seeking individuals, who appear the most arrogant, have a deep desire for other’s approval and praise, and are the most insecure of all of us. Seeing as God of the Christian Bible portrays Himself as jealous, demanding no other idols before Him, His name not to be taken in vain, and other similar seemingly superficial immature requests, I truly question whether it is likely that the creator of such an incredible universe would really be so insecure?
It really doesn’t make much sense…
Why would a God help us discover the concept of Evolution, which makes an extraordinary amount of sense, along with helping us discover archaeology and various dating techniques, which all generally support a very big history of evolution; yet in contrast promise only to bless us with a heavenly afterlife if we are willing to forget reason and believe in a story seemingly spread by political figures for political reasons, unsupported by history and science, for general purposes of controlling masses of people? Why would He do this? It really doesn’t make sense.
Changing faces of God and His definitions of sin
At the start of the Bible we read about an angry God, Jehovah, who commits genocides of societies that are not his ‘chosen’ people, he kills his followers for trivial reasons such as Lot’s wife for looking the wrong way, he wipes out all of humanity except for Noah and his family with one huge flood. Jesus then presents God as Abba, a father, a God of justice, who love humanity and wants a close personal relationship with each of use through prayer. Revelations presents a once again vengeful God. Changing definition of sin in the Bible
From birth we are in a state of reward and punishment. Obey and be rewarded, disobey and be punished. This focuses on an external set of rules being imposed on us. The God of the Bible is treated in such an immature moral grounding. We also learn what is good for us through trial and error – when we get hurt we adapt our behaviour the next time. When we do something and it feels good, we are inclined to repeat that behaviour. We tend to accept our society’s definition of right and wrong, as God’s definition of such. In the twenty-first century hitting children with the stick as they Bible recommends, has been outlawed as the negative consequences of this behaviour both on the child and on society have been proven. We can only act within our limited knowledge, evaluating the impact of our actions on others and on ourselves, and making better decisions from there. Morality cannot be dictated- it must be found from within. In our generation, unlike in biblical times, ‘good’ need not be done in order to please a higher being, but may be done out of the pure motivation: love. Out of love for ourselves, for our neighbours and for our planet.
Heaven and the “Kingdom of God”
The concept of Heaven and Hell changes throughout the Bible. Ancient Hebrew Scriptures in the Old Testament describe the dead as leading a shadowy existence in a great cavern under the earth called Sheol, where everyone went whether they led a good or evil life on earth. This is similar to Pagan cultures at the time. After the Greek Invasion, Greek Pagan ideas about resurrection and eternal rewards for people who had followed the Law and been kind to others. Evil people would be punished.
Paul on the other hand writes of a heaven for those who had been saved by trusting and believing in Christ’s resurrection. He never talks about hell and seems to believe that unbelievers would simply perish and no longer exist. “The wages of sin are death”. The Synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke described Jesus as telling of a glorious eternal rest in heaven for those who are kind to the poor, and a Hell of eternal punishment: fire, worms and thirst, for those who were not. John describes Heaven is a reward for those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and does not mention Hell.
Scholars think that when Jesus talks about the kingdom of god, that he is referring to himself as a way of living, living a state in god’s presence. The kingdom of god is god’s presence with humanity. Jesus didn’t use the word ‘kingdom’ – obviously he couldn’t seeing as he didn’t speak English. The original word recorded in the Bible was the Greek word ‘basileia.’ Jesus spoke Aramaic not Greek, and the word he probably actually said is ‘malkuth’, a word with meaning close to the Hebrew word ‘shalom.’ Malkuth basically means a condition of state of peace and harmony. So, god’s kingdom is us and the world being in a state of harmony in god’s presence. When you hear the church speak of the Kingdom of God, and they use it to refer to the church. It most definitily is not. The church is an institution. The Kingdom of God is a condition of humanity in the world and if you belief Jesus’ teaching, it’s a condition that can be experienced now. (Note for further reading google “The kingdom of God” Secombe)
Creation and life’s purpose
A loving God will allow his creation a degree of freedom to find its own way hence the very nature of a God of creation must be evolutionary. Only evolution allows for infinite creativity, and for intelligent beings within creation, to have any influence as to how things evolve. One spontaneous creation, fixed for all time, is deterministic, allows for no human freedom, and is the work of a deterministic god. Creation is contingent within boundaries and allows for interactions in the environment and a multiplicity of potential evolutionary paths. God may well know the perfect evolutionary path for creation to follow but God, out of love, has given enough freedom for the creation to find a way which is not necessarily God’s perfect way however within the structure of creation, there are boundaries that will ensure that creation does not self destruct and will whatever path it takes reach an endpoint that is God’s plan. This is known as “Process Theology.” At the human level, it is obvious that life is contingent and that the behaviour of each and every human can influence the course of history, can influence the environment of the planet, and can potentially effect the life of each and every person. This is the freedom that God has allowed humanity and the world, and the way for humanity to ensure that world history evolves in the optimum way, is to work in partnership with god. In a deterministic creationist world, there is no need for any partnership between God and Humanity. Do you believe god is relational, and humans can have a relationship with him? What is the purpose, if they do not have a power to influence? How will people learn and discover, if God does not allow us to make mistakes and to suffer, and to discover how to resolve our problems and obtain a productive and creative society? Evolution is the creative mark a loving God.
The true nature of relationship between God and Humanity
To believe that humans are made in the likeness/image of God is to believe that humans are able to have a personal living relationship with god, as we are a reflection of the nature of god. One of the most important aspects of this relationship is human creativity, reflecting the infinite creativity of God. This human creativity is obvious in our world in scientific endeavour, in the arts, in human inventiveness, ingenuity, and indeed in the ability of the human intellect to understand the very nature of the universe. God has willed for humans to have this capability and to a degree to be co-creators with God. All for the universe is continually evolving, and human consciousness continues to evolve to higher levels of understanding and the journey of discovery has no end. Humans reflect the nature of God mostly when they live in loving supportive relationships with each other. Indeed the very development of human nature, and the richness of human nature, is dependent on human relationships. Every time we alienate another person, we diminish our own humanity. Every time we embrace another person, we enrich our humanity. The enrichment of human society requires difference and diversity and for each of us to experience diverse cultures, and develop diverse understandings, dialogue and sharing of experiences – all an essential part of human development. This understanding of humanity and human community is a direct reflection of the communal nature of the Christian God. The ultimate purpose then, of humanity, is to be co-creators with God in the evolution of the universe.
Jesus died for our sins
Do you really think God, a power so incredible he can create the universe, is going to worry about your mistakes? Do you think he expects more from you than what you are able to give and do? You think because you stole a candy bar when you are a child, He wants to punish you just because you don’t tell Him you are sorry? Don’t you think God would be bigger than that? Don’t you think he would forgive without question, without even a thought? Don’t you think a God of love, simply wants for us whatever we want for us?
John explained to me,
“The doctrine of the cross is also very confused. Many Christians believe that Jesus was punished on the cross by God, in the place of humanity. But this is not even biblical. There are many metaphors to explain the cross, but the central doctrine is that Jesus reconciled humanity with God, not the other way around, ie not reconciled God with humanity, because God didn’t need to be reconciled. Humanity has a problem not God. If many Christians don’t get this central doctrine, how many other misunderstandings do they have? Jesus is dying to appease God’s wrath – the idea that God is dying to save us from God, is completely illogical.”
When Jesus is worshiped as God, is this idolatry?
Sex and Guilt
I have seen Christianity cause harm to many lives, particularly when it comes to the issue of sex outside of marriage. Many Christians get married young so they can have sex, and from that point on have remained in a very unhappy marriage for half if not all of their lifetime, hurting children they produce in this dogmatic process. I’ve seen young people repress their sexuality, rejecting potentially wonderful relationships with non-Christians and finding themselves old lonely virgins. I hear and read of cases within the church where this repression morphs into the horrific events like sexual abuse of young boys or rape of daughters, not to mention the devastating consequences of the banning of condoms on the AIDS epidemic. Sex is treated as an evil temptation that is a sin against God, rather than the acceptance of sex as a natural desire we have to love and be loved, and express this with ultimate closeness.
I have not altogether avoided such harm although grateful to escape it to the most extent. I did struggle with sex issues when I was an evangelical and inlove with my boyfriend. Yet reading the Bible for myself, rather than accepting the Church’s teachings as authoritative, I realized the Bible never specified sex between two people who love each other, as being a sin. Sex is a subject that all of us must learn not to repress, but to control and enjoy as the ultimate expression of love for another person.
God is Love
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13
If God is love, ‘He’ will not keep record of wrongs, he will not seek praise and will not envy whatever we dedicate our life to. Jesus’ taught his followers that the way to find the kingdom of God, ie of finding peace on earth, is to love God and love others. Loving God and loving others is not about declaring my description of God as right, and other’s description as wrong. Loving God and loving others is about embracing the wonderful mysterious power behind life that we call God, connecting with this force, listening to that inner voice, following the signs that will guide you toward fulfilling your life’s potential. It is in these two universal teachings that we can continue Jesus’ movement toward a true state of peace that begins in you and from there will radiate throughout our planet and universe.
Chapter 1 – Introduction Click here
Chapter 2 – Is the Bible the “Word of God”? Click here
Chapter 3 – Is Jesus Christ the “Son of God?” Click here
Chapter 4 – Discussing the contradictions Click here
Chapter 5 – What does this mean for my life today? Click here
Chapter 6 – My conclusions Click here