The Rev. Frank
A Faith that Lives in You
Faith. It means “to believe,” “to trust,” or “to rely on.” Faith is closely related with “to know” and “to hope.” For some people, faith is nothing more than a pipe dream—the opposite of knowledge and certainty. For these people, faith is at odds with reason itself. As George H. Smith said in his book Atheism: The Case against God, “Reason and faith are opposites, two mutually exclusive terms.” He goes on in very clear terms, “There is no reconciliation or common ground. Faith is belief without, or in spite of reason.”
Obviously, I don’t agree with Mr. Smith. Yet, I must acknowledge that there are some well-reasoned objections to the Christian faith that have been raised over time. They should not be ignored. I have referred to many of these questions at some length in my own preaching and teaching including: Why would a loving God allow suffering? Doesn’t science explain away faith? Aren’t other religions equally true? How do we know that Jesus really existed and that we have a true record of his life and teachings? How do we know that the Bible is true?
I could go on with questions. Real questions. Tough questions. Questions with which many people will struggle as they come to faith and grow in their faith. I like to think of myself as a reasonable, rational person and these are questions that I have personally struggled with over time sometimes emotionally and irrationally in the midst of personal tragedy. At other times I’ve tried to be a bit more detached and reasoned in my thinking. And I find that those times of detached, reasoned analysis also help me in my times of personal tragedy as I have those times of thoughtful reflection to draw on in the midst of pain.
Yes, there are tough questions concerning faith. There are also some answers, many of which will lead to more questions in an ongoing path toward learning more, coming closer into relationship with God.
Today’s second reading is the opening fourteen verses of the Second Letter to Timothy. Christianity is still at this point a young religion and yet Timothy is already a third generation Christian. He is reminded in the letter of a faith that lived in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This is the same faith that now lives in Timothy.
That is the challenge for each generation. You have to make the Christian faith your own. It’s fine at one point or another that your grandmother or mother, your father or uncle or brother have faith. But God does not have grandchildren. Each of us must make the faith our faith. At one point we must decide yes or no whether we believe the Christian message is real. Do we really believe that God created, loved us, died to redeem us and wants an ongoing relationship with us or not? Once we have come to believe, the journey is not over. We are to continue with an ever-renewed commitment.
At a recent clergy conference of our Diocese of Georgia, the most recent Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey told us that the world needs and expects believing priests. This is of course true. I stand here this morning to say as clearly as possible that I know in my bones and it does not contradict what I know with my brain, that there is a God who made us, loves us and wants to redeem us. I believe the Bible that we read here each week and try to pattern my life to follow its teachings.
But I can’t stop there and neither did Archbishop Carey. He went on to say that the faith we should have is an active faith not afraid of working through doubts and uncertainties to greater truth.
He then said, “Do I doubt? Of course. Every thinking person doubts. The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” For Carey, doubts and uncertainties may be God’s spirit leading us beyond the lesser truths where we have stopped along the way to a fuller understanding of who God is and how God acts in our lives.
Is Archbishop Carey correct? Is complete certainty is at odds with faith? Why can’t God just let us know that the whole Christian message is right. If this is the best way to live the life our creator wants, then why isn’t their proof so strong that we can’t help but believe?
The Christian philosopher Dallas Willard causes his students to confront this quandary each year. I found this illustration in Lee Strobels book, The Case for Faith. For those who are interested in taking a reasoned look at some of the questions of faith, a book like Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith or The Case for Christ can also be helpful. Let’s look at this one example. Try thinking through this scenario from Willard’s in-class hand-out:
Dallas Willard then asks his students, if the heaven opened and God so spoke that clearly and directly to some guy named Norwood Russell Hanson, what would this Hanson do? Willard’s best guess is that he would explain the whole thing away. Each of us has encountered God in some way or another, and if we want to do so, we can find some way to explain it all away.
I would like to open up the sermon at this point to reach beyond my own experiences. For those of you listening, I would love for us all to hear briefly from two or three people who have experienced God in a way that has left you feeling, “Well I’ll be, there really is a God.” Who would like to share one of those moments, that sure someone else could explain it away, but for you it was a chance to feel that there really is a God and there really is something to this whole Christian thing.
[Five people in the congregation gave personal examples.]
Each of us has encountered God in some meaningful ways, but if we don’t watch ourselves, we could explain it all away. No matter how God acts to make the truth of Jesus’ ministry known, we could just act as if we were deluding ourselves.
I need to admit one key problem. There are some questions which serve as obstacles to faith. And I could work with you to see some of these questions in a new light and you might find yourself no longer wondering about why we have suffering if there is a loving God, or how can we say that Jesus is the way, what about other ways. I could answer all those questions and you would still not get all the way from doubts to faith.
There is a gap between us and God. The story of our faith is that humanity in our freewill created this gulf between us and God. Then God came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and bridged that gulf. Jesus used the cross to open the pathway to reconnect with God. I’m just trying to be honest and say that rational thought can get you to the foot of the cross, but then it takes a step of faith to reach back toward God.
I want to show a brief video clip to illustrate what this looks like. It’s a scene from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the title character has to make a literal leap of faith.
[Show video clip in which
Indiana Jones steps out into
That is a literal leap of faith. But we also have to make that same step. Reason can remove obstacles to faith, but at some point, we have to say “I believe.” Where are you? Are you far from the edge of the cliff, still looking to remove some obstacles to real faith? I would be happy to talk with you about the barriers you see to trusting God. Or maybe you’ve taken that step of faith. Perhaps you have followed the advice of the Psalmist who said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Then God might be calling you to wonder about some certainty, causing you to test some of your lesser truths as you step out in faith to actually try to live as you feel God is calling you to live.
Each of us has to stop being a grandchild of God and take the step of faith to become a child of God. Each of us who knows that we are a child of God needs to walk more closely in the image of God’s son, Jesus.
 Quoted in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, which was inspirational in writing this sermon, though Lee does a better job with the topic than I do and I recommend both this book and The Case for Christ for those who want to pursue this topic further. On matters of rational thought and Christian belief, I also have found Alister McGrath’s Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths to be helpful.
 This illustration is quoted on page 254 of The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel.