We have a very limited understanding of faith. We think we know the how, when, and why of where faith begins and we think we know how to reproduce the experience, but we don't: Listen, he’s read the Bible, we raised him in church, he knows the truth--but apparently he’s decided to reject it. What else can be done? He needs to make a decision.

Many a evangelistic tragedies begin here, assuming that faith is merely a decision, something we do-- like choosing a haircut, picking out a new puppy, or voting. Awkwardly impossible though it may be, many Christians purport this strange re-telling of their story that, at the moment they were lost, they went and found themselves. It sounds difficult, I know. And were it true, it would completely screw with a perfectly good song.

Thankfully, In Mark we see something else.

Throughout Mark’s account the reader sees time and time again the thematic persistence of misunderstanding and obtuseness. According to the writer, the people following closest to Jesus don’t quite get him. They don’t understand his odd parables, the implications of his actions, and what his miracles point to. He tells stories and teaches like a prophet. He heals some, but he often demands they keep quiet about it, all-the-while explaining to them what things truly mean in secret. We see in Mark’s narrative the perplexing irony of faith in Jesus Christ, that though intimately guided by him, our ability to understand and to truly follow, is marred by great difficulty and complexity. Mark intentionally crafts his story in such a way that one must patiently wait and read further to see what really is transpiring in the life and events of Jesus.

Today we tend to read Mark as though the disciples are tragically naive. With the gift of hindsight, the scripture story, its meaning, message, and ending provided us, we assume for Mark’s disciples a kind of three stooges/ seven dwarves ignorance. “Oh those ignorant disciples.” we laugh. “Those silly, silly children (This of course is how I talk), how do they not know, how are they misunderstanding this, how do they not realize who He is?”

But imagine you were there. Would you have understood him? If you’d listened to his metaphors, his philosophic ramblings, waded through the crowds and stood on your toes to see this man-- would you have simply arrived at faith? Sure he did miracles, but such things were not completely unheard of. Even the names and labels attributed him were not uncommon: Caesar claimed to be divine, the son of god, the one who brings peace. This complicates things a bit, yes? What about when Jesus was made an enemy of the establishment? What about when he was put to death? Amidst it all, would you have somehow, simply believed?

Acceptance is a difficult and intricate phenomenon.

So look. I don’t claim to have any answers. Nor do I know where with exactitude things begin. But faith, in all its simplicity and in all its complexity, somehow is revealed in our lives. From the profundity of philosophical inquiry to the mysterious (re)awakenings that may only be attributed to unprompted epiphany, our experiences, with great beauty, vary one from another. And they're difficult to explain.

On a recent car ride up the Pacific Coast Highway, A friend told me that he’d always--from the moment he was self-aware--lived with this quiet but persistent awareness of God. Though seemingly incomplete, he could offer little else in explanation for the initiation of his belief. For others of us, faith arrives through a prolonged passion and obstinate desire for truth. These are the readers, the lovers of inquiry, of late night conversation over wine and dinner. C.S. Lewis, after six years of discussion with friends Tolkien, Weldon and Dyson, hopped in a motorcycle sidecar with his unbelief, rode to the zoo and arrived with faith; his encounter capturing the best of both the rational and the enigmatic. Our stories of conversion are large and compelling. Some are mystical. All, in so many ways, are mysterious.

And this is all fine and well, but what happened before faith arrived in your life? And when did the process begin? Did it begin in isolation, in a moment, without precursor? Before faith, in the days and years of your life prior to that moment of awakening, was God distant, unconcerned and ineffectual? Before faith arrived, was God somewhere else?

Or might it be that God has somehow been everywhere, in every moment, present even in your perceived ignorance of him? Could it be that your epiphany actually began long before your cognizant recognition of Jesus? Might, in actuality, your conceptions of the the when, where, how and for how long of faith’s beginnings be dramatically limited?

In the gospels, we find repeatedly Jesus confronting blindness and the deafness. For Mark, it would seem apparent that people around Jesus can neither see nor hear what they need to see and hear. The metaphor here shouldn't be too difficult to grab a'hold of. So in Mark's story, in the lives of these blind and deaf people, what can be done? Is it possible that someone blind might simply make a decision to see again? Can a deaf man recognize his impairment and, by his own effort, will himself to hearing again? Do the blind and deaf need a talking-to, a Tony Robbins who can convince them to just want-it more? Of course not.

What we see in Mark is a humanity consistently unable to help themselves.

And what, on all these occasions, must be done to bring sight and to hearing?

Jesus must act.

For believers it is always this way. No matter how it is construed, it is never we who initiate the cause of faith in our lives. Rather, we first believe because God reaches out to us; we believe because God stirs us; we believe because he touches us and restores us to seeing and hearing those things that we must see and hear. Faith does not begin in an act we do or decide. Faith is not a moral condition or the product of sound judgment. And believing does not come when we finally wise up. No. Faith happens to us. It is given, provided, supplied. In all it’s simplicity and in all its complexity.

How would your judgment of "unbelievers" change were to you see your conversion, not in a isolated moment or through a single event, but as an ever-present current, persisting through your entire life? What would change if you came to understand God's presence, his life-giving power, to be at work in all people at all times in their lives? Have you forgotten that it was not you who brought sight to your eyes and sound to your ears, but God himself? Oh, but that would be too humbling...

Thank God that faith comes when He--not we-- acts. Thank God that it is He who gives us exactly what we must have to believe. Thank God it is he who finds us.

Faith, it’s beauty and mystery, is not ours. Faith begins with, depends on and belongs to God. He acts. And something happens.


Anonymous said...

this is a very confusing concept to me and always has been because i feel that if something is wrong i can just blame god because after all he is the one who lights the fire in me and causes me to want to love him and glorify him in everything i do, but i don't think it is right to blame him for those circumstances, is it? because in some cases it is my fault. for example, say i sin in some way, but i continue to ignore that sin, so the situation leads me into a deep depression, so then isn't it my fault that i am in the depression i am in and wouldn't it be my responsibility to come before the lord and beg for his forgivness? on the other hand, we read about pharaoh and how the lord hardened his heart, so how was pharaoh supposed to come to the lord in any way unless the lord softened his heart? which leads to the confussion of why the lord chooses some to be his children and others not. i mean i know everything he does is to his glory, but my puny mind only sees this as something very unfair and quite frankly a tad bit evil. maybe i have no idea what i am talking about and i probably don't, but do you know what i am saying? it's all very confusing. i guess it all comes back to the imperativeness (i think i can add 'ness to the end of imperative) of having faith and trusting in the lord because he knows what he is doing and my insignificant mind won't understand unless the lord wants me to understand or opens my eyes to understanding.

Anonymous said...

it all seems to be a vicious cycle.

beyondimensions said...

Well certainly I agree with you both that these ideas are very difficult and unclear. When it comes to understanding how God works, it's all speculation, right?
But I have a couple of thoughts:

"...For example, say i sin in some way, but i continue to ignore that sin, so the situation leads me into a deep depression, so then isn't it my fault that i am in the depression i am in and wouldn't it be my responsibility to come before the lord and beg for his forgivness?"

Considering your hypothetical situation here, brought a couple of questions to mind:

1.) Does "ignoring" a particular sin mean that the individual is unaware of the problem or that he/she is aware but simply not dealing with it? The question here arising--How does God deal with those things sins of which we are completely unaware... and I would add, those that probably make up the majority of our sin. Keeping in mind that we do not know those things which we do not know that we do not know... It is possible, right, that we may likely be unaware of many (probably most) of our faults?

2.) Okay. Secondly, supposing that we are aware or unaware, persisting in or else free from sin, supposes that there is some other state to exist within-- some sinless (or less sinful) state of being. But is that possible?

*I think that often I deal with a self-created prioratization, an ordering, of which sins matter and define me and which do not. Dealing with one area of sin, we feel good and free from that thing, but ignore or downlplay other problem areas in our livs.

And its not that I would have myself feel awful all the time, but rather, I want to feel a sense of constant dependence on the grace and forgiveness of god, never sensing myself to be truly "better" at one point in my life than another. For if I feel anything, today, with more "Christian" experience under my belt, it is a greater and greater sense of unworthiness, of dependence, and gratefulness for what God offers me in my unworthiness.