How to Hold Your Faith in an Open Hand

Imagine a bird. It’s the most beautiful bird you’ve ever seen. It’s feathers are stunningly vibrant and it sings the most magnificent songs.

This is such an amazing creature that you must have it. You want to capture it and keep it as a pet. You want it to sing for you. You love this bird so much that you talk about it constantly because you want everyone else to understand it’s significance. This bird is important to you.

But then, the bird wants to stretch it’s wings so you put it in a cage to keep it safe. Then, it sings at night while you are trying to sleep so you put a blanket over it’s cage so it will stay quiet. You didn’t realize how much time it would take to take care of it so the cage becomes a mess. The bird quickly becomes a mockery of it’s former beauty.

You become bored and disengaged but you feel obligated to keep it. You still love it, though, so you do, but it has to be on your terms. The bird has to obey your rules, after all, It’s your bird.

It longs to fly so you reluctantly bring it out of it’s cage but you hold on to it tight otherwise it will fly away. But that restricts the bird, it is not meant to be caged up or prevented from singing.

The bird needs to be free. It needs to be able to fly around and interact with different birds and other people. You’re scared because you think the bird won’t come back, that he will get hurt, or that the bird will come back, but changed in some way. That is terrifying.

The bird is our faith. I believe that living a more authentic faith means releasing our white knuckled grip on certainty and holding our faith in an open hand. It can be scary but it’s also more honest.

##Scrutinize Everything

Everything deserves to be scrutinized. That is the only way that we can be reasonably sure that what we believe is the truth. Like iron sharpens iron, questions sharpen our faith. If we are truly being honest, our faith is nothing more than a search for absolute truth and getting that right is arguably the most important thing.

The Christian context can be particularly tricky to navigate. Every Christian group has a set of fundamental doctrines that define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. These doctrines vary by denomination and tradition and usually involve some sort of secondary or tertiary doctrine. Stuff like soteriology and eschatology may have impacts on the way that we live our lives — and that is important — but, it doesn’t define what it means to be a Christian. Faith is more than blindly assenting to specific doctrines to fit into a particular Christian community. It is important to me examine these beliefs.

The core of Christian belief is a belief in Jesus Christ. It seems blasphemous but even that needs to questioned. What does that even mean? What does calling myself a Christian entail? How exactly am I supposed to follow Christ? Was Christ actually born of a virgin? Did He actually rise from the dead?

Some might say these questions are dangerous but they shouldn’t be off limits, even for Christians. Dogma like the resurrection of Christ, or the trinity are usually integral to the Christian faith but need to be examined as well. Over the years Christian traditions have answered these questions in different ways but that’s not the point, the point is that people are taking the time to wrestle with and answer them.

##Admit Ignorance

We have to be willing to throw out anything that doesn’t fit. If we wish to remain committed to the truth we must follow where the evidence points us. This is the only way that we can be confident that what we believe as truth is genuine. Part of openly questioning means being willing to admit when we have accepted a wrong answer in the past and moving beyond it in the future.

I am reasonably convinced that Jesus lived, died, was resurrected, and that he is in some way part of God. I would, however, discard my belief in Jesus if I could be convinced otherwise. If not, then my faith in Him is predicated on stubborn wishful thinking in which I presuppose him to be truth and make everything else fit. To me, that is much less beautiful than being open about fear and doubt. The way of open faith ultimately leads to a more authentic way of experiencing faith because it fosters intellectual and spiritual integrity.

(Convincing me against Jesus would be a really hard thing to do, but, I must be open to it if I want to be truly accountable).

In practice, we expect others to hold their faith (or lack of) in an open hand. Apologetics and debates are predicated on the understanding that the other person should be open to new ideas. Every time we hand out a tract or “share the gospel” we are expecting that the person suspends their belief in some way to be open to what we are saying. We assume that other people should be willing to admit they are wrong, why should we be immune to that?

We need to approach our faith like the scientific method. Science rarely has ulterior motives for deducing truth, it is impartial by design. For example darwinian evolution is often criticized by some creationists because it is assumed that scientists are trying to unequivocally prove that transmutation of species is a fact. The argument is made that the evolutionists are certain that they are right. This isn’t the case, science is a system that projects theories based on the best evidence at that time. If new evidence was identified that altered the theories of evolution (or anything else, for that matter) most of the scientific community would embrace it with open arms. The scientific method, by definition, admits that the hypothesis, methodology and conclusions could be wrong. As such, theories are always open to being changed or refined.

Faith should also be open to being changed or refined. Ecclesia semper reformanda est is a latin motto that sprang up during the Protestant Reformation. It means “the church is always to be reformed”. The church, more than anyone, should be able to grasp this concept. Faith should constantly be reforming, not just when a handful of reformers get fed up with the status quo.

Our faith could benefit from applying that ethos more. Faith, like science, can be explained as the best understanding of the evidence that we have at any given time. It should be open to new evidence.

##Embrace Doubt

It’s fine to doubt because it isn’t the opposite of faith. Consider the many people in the Bible that doubted and the ways that God still used them. If you have been in Christian community for any amount of time you probably already know the stories of Abraham doubting the promise that God made to him and taking matters into his own hands. Or the story of Thomas the doubter who had a hard time believing that Jesus had been resurrected despite doing ministry with Him for a long time. These stories are often used as an example of what not to do, but, doubt can be a useful human trait.

If we can look to biblical examples as common human experience then It seems that doubt is perfectly reasonable for the believer. Sometimes, doubt may be necessary to cultivate a deeper faith. Doubt is simply a search for truth, as such, it is an important aspect of faith.

Author Paul Tournier said “Where there is no longer any opportunity for doubt, there is no longer any opportunity for faith either.” I think what he meant is that faith loses its integral meaning when it is reduced to certainty. When faith is minimized to a group of propositional statements that must be intellectually accepted we have lost the wonder and mystical aspects of what it means to ponder an infinite God. Our words simply cannot define God so any attempts to do so will naturally bring up doubt.

Doubt serves a greater purpose. Because doubt is an extension of critical thinking it can help separate the wheat from the chaff. I think it is important to doubt things because it tends to eliminate dead faith. This process of doubting and purging creates a simpler, more elegant belief system and we end up with a streamlined religion that is stronger than it was before.

##Vulnerability and Rarity Amplify Value

We don’t value things that are common. We don’t attach significance to something If it can’t be broken or lost.

Love means more because it can be lost. Our love is more authentic because we only truly love a few people in our lifetime and we can lose those people. We value those relationships because they aren’t common and we aren’t guaranteed to have them. We gain a better understanding of love after almost losing someone, we no longer take them for granted because we now realize the vulnerability of that love.

There is a certain amount of vulnerability that contributes to the intensity of love. That’s what makes it so special.

Faith is the same. If we become complacent with the gift of faith and create an idol of certainty then we have lost much of the elegant simplicity of what it means to have faith. If we let our faith stretch it’s wings and it comes back to us (even if it’s changed) it has a unique significance that might have been missing before.

“If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”

At some point we have to admit that it’s possible that it was never meant to be. That maybe, we were living a counterfeit. We tend to hold on to aspects of faith for any number of reasons. Our intentions may be good but our faith is ultimately worthless when it is predicated solely on things like the faith of our parents or the current religion of our geography. That type of cultural Christianity doesn’t have any lasting significance because it masks the true heart of people’s identities.

There is no point pretending to have faith because it isn’t real.

Accepting that elements of our faith can be lost means embracing the realness of what is left. It means having authentic beliefs. We no longer just believe something because that is what we want to believe or someone told us to believe, but because we actually do believe it. Admitting that it is possible that we might be living a spiritual lie (something we are just pretending to believe) is the first step in defining a genuine faith.