Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Conatus; Freewill


If faith is defined as “belief in something concerning which doubt is still possible”, then every individual must decide their answer to the question What is truth? by discerning from the choices for action the best proposition seeking to ensure survival in light of the living out of what and how that truth is sought and lived in their life. The decisions that are made with regard to the answering of the question What is truth? are continually providing and maintaining a groundwork or springboard for living in the reality of the existential plight, realizing the personal responsibility for acts of freewill having weighed the consequences of that action against the possible repercussions. In “The Will to Believe” James stated the thesis as follows: “Our passional natures not only may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds…” The dilemma is created and complicated by the existence of the lack of certain knowledge, the rational and intellectual grounds for decision making. This lack of certain knowledge must be compensated for and in its absence fortified by belief, however its justification will remain weak as seen by the world around us because there is, “No intellectual preamble (that) can be used to make the supreme question less than an expression of faith.”

The freewill decision, to believe, have faith, seek truth, or any freewill decision, made by ourselves or others involves the anticipation of; and responsibility for an answer. The answer will be determined in part by the show of faith espoused in the resultant action and the subsequent justifying of the cause and effect relationship. We live in an arena not entirely of debate and thought, but an arena where action and reaction collide, where what we consent to and what we do not consent to intermingle with the pain and pleasure experienced as the result of the repercussions of decision-making and life's arbitrary happenings. At times we cannot put to word an adequate answer for Why? for How come? for What if? for... Faith and pain clash and leave behind dumbfounded and deafening silence. An answer without the understanding of the depth of pain or understanding the shallowness of thought reflected in the answer recommends 'silence as a virtue' and more often then not is the best option.

The depth of the issue of truth requires the even greater depth of an answer to the question What is truth? The will to believe in a higher power which controls destiny and manages the universe is an inherent mental acceptance made by most people. Some view life as being determined, a fate awaits all and its inevitability is unavoidable. There are Christians who believe the same, although they will disguise it as predestination or predetermination. I admit to a level of exaggeration solely for effect, but as I see it, it is the realization of the full impetus of the pendulum swing in thought to believing in a God who micro-manages the universe and places man as a mere puppet, manipulated by a God who chooses randomly and unpredictably those who are saved and those who are condemned. This viewpoint is not without validating Scripture references used by many to justify this mindset.

What I find disturbing is the many Scripture references allowing for the existence of a God who wishes relationship with people through their willing participation in His creation, in His story, by their assent to the conditions and terms of that relationship as outlined by God. It is in this aspect, this assent, the approbation, the determining to believe in a course of action which includes the propriety of God to act without regard for satisfaction or pleasure in the immediate that faith shows its greatest strength and impact. In the freewill decision to believe, however that is imbued in the conscious thought of man, there is removed the rational and conceivable perceptions of what God can look like and act like and more aptly a faith and belief in God is revealed that shows the fullness of fidelity, dedication and love of God through the most radical and yet fundamental expression of God, that being Jesus Christ. Freewill expresses the power of faith and belief by its option for choice. This is where faith and pain resolve their differences, in the belief in God who chose the pain to instill the faith, to pour out His love, to steep us in His presence via the paradigm of the cross, to empower the will to believe that Jesus represents the truth of God, that Jesus is the truth.

If Jesus’ willing sacrifice is the depiction of the truth about God, then the moral considerations, those things we sacrifice as an expression of our convictions, those beliefs that are the anchor of our faith, these are of the deepest and most crucial to our effective proclaiming that Jesus 'is the way, the truth and the life'. If placing one’s faith in God, is in essence trusting an authority that constricts the legitimate scope of human free will, this expresses the worst of faith. Faith exists not as a relinquishing of responsibility for one's life choices to any external authority, for whenever one sacrifices one’s authority they create a schism to being authentically human. To be man is to be a free agent acting as the the highest possible authority for constituting the values, meanings, and choices that define one's life and in that authority choosing the equal moral responsibility to ourselves and others by submitting to the greater good of choosing love for others over self-interest, even the self-interest of reward. For, if reward is the object of the self-sacrificing behaviour then self-interest is still the underscoring and predominate expectation of those actions.

Leviticus 19:18, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." No one will ever love God and his neighbour with any measure of pure, spiritual love, who is not made a partaker of converting grace. The proud heart of man strives hard against these convictions. One cannot avoid the supreme question What is truth? by admonishing each person to be “a being which is compelled to decide the meaning of being…” this leaves the meaning of being in the abstract—that “…man is freedom”— and fails to confront the fact that we do not live in the abstract. In the concrete reality of human life, the supreme question confronts us with a choice that decides one’s defining course of action, a necessary act of human freedom, designed to preserve the person and those elements of life necessary to survival. There exists a subterfuge or blind in the form of an ambiguity between freedom as conceived in the abstract and freedom as put to use choosing one’s initial life course in the dilemma posed by the supreme question. The true Christian has the law of love written in his heart and in this truth there lies the evidence of God. God is love and love is real. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a beautiful explanation of the law of loving our neighbour as ourselves, without regard to color, creed, or any other distinction. It establishes the kindness, mercy, and love of God our Saviour toward sinful, miserable man. We are this poor, distressed traveller. Satan, our enemy, has robbed us, and wounded us: such is the mischief sin has done. We have a dual responsibility in this, as having “...(an) equal dignity of being, (commissioned to love others as ourselves, and in this) possessed by my being-for-others and (the existence of) my being-for-myself (allowing my determined past and memory to affect my decisions) permit(ing)…(an opportunity to play) a perpetual game of escape from the for-itself to the for-others and from the for-others to the for-itself.” Our actions become the evidence of What is truth?. Our actions with regard to the distress and pain we see around us, give evidence to what we believe to be true in and about life. As believers we consider that Jesus loves us, has compassion on us, and gave his life for us; and having shown us mercy, he compels us go and do likewise. It is our duty, in our places, and according to our ability to succour, and to help and relieve all that are in distress and necessity. This too is truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First, realize that you only doubt because you have faith, and that you only are disappointed because you believe. Life is full of disappointment. Sometimes I get disappointed with God and angry because He doesn't step in and intervene in situations that I find difficult or that I would have intervened in if I could have. Sometimes God intervenes and I find joy, but often He doesn't seem to do anything. Sometimes I realize it's because God wants me to figure it out on my own, and sometimes I think God wants me to be disappointed with Him, so that I can learn who He really is, and not just some mental projection that I've made Him out to be.

Disappointment is a part of reality, and brings with it questions that are worth asking. I think that the disciples were disappointed on Saturday. I think their hopes and dreams had totally been destroyed. They had trusted in Yahweh as the absolute truth, and in Jesus as the absolute embodiment of Yahweh. And then he died. Prophets die, but the Messiah wouldn't have died. Revolutionaries die, but Yahweh on a cross? They must have felt utter disappointment in God. From their perspective, Jesus was dead and Caesar was still on the throne. The exile had yet to come to an end. On that Saturday, Jesus didn't show up to console their pain, to give them answers to their questions or anything else. He was dead, and they had no idea how to handle it. But that was on Saturday...

There was a time in my life whenever I really wanted to be a charismatic because I just knew that if I spoke in tongues that it would bring the absolute certainty I desired. Despite trying, I've never spoke in tongues. I used to struggle in my doubts figuring out any way possible to get that absolute answer, but every 'absolute' answer seemed to have loopholes. Then I realized something...certainty would kill my faith in the God of/in Jesus.

If I was certain about 'god', then I would certainly be worshiping an idol. Instead, faith which is the opposite of certainty in some regards, requires me to be humble when I speak about God. I can only doubt if I believe. The more I believe, the more areas I have for doubt. As strange as it sounds, there is something heretical about saying that God 'exists' or is 'real.' Of course, from our perspective He does, but to place God in our structured categories which we comprehend only diminish Him, doesn't it? God transcends our categories. To understand anything from our viewpoint is to only have a taste or a glimpse of who God actually is, any more certainty would be blasphemous. Thus, we press on in faith getting a glimpse here or a taste there.

At the same time though, God reveals Himself. On one level I've experienced God personally. On another I've seen His work in community. On yet another I've read and based my life around stories of His revelation in Jesus Christ. These aren't the types of empirical experiences that produce certainty, but they are very real and true. There are aspects open to empirical investigation within them, but the truth transcends the empirically certain. For instance, I believe that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is historically strong. But is that all we can say about the resurrection? That it was historically plausible? Of course not, because the truth transcends the empirical and our experience of the truth and seeing how the narrative shapes our lives provides a fuller answer.

So I no longer seek certainty, but instead have faith. In my faith I experience God in sacred spaces and hear God speak to me in the words of Scripture. I'm confident, but I'm not certain, because certainty diminishes the God I encounter in sacrament and word.