Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The question of what "faith" is just came up between James Schultz & me, & we agree on at least a couple things about it:
1) It doesn't mean the same thing as "belief",
2) Many people think it does.
I'm not sure how to start this off... Maybe an analogy: Many people think "imagination"= 'the act of thinking up things that don't make any sense, don't relate to the "real" world, etc.' And some people (Ursula LeGuin being a prime example) mean something more along the lines of: ~'seeing how actual things must behave, working from limited data, intuition, extrapolation from experience & better-known cases.'
What brought this up, for example, was James Schultz saying that humankind was meant to be guided by 'faith', not by what we sense.
First off, prior to Jesus we don't see much mention of "faith" as a religious concept. There's an example where a prophet tells a king of Israel: ~Ask me a favor and I'll do it for you, so you'll know what's God & what isn't... but the king declines. That's about trying to get the king to put his faith in God's help rather than in how many chariots he can get (from Egypt if I remember right), but the word isn't used there. Jesus is alluding to the same meaning in the parable about building one's house on bedrock rather than loose sand, again without the word. Faith becomes a central concept in relation to the 'Kingdom of God': One is either serving that, via putting one's faith in God and acting accordingly, or serving the Kingdom of Mammon by putting one's faith elsewhere: "In money we trust"-- (or in weapons, or in the police, or in civil disobedience performances etc. etc.)
Where I can trust the attribution, when I deeply examine the meaning of a saying, Jesus just makes a whole lot more sense to me than the conventional wisdom. (& where we disagree, I think it's a matter of context, ie what "divorce" meant in 1st Century Palestine not being quite the same as in 21st Century US.)
I don't, by the way, consider him "a Christian". (& no, I'm not at all sure whether I am, or exactly what that would entail.) His influence on "Christianity" has been good-- but hardly enough to overcome the habits & preconceptions that Christians generally bring into it.
"The Scriptures?" I'm still headspinning about those... which can hardly be the product of 'accident', but weren't written by clean hands, either. A certain amount of Truth got into them... but sometimes I'm inclined to favor the Doukobours' idea, that scriptures should be oral, sung, never written down!
"To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn around, and be forgiven."
A libel against God, if I'm not much mistaken! Much of what Jesus is quoted saying in public speech is somewhat disguised-- but not so his enemies wouldn't "get it", rather so they would understand, but not be able to (immediately) hang him for it.
Parables... seem to have more to do with things that are simply hard to convey more directly. They aren't said explicitly because the metaphor of a parable renders them more clearly true than a more abstract formulation-- and because new meanings can come to light years after one thinks one "understands."
Ah! Joey, I now understand. I went out with a Mormon boy once, many decades ago. He pronounced me "stubborn" for not taking what he said on faith. I now see that he meant I wouldn't suspend reason and logic. I still won't.
I was raised agnostic by design. The existence of God cannot be reasoned. Faith, as in suspending logic, will not work for an agnostic.
But here I am, a devout Quaker, wrestling with the concept of Jesus but not with the concept of God. Why is that? It is because I have directly experienced God. I cannot explain that or reason it. It just IS. I could run away from that or embrace it. I did first one and then the other.
This is not FAITH. It is NOT a matter of will but a matter of letting go of that willing, letting go of the wrestling, and letting God take over. Without understanding that direct experience of God, you aren't going to reach an agnostic. (But maybe that isn't your intent.)
I don't "believe" in a God. I know.
I believe that the following is not consistent with my understanding:
"I believe there is a physical place called Heaven and a throne upon which God sits, with Jesus at His right hand."
The "kingdom of heaven" is here and now as the "will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven." I believe that God is here and now and not in a physical distant place. I believe Christ is here and now and sits at the "right hand of God" which would mean that the presence of God and Christ are near and with everyone.
I agree with both of you, Joey and Tom.
And what I am called to do, as a child of God, is to witness to my "faith," as one might call it, even though it is not the same sense of faith as it is usually described. I am putting God at the center and undertaking whatever I am called to do.
That makes me not a proselytizer but an example to the world of what "love thy neighbor" looks like. At least, that is the mission I have been given.
As you say, Tom, God is here and now. I have no understanding of a distant place in the future, because it cannot be reasoned, and I will take no human explanation that it exists. If this means I am destined to rot forever in Hell, well, then let it be. My fears are not for my self but for disobeying God.
I am the last one to be quoting scripture, but I read John for the first time only two weeks ago. So I looked up the passage. Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." There is no "more blessed" language, although I can see that you might think it is implied.
But I am not talking about belief in Jesus as Christ; I'm talking about God. I haven't decided yet what Jesus means to me, but I have been wrestling with it, and that's one reason I love Quakerquaker. I have come to feel that I can call myself a Christian because I follow Jesus's teachings, at the least. I can be here and wrestle with this while among Friends, as a Convergent Friend.
In the meantime, I have experienced the living God. I've been called. Love in God to you all.
And it doesn't mean we can't be mistaken... but we know that knowing the reality of God isn't mistaken. Even if a little reassurance now & then helps keep us reminded of how things are, who's in charge, etc.
Very hard to convey to an agnostic &/or atheist, that it isn't a "belief" we "believe" out of some sort of pigheaded determination, convenience, fear or whatever, any more than we "believe" we're sitting in front of a keyboard. (In fact that keyboard is subject to more doubt.)
That we "don't reason it by using reason," they do agree-- and heartily disapprove! (I don't find it's necessarily "irrational"-- just very tough & chewy to a mind too full of assumptions! Back when I occasionally took LSD, I used to think of it as a habit-&-assumption disrupter. Something that made me almost terminally anxious, but more inclined to reconsider everything I'd been taking for granted.)
God wants to be known... but people don't easily look in the right place, in the right way. Does it have to take so much suffering, so much of the time? Or could people have gotten riper over the centuries?