Then Jesus told him [Thomas], "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."
-Jesus, John 20:29
Faith is hard. Let me rephrase that. Faith that is informed by real life is hard. It’s actually pretty easy to believe a lot of things that aren’t rooted in reality. I can believe that God answers every single prayer request of mine (not true). I can believe that ultimately if I do good things and love God, life will be relatively painless (not even close). I can believe that good always prevails in the end (also not true, if by “the end” you mean this life). I can believe that God will give me what I want if I just have enough faith or pray hard enough. It’s a nice sentiment, but we have all learned that God isn’t our spiritual ATM, doling out the goods if we just plug in the right code each time. Faith is complicated, and faith is hard.
Ok, enough cynicism. That’s actually the issue we’re talking about.
Faith can feel smooth until we have those experiences that call everything into question. A family member that doesn’t share our faith even though we pray for them and try our best to point toward Jesus. A chronic illness that doesn’t go away. Cancer. The loss of someone we love. The job that we just cannot seem to find. The unending suffering and poverty of so many in our world. The seasons of life where God feels absent EVEN when we are seeking after God. Pain and abuse at the hands of those who claim the name of Jesus. These things throw our logic and call into question deeply held beliefs. They can fling us into chaos.
French philosopher Paul Ricour became well known for identifying three stages that people go through in their faith when they have strong feelings called into question. And he wears flip glasses and an indoor scarf, so he must be really intelligent.
It begins with what he calls….
First Naïveté- these are childlike perceptions. They are untested truths that simply are. We accept these perceptions from a young age, and we usually never wrestle with them. But something happens that forces us to, and some of them start to break down. Then we move toward….
Confusion- Many people never move beyond confusion. They are bombarded by their questions and left broken. Confusion is necessary in spiritual formation, but it’s not the end. At this point we have two options. We can throw away everything that we believe in these areas and move toward unbelief. Or we ask critical questions and lean into the tension. We don’t run from the questions, we run toward them, seeking to find what is true about God as found in Jesus.
If we persevere, there is something beautiful on the other end of the tunnel. Ricour calls it….
The Second Naïveté- This is where you can wrestle with questions, but it doesn’t sink you any more. You can hold on to what is good and real, and let go of the assumptions that used to be attached to them. Your faith has stretched from a list of assumptions and moved into a living, breathing connection with the God that trumps truisms. This is the area of spiritual formation, where joy and mystery can dwell together. This is where pain is permitted because life is hard, but God is good and with us in the midst of it. This is the place where cynicism fades, and real faith emerges. This is a new type of childlike faith. Hope is restored, but this time with depth.
The way we get there? Relatively straightforward:
We let Jesus define the nature of God for us, and we keep focused on Him.
Like the writer of Hebrews encourages us,
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Instead of our faith resting on existential untested beliefs, or on never-ending deconstruction, it becomes placed on the living person of Jesus. In the second naïveté we realize that God can be good even though the world is often brutal. We see that the Kingdom breaks through all the time, though not yet in its fullness. We see that heartache is where Jesus meets us and brings peace, instead of heartache meaning that Jesus doesn’t care. And unanswered questions aren’t to be feared, because we’re not alone.
Belief remains important, but the relational journey with God will always be more transformative than collecting a list of beliefs about God.
Christian author Wendell Berry makes this simple statement in his fabulous poem, The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:
"Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts."
So that’s today’s encouragement. Don’t be afraid of the hard seasons of faith. Don’t be afraid of deconstruction. But don’t wallow in your cynicism forever, because Jesus is alive and ready to walk with us on the other side. Move toward joy today.
Jesus, shape us.