The Purpose of Faith

“Basic religious faith is a vote for some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction in the universe. Unfortunately, the notion of faith that emerged in the West was much more a rational assent to the truth of certain mental beliefs rather than a calm and hopeful trust that God is inherent in all things, and that this whole thing is going somewhere good.”

—Fr. Richard Rohr 

When I read these words this morning, I was reminded of something I’ve shared relatively often with my congregations over the past several years: The purpose of faith is not to be right; the purpose of faith is to bring us into relationship with God and one another. (I say it that way because I’m a Christian pastor, but I would affirm its relevance for other faith articulations or no “faith” at all.) Certitude is not faith; faith is the willingness to continue striving toward a goal in spite of the fact you have doubt.

As I think about how we got to now—this place where people of so many persuasions must be “right” in order to feel as if there’s an order to things—I realize that rightness can become a disease, slowly killing us and our social fabric. If my entire purpose is to demonstrate I am right, and I cannot rest until I do so, I am prone to accept all manner of lunacy if it helps me “prove” I’m right. The entire purpose of life, eventually, becomes demonstrating my rightness, so that I can consider my cause, no matter how ridiculous or harmful it is, as righteous.

There is an alternative pathway, but it requires us to embrace doubt. That pathway is humility and, like faith, it is not the province of religion, at least not exclusively. What is most striking—and disturbing—about American Christianity to me is the complete and utter rejection of the centrality of humility. It’s that way for every aspect of our society, I’m just addressing Christianity because that’s my field.

For Christians, there is no other acceptable pathway to which we must aspire than humility. I’m not making that up, it’s straight out of the good book. And it’s not some fringe theory like the BS about God wanting everyone to be rich. The Apostle Paul, for all his faults, tapped into the essence of truth in this one, and it isn’t a mistake that he calls it developing “the mind of Christ.” In order to let go of the fallacy of rightness—in order to be healed of the disease it causes—we must allow our minds to be transformed, following the model of Christ that is humility.

As Father Rohr says in today’s daily devotional, “To know anything fully is always to hold that part of it which is still mysterious and unknowable.” That’s as true in hard philosophies (STEM) as it is in soft ones like religion and psychology. In order to know any truth fully, we must let go of the idea that we must know everything in order to know anything.

Wishing you all peace, love, harmony, and, above all, the embrace of humility.

Pastor John Fleming

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