Chapter 7 – Faith and Perseverance (part 2), pp. 159-168

An abundance of blessings upon you, my fellows readers/pray-ers who have persevered in this journey. May our loving Lord guide us and help us to enter more deeply into the life of faith as we share the challenging words of this section.

If you have not already noticed, I posted “Part 1” for Chapter 7 on my regular blog because the question, “What is faith?” seemed like something that might appeal to a broader readership. If you have not read it, click here to find your way.

I saved a bit more to post here, admittedly the parts of the text that I found more difficult, in that I thought it best to discuss them in the context of the book as a whole. Of course, anyone may read this, but being familiar with the discussion leading up to this point will undoubtedly be helpful.

Yes, we are to take a look at “The Enemies of Faith” as Fr. Matta calls them. Let us approach them one at a time…

Reliance on empirical reason. It is not hard to see how total reliance on empirical reason gets in the way of faith. If I will not accept anything for which I cannot obtain empirical “proof”, I will never know God. I won’t believe in the miracles of Jesus, the healings, the exorcisms, His resurrection from the dead. I won’t believe in anything beyond the material world.

But, I might argue, I don’t take it that far. I can suspend reason for the really big things: I believe in God, I believe in the resurrection. But do I really believe that I can drink poison and not die? Or that a mountain will literally be moved if I have sufficient faith? That sort of thing just doesn’t make sense to me.

And yet I have said that I believe in the resurrection. It makes sense to me that a dead man is no longer dead?

Of course, I am not suggesting that anyone drink poison to test the Gospel passage. People have been known to die doing that.

Fr. Matta proposes to us that the problem is that reliance on empirical reason generates fear and in this way becomes an obstacle. We remain stuck in our mere human “knowing” because we are afraid to step into the divine. We are afraid of what goes beyond our senses and our reason.

It can’t be. It doesn’t make sense. God wouldn’t do that. There’s no evidence.

Each of these statements based on “reason” is an indication that I trust me, my senses and my thought processes more than I trust God.

Hmm…I don’t think that’s where I want to be.

Fear. We have already started talking about how fear can be an enemy of faith. Yet Fr. Matta uses some rather strong words, “Fear is a proof that man still longs to defend his own ego and pities himself. It is a symptom of self-love and stands in opposition to faith.”

Ouch. These words seem kind of harsh, especially given that fear is hard-wired into our brains to help us survive. Should we not want to survive? Is it a sign of self-love or self-pity if someone points a gun to my head and I find my heart pounding uncontrollably and my breath becoming more rapid?

Again, just as we are not being instructed to drink poison, neither are we being instructed to play Russian roulette with a pistol to see if we can do so without feeling afraid. We are not to invite danger for its own sake.

But, despite my reservations, Fr. Matta gives me pause. He cites Abraham on his way to offer Isaac in sacrifice; the 3 young men in the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lion’s den.

Scripture, of course, cannot tell us whether any of these experienced an increased heart rate as they entered the sacrificial state to which they were called. The impression we are given, however, is that they were unafraid.

How could they not have been afraid?

Precisely because they had already surrendered themselves totally, body, mind and soul, to God. Having given themselves completely, there was nothing that God could not take. Nothing was off-limits to Him to whom they had entrusted everything.

If I hold back none of myself for me – all is in the hands of loving God – indeed there is no room for fear.

But does this mean that fear is “bad”, an enemy of faith, something I should feel bad about when I experience it?

I would see it perhaps as a sign of the immaturity of my faith – its incompleteness – rather than something evil in itself. However, fear can certainly lead me to sin which is why it is an “enemy” I should never regard as an acceptable life companion.

I am born afraid. If I carry fear now, that tells me I have more surrendering to do. I pray and ask God to come to my help.

I cannot do it without Him.

Skepticism. Once again, we are called upon to consider fear – and it is not getting any easier. Fr. Matta writes: “Fear is but a symptom of an imperfect knowledge, while doubt is a sin aimed against God: doubt is disbelief in God’s promises. Doubt fosters fear. Doubt is the first weakening of trust in God, but it gives rise to fear, the farthest point away from God”.

I found it a bit ironic that I felt more fear reading the statement that “doubt is a sin aimed against God” than I have from many of the doubts I have experienced! I had not thought of doubt as a sin but rather a natural part of learning to believe.

Just as I experienced a sense of doubt when I first learned of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, my mind has sometimes doubted and wondered about the things of God that it does not yet understand.

This, again, is part of the immaturity of the soul (well, mine in particular) that is still learning to surrender itself completely to God.

However, this passage raised questions for me and I did not want to rely only on my own thinking, as I can so readily rationalize away my sins. So I googled it. 🙂  And found a helpful distinction between “voluntary doubt” and “involuntary doubt”.

The latter is the sort of doubt that afflicts us when we get an attack of wondering if there really is a God. Or we cannot quite fathom how mountains can be moved by faith and we say to ourselves, “Huh?” when we hear these words of Jesus.

We don’t choose to have these thoughts or feelings – and we don’t cultivate them when they occur. We most often find them unpleasant. But they are in our minds and so we are stuck working our way through them.

These are not a sin. They are not a “disbelief aimed against God”. Rather, they are more of an unbelief  for which we seek God’s help. Like the father of the boy afflicted with convulsions, we cry out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 24). Without God’s help, we know our faith is weak.

The voluntary doubt is the one that we own. Whether it started with an involuntary doubt or it was an idea we consciously formulated, we cultivate it and hone it so as to argue against the Truth given by the Spirit.

This sounds like a very foolish thing to do – and it is. So why would any of us do it?

In its most extreme form, “voluntary doubt” could be called heresy and that doesn’t sound like something I would do. But, in reality, all I have to do is have opinions. Opinions?

I’m entitled to my opinions, right?

Try on some of these opinions:

  1. When Jesus cast out demons, the people probably just had epilepsy or some other illness that wasn’t understood at the time. Talk of demons is the talk of people who aren’t educated in modern medicine.*
  2. I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean literally “This is my body, this is my blood.” He could only have meant it as something symbolic.*
  3. The Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” But a four-week old embryo isn’t really a person yet. It’s just a clump of cells. While ending a pregnancy is not an ideal situation, continuing it could be a disaster in this situation.*

*These are not uncommon opinions in some sectors of the Christian world. I have fabricated them here for purposes of illustrating how readily human “opinion” can find itself at variance with Scripture and the creeds given to the Church. 

As I reflect on some of the “opinions” I have held over the years, I begin to understand that “voluntary doubt” is not just the domain of heretics. When something hasn’t made sense to me (see discussion on empirical reasoning), it hasn’t been hard for me to come up with my own “opinion” about what was really the case.

All without the benefit of any serious study of Scripture or the Church Fathers and, most importantly, all without the benefit of humility.

It has only been in my latter years that I have come to an understanding that the vast majority of my opinions on any and every topic are all a bunch of hooey.

It is far better to learn obedience and be chastened than to allow this sin of voluntary doubt to corrupt my soul.

But what of the fear Fr. Matta says comes of doubt? How does that enter in?

I cannot speak for others. But as I reflect back on myself, is not fear the breeding ground for the disease of my sin?

Why did I have so many opinions? Without the humility to submit and be taught, I was afraid when I encountered that which I could not understand. I did not want to reject my faith because there was a central truth there that I believed and never wanted to let go of. But this other stuff…

A scary spot to be in…

So I created opinions to give my mind explanations for what it couldn’t comprehend or accept on its own. To quell the fear that I couldn’t consciously acknowledge that I had.

And not without consequences.

How much closer I could have been to God had I submitted and allowed His Spirit to teach me! Yes, it is so.

Yet He is gracious and merciful. He never left me. And He always allows me to begin again.

And so I do. Today. Every day.

Praise Him.

+++

These are my reflections on the “Enemies of Faith” section of Chapter 7. I welcome yours…

 

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 7 – Faith and Perseverance (part 2), pp. 159-168

  1. “Ouch” is right. Fear has been a shadowy follower of mine. But I never connected it until now with that other stalker, doubt. Mine is not voluntary doubt, more like a troublesome tooth or an irritated stomach–there, but blocked out for a while by time-tested interventions (simple prayers, in this case, and attending to others instead of myself)

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