by Laurence Pearce
from Signs of the Times No. 61 - Apr 2016
Most of us will have at some point talked or thought about our ‘faith’. However, speaking for myself, and I doubt that I am alone in this, I suspect that not many of us have a clear understanding or definition of what we mean by this.
This book tells the story of how the author started off with a faith based on what he believed about God, and whose faith is now based on trust in God. Along the way, he provides plenty of examples from the Bible, as well as several well-known spiritual writers, to justify his new understanding.
His story may appear to be of limited interest to those, such as many Anglicans, who do not totally define themselves by what they believe. However, his journey of discovery and self-discovery will resonate with everyone who takes seriously why they are in church. And he writes in a style and language that is highly accessible and without academic jargon.
The author explains that as a lecturer in theology he was, for many years, content to base his teaching on the ‘party line’ of his spiritual community, with clearly defined boundaries and certainties of what was correct and, therefore, permissible, to say and think.
Gradually, however, he began to feel so suffocated by imposed intellectual ‘no-go’ areas, and so out of sympathy with the prevailing intellectual ethos, that he found himself forced to leave his job.
He began to understand that equating faith in God with thoughts about God sells God short, by keeping Him captive to what we are able to comprehend. Essentially, he believes the result is a God in our image - rather than the God of the Bible and the God he was gradually coming to know. He might well have quoted the writer who said ‘God created man in His image, and man returned the compliment’.
For the writer, faith is enmeshed in the fullness of our humanity, and cannot be reduced to an essentially intellectual process.
To support this thesis, he quotes at some length from the Old Testament, which models a trust in God that does not rest on a set of beliefs.
The thrust of his examination of the Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes is that God does not in actual fact prevent the wicked from prospering, or bad things happening to those who obey. The correct response, however, as shown in these books in particular, is to trust in God anyway and to continue obeying Him in the hope that this trust is not misplaced.
In essence, he argues that one of the great comforts of the Old Testament, especially for those who are suffering or whose loved ones are suffering, is that raw expressions of fierce doubt and lack of trust in God are an integral part of faith. And, of course, this is equally true of Jesus on his cross (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
Having shown that faith is essentially trust in a loving God, the remainder of the book is devoted to living out this faith in practice. In particular he explores, firstly, the correct response when God appears not to respond to our calls, and, secondly, how we should treat our neighbours.
God's absence, he argues, is a divine gift to help us grow out of our little ideas of Him, out of the God
within our control, who moves in our circles and who agrees with us. It forces us to listen to Him, rather than try to get Him to listen to us. Only then can we be led into a deeper faith, of letting go of the need to know and the need to be certain.
He then argues that true faith extends to self-sacrificial love towards others, and includes behaving towards others as Father and Son behave towards each other. He goes even further, and states that to love as God loves us involves not only loving just others like us, but also those most unlike us.