“… that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for, ‘In him we live and move and have our being.'”
-the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:27-28)
The unfathomable God permeates our existence. That’s why it’s difficult, in one sense, to talk about life separate from faith. Many imagine a world devoid of religion and faith but I believe that quest is not only foolish, but impossible.
I made a big jump in the initial “theologian” article from looking for answers in the five major religions of the world to zooming in on Christianity as the only true religion. I did this for two reasons. First, there is not enough space to talk about that jump in this introductory piece. Second, I have come to believe that no one will ever “feel their way” toward God and “find him” without God first opening his or her eyes, revealing truth, and drawing that person to embrace Christ. This is consistent with what Jesus taught in the gospels in recounting Peter’s famous confession: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16- ESV) When Peter said this, Jesus was quick to point out that God was responsible for Peter’s embrace of truth, not human agency: “Blessed are you . . . for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17- ESV).
If we are to have an “aha” moment like Peter, God must turn the light on. Only he can shatter our darkness and change our desires. If He does not both initiate and complete the work for this to happen, we will never “find him.” When it comes to faith, grace is essential. I agree with Bono on this:
“You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff… I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”
Regarding the primacy of grace, I agree with Bono. I do, however, push back against his lack of commitment to the local church. Biblical Christianity assumes that followers of Jesus will devote themselves to apostolic doctrine and join communities of faith. The church is not optional and religion is not always a dirty word:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27) -James, the brother of Jesus
Although I have a high view of Scripture, I believe we need church tradition to help us understand the Bible correctly. And, although, I feel at home in a Presbyterian tradition, I resonate most with those that desire a kinder, gentler Calvinism. I want to worship in a community that celebrates “beautiful orthodoxy” from all three branches of Christianity, healthy homes, the virtue of civility, racial and ethnic diversity, and a high esteem for scientific and literary accomplishments. I’m excited to elaborate more on these things in days to come.
I agree with many, including atheists and agnostics, that see the problem of pain as the greatest barrier to the Christian faith. How could a good and all-powerful God allow unjust suffering? Why is God so silent? Do our sufferings really matter to the Almighty?
In 1993, I saw Shindler’s List. Spielberg vividly portrayed the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that changed me forever. I walked out of the theater resolved to always give proper respect to the problem of pain. Today, whether I talk with my brother-in-law and am reminded of my sister’s traumatic brain injury and the devastation it has brought to her family, or watch Martin Scorsese’s Silence with my son, that resolve and respect remain.
In conclusion, Christian faith celebrates grace, and is not afraid of science or the life’s toughest questions. Moreover, faith brings questions of its own to life—questions that remind us that true religion is not an intellectual game but an all-encompassing way of life. One singer-songwriter captured these priorities well:
“Do you love your wife? For her and for your children are you laying down your life? What about the others? Are you living as a servant to your sisters and your brothers? Do you make the poor man beg you for a bone? Do the widow and the orphan cry alone?”
 Don Francisco, Steeple Song from the album, Got to Tell Somebody (1979)