Why It’s Important

The Relevance of Spirituality

These are words I have chosen to believe. Not blindly, or by rote, but by examination, trial and perseverance. Faith is a choice to become something greater than what you already are, and to recognize the greatness within yourself.


One of many occupational hazards

attached to working in ministry is people expect you to have all the answers. If you walk around with a clerical collar and a robe and, oh, say, a big hat, people tend to assume you're a know-it-all and want to play Stump The Band with preachers. A teenage girl asked our youth leader last week, “Why is this important?” “This” referred to the whole notion of church, religion, God, and our involvement in it all. The youth leader sputtered into Rehearsed Speech #12, which answered none of her questions, and she kind of shifted into that teenage thing where she's too polite to interrupt, but has clearly checked out of the conversation. Rehearsed speeches can be incredibly damaging, and damaging someone's faith, at so young an age, is a terrible thing to do. But, in my opinion, this was a person whose faith was already nearly non-existent, despite having grown up in church. She spends several days per week involved in church activities, and her parents are married, well educated, prosperous, faithful congregants. But she had no idea why any of us were there. The church had failed, utterly, in seventeen years, to reveal anything of the living God to this young woman. The sputtering youth director was rescued by the youth pastor, who had no speeches, and readily admitted he doesn't have all the answers, and gave the young girl something to think about. But the wound inflicted by Rehearsed Speech #12 may have been a mortal one. Only time will tell.

I am often confronted by people searching for the truth. Searching for answers. Looking for me to say or do something— I dunno, stand on my head— to finally flip the switch in their mind enough for them to believe. These are people who want to believe. People with money and cars and friends and careers who are still missing... something in their lives. The God-shaped hole, the insatiable desire and unquenchable thirst. But, these folks are often tripped up by nagging doubt fueled by a reasonable intelligence and healthy skepticism, especially of Christianity and the Bible.

More than any other religion in the history of the world, Christianity has more often been exploited, perverted and misinterpreted, often for terrible purposes and usually in the pursuit of money, fame or power. The Bible itself has been translated over the centuries by political people and toward political ends, everything from the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the 1980's heyday of the televangelist, where, more often than not, “ministries” enriched themselves with teary-eyed appeals for cash from senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Religion has done more damage to Christianity than anything else. Well-meaning extremists to either the left or the right, as well as woefully undereducated and intractable Church Folk (like the well-meaning youth director) on tradition/ritual cruise control, have systematically obscured the truth, the simple truth of The Gospel and of mankind's search for meaning and relevance in the universe. It's a doctrine of selfishness, forcing anyone to worship and believe exactly this way or else. Despite what may once have been noble and wonderful motives, Christians have made it nearly impossible for anyone to believe in Christ.

There is nothing in the air that is going to reveal God to you. The whole question of faith is stretching out beyond our natural cynicism and skepticism and reach for something greater than ourselves. I fervently believe if you seek God you will find Him, that your faith will find expression. I am, of course, largely discussing a Christian expression because that is the truth that I have embraced. A truth I have questioned and continue to question; the process of questioning my faith only strengthening it.

But, from a standing start, our new generation of seekers may find it difficult if not impossible to embrace a traditional Christian faith because so very much damage has been done to faith by religion. Religion is, in essence, mankind's search for God. Faith implies a relationship with God. The expression of that faith, of that relationship, can be organized into religion, but religion in and of itself does not necessarily constitute faith.

That's how we have a girl sitting in the back pew for seventeen years who has, apparently, no visceral conviction about who God is and no apparent expression of that belief. What she does have, however, is religion.

Noted theologian Charles C. Ryrie writes

“Consciously or unconsciously, everyone operates on the basis of some presupposition. The atheist who says there is no God has to believe that basic presupposition.” He goes on to say, “We learn nothing about the Trinity or Christ from nature or from the human mind. And we cannot be certain that what we learn from the Bible about the Triune God is accurate unless we believe that our source itself is accurate. Thus the belief in the truthfulness of the Bible is the basic presupposition [to a belief in Christ].”

In order to accept the Christian faith, you first have to accept, on some level, the authority of the Bible. It really is that simple. Absent the foundation of the Word of God, there's just no way to go. No way to place trust in some historical figure. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). The same could be said for intellectuals. People who think, who question, who study— these people have the hardest time of all finding, maintaining and increasing faith in their lives. However, when they do find it— when people who scrutinize and qualify and question finally succumb to a true worship experience— that faith is often richer and deeper and more fervent and productive than is typical among even the holiest of rollers.

Faith is a lot like riding a bicycle. Intellect fights with your instinct when you're trying to learn to ride a two-wheeler for the first time. It's even worse for a unicycle, which I rode for awhile. The notion of balance is more visceral than intellectual, as intellect tells us without some counterbalance to the two-wheels (such as training wheels), we're likely to pitch over. And, if we pitch over, the concrete will be hard. Similarly, I can't teach anybody how to have faith. You just try. And you pitch over and bust your head on the concrete. But you dust yourself off and you keep looking, you keep trying.

Intellectuals are looking for a complete and inerrant record: Spirituality For Dummies, A Complete Owner's Manual for The Human Experience. That's not the Bible. There are (typically right wing) Christian sects who believe not only in the inerrancy of the Bible, but the literacy (i.e. taking every word at literal value) of the Bible. These groups typically express themselves in repressive and dogmatic ways, using the doctrine of paradox to gloss over contradictions in Biblical texts. A paradox is a profound truth that embraces contradictions that can neither be reconciled nor dismissed, so they have to be held in tension.

The Bible is full of mysteries, none of which makes the Bible any less authoritatively God's Holy and inspired Word. Ryrie describes the Bible as the orderly and progressive self-revelation of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 describes “All scripture is given by inspiration of God...” For me, that implies authority without an injunctive demand for inerrancy. The Bible is filled with examples of men who accomplished great things by inspiration of God, but who were nonetheless flawed and made mistakes. This web page is being created certainly by inspiration of God, and I've absolutely no doubt there are errors and inaccuracies here that I'll be correcting for weeks.

Which is a lot of blathering on to say this:

For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. 

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man commeth unto the Father, but by me.

These are words I have chosen to believe. These are truths I have chosen to embrace. Not blindly, or by rote or virtue of family tradition, but by examination, trial and perseverance. At times in spite of my intellect and against my nature, I find meaning, comfort, purpose and fulfillment in the scriptures, which I believe to be God's Holy Word, and by which I am empowered to reach beyond my earthbound state and commune with something on a higher plane of awareness and existence. I choose to call that God, and I choose to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. We can argue the complexities of the scriptures, the politics of the church, and the great many contradictions of religion for weeks on end: Faith, in the final analysis, is a choice. A choice to become something greater than what you already are, and to recognize the greatness within yourself.

The absence of some expression of spirituality implies a bleak existence, our entire lives summed up as a collection of breaths and heartbeats. In the great war of intellect versus instinct, my intellect refuses to embrace a theory that we're all here by some cosmic accident. The designs are too grand, the circuitry too specific, the process too logical, for us all to have been thrown together by some random act. And, even if I did believe in the randomness of it all, my intellect still demands the randomness have some origin. And, if there is an origin, that, whatever that is and however you have decided to see it is, by definition, God.

I believe it's important for us to decide Who God is and pursue some manner of connection. Without it, we're half of what we could be. I suppose the youth leader could have simply said that. The point is, you have to start somewhere. If you're looking for the Microsoft Bible, with every command line in place and every plot hole filled, this faith deal just isn't going to work for you.

“Lord, I don't believe in you, and I feel ridiculous sitting here, talking to myself.” That's the first prayer any non-believer should pray. The first thing anyone thinking about God, in any form, should realize is God Is Not Stupid. God knows who you are, what you're feeling, what you're dealing with. God knows, right this moment, if you're snickering at Him (or me), or if you're on the precipice of some real decision about what to do with yourself. And, honestly, if it wasn't important, I doubt you'd be reading this.

Christopher J. Priest
7 September 2003

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