Faith: a matter of spurning the opposites

Marcus Borg’s Days of Awe and Wonder, is one of many books my friend Linda and I have read together to share the points that amaze us or help further our own spiritual journeys. The subtitle is “How to Be a Christian in the 21st Century,” so it’s no small task set for this compilation of Borg articles, sermons, essays, speeches, interviews, and lectures published posthumously.

Though a book like this offers almost unlimited starting points for a blog entitled “Everyday Spirituality,” I have continued to think about a small section of a sermon on faith delivered by Marcus Borg in 2005.

Four meanings are given to faith in the Christian tradition, says Borg. “Faith as believing” is the one commonly put forward—believing the doctrines of the tradition, believing that there is a God, believing that Jesus is divine, and so forth. Borg concludes that this meaning of faith is not only a modern distortion but absolutely impotent in our lives. “You can believe all the right things and still be miserable,” he writes.

So he turns to three other meanings that he considers more ancient and authentic. The first is faith as trust, faith as radical trust in God, which may have very little to do with where a person lands on the beliefs continuum. Here is the key for me: the opposite of this definition of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith as trust is anxiety. This provides a sure-fire way to measure the depth of your faith.

The second of the ancient meanings of faith is faith as fidelity to a relationship, specifically a relationship with God. The opposite, therefore, is unfaithfulness. Borg writes that unfaithfulness has frequently been referred to as adultery; however, the prophets were not talking about sexual conduct, but rather about unfaithfulness to God. It’s hard not to think of the commandment here: You shall have no other gods before Me.

The third of the ancient meanings has to do with a way of seeing “the whole of that in which we live and move and have our being,” writes Borg. Is it hostile to us? indifferent to us? or is it the gracious force that created us and continues to nourish and support us?

These meanings may not be the usual “definitions” of faith we are given, but they seem practical for everyday life. The faith that enables me to see the whole in a way that sustains me is the one that is based in trust in God and faithfulness in my relationship with God.


Above All, Trust

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is known in several arenas: paleontology, geology, philosophy, theology – but it’s possible that his most widely known writing is a poem from a prayer book entitled Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits (Loyola Press, 2005).

The poem is “Patient Trust” and it begins: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God….” This is hard for most of us to do. We think not only that it’s all about us, but also that it’s entirely up to us. This is not to suggest that we don’t have responsibilities. Among our responsibilities is to determine what we want to do with our lives, to get very clear about it, and to set about doing what we can see to do toward it. But if we have envisioned well, the goal will be bigger than what we can achieve by ourselves, and trusting God becomes part of our job.

The poem continues: “We are quite naturally inpatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.” Boy, do we hate the idea that it might take a very long time.

Part of the benefit of trusting is that we aren’t alone in enduring however long it takes. But there is another part too that has to do with allowing the ripening that must occur. You will be a different person at the end than you are today, and the “passing through” is the sacred shaper of who you will become. The only way to “get” that is by trust.