Accepting/Rejecting Calvinism (Pt. 14: Learning to Walk Again: The Necessity of Faith)

Crutches

Looking back over the last thirteen posts, I noticed that I haven’t shared much of my personal narrative for quite a few posts. As I explained previously, due partly to sin and partly to poor reasoning, I went through a dark season of doubting my faith. And as I also explained, it was through the apologetic effort of a number of men that God drew me back to himself.

But a few months into it, I found that where there had once been passion, awe of God, and love, there was only a framework. Instead of casting myself onto God in prayer at a moment’s notice, I felt like I couldn’t pray without first rationalizing why it made sense to pray. I can only imagine how awful it would be if my faith in my wife was this weak, if I felt like I before I could even talk to her I needed to justify my decision to marry her, or I needed to rationalize why I thought marriage was good, or I needed to constantly re-think whether my wife had been faithful to me. Relationships can’t thrive under constant scrutiny, and I found that even though I was more solidly convinced of Christianity, my relationship with God still floundered.

It felt like the very things that saved my faith — apologetics and reason — had killed it. It felt like a crutch I could no longer do without, as if it were a crutch I couldn’t discard. I didn’t know how to describe this until I came across two pieces of writing; the first was a letter that Herman Bavinck wrote to a friend, and the second is a quote from Endo’s book Silence. I wrote the following in a paper from last semester:

And yet in the end, the thing that struck me was how well Endō captured a feeling I have felt, which nobody else but Bavinck has been able to capture. It is the feeling of a lost innocence, a childlike faith abused in a world of debate, a simple trust shattered by the weight of silence-induced doubt. It is this feeling I felt when, during my Freshman year of undergraduate studies, I fell headlong into a dark season of doubting my faith. It felt as if no answers could be found, no certainty could be hoped for, and the prospects of living in a world of hope looked dim. By God’s grace, though, I am what I am: through philosophy, apologetics, a recovery process of the soul, and with much grace, my God has kept me. And it is this feeling of one who has gone through this silence and come out alive on the other side that Bavinck was able to capture in a letter, recounting his time in liberal theological schools. He describes how “the innocence of a child’s faith” which he once knew has now been lost.[1] He writes:

And now I do know that I will never regain it. I even approve of it and am truly and sincerely grateful for losing it. In that innocence there was much that was untrue and had to be purified. And yet, in that innocence (I know no better word to describe it) there was something that was good… something that must remain if the truth is to be sweet and precious to us. And then sometimes – very rarely, because where can you find the unswerving faith of bygone times in this century? – when I meet people in my parish, who possess it and fare so well by it and are so happy, well, I cannot help it, but I wish I could believe again as they do, so happy and cheerful; and then I feel that if I had that, and could preach in such a way, animated, warm, always fully convinced of what I was saying, then I could be of help; living myself, I would live for others. However I do know that it is over, that it is no longer possible.[2]

It is this feeling, this heartbreaking sentiment, that Endō portrays with the eyes of faith, with the simple words I quoted earlier: “’My faith in you is different from what it was; but I love you still…’ He loved him now in a different way from before. Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love.”[3] And perhaps the greatest evidence that God has not been silent in my life is that I can say those same words as my own – and smile.

I couldn’t agree more. I, too, feel like I’ve lost something permanently, a certain sort of innocence. Yet in the end, although my faith is different from what it was, my love for God is stronger. I believe that in the end, God uses these sorts of trials to deepen our faith.

What I Was Missing: Faith

As I would continually try to argue my soul back into a state in which I felt like it could pray, I kept asking myself this question: “Why isn’t it clearer? Yes, I am now convinced that Christianity is the most rational worldview; yes, I think there are good arguments for the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ; yes, I think Christianity is the most existentially satisfying belief system. But why must Christianity simply be the most rational worldview? Why can’t it be the only rational worldview? And why must the arguments simply be good? Couldn’t they be bulletproof? And why is it only the most existentially satisfying? Why don’t I feel more satisfied, so satisfied that I couldn’t possibly doubt its truth?” In essence: God, if you love me as much as I think you do, why can’t you just give me a little bit more certainty?

And the answer was surprisingly simple: we are supposed to live by faith and not by sight. It is not a mere accident that we need to have faith; it was designed. But why faith? “What is faith anyway?” I wondered, “Is it a leap in the dark? Or is it knowledge of divine things? Is faith supposed to feel certain or like a leap?” As Peter Kreeft has beautifully said, faith is not a leap into the dark, but a leap into the light. Yes, there are reasons, yes, there is truth, but it still requires jumping! It still requires trust, and I wasn’t willing to trust God.

But why is this faith, this leap into the light, so important? I have written about it in my first and second posts on this blog, so I won’t go into it in much detail here. I’ll just state broadly what I’ve come to believe without arguing for it: this world is a path, a road, a process; it was never designed to be an end. Ever since the Garden, with the first trial, the first test of faith (“Thou shalt not eat of this one tree”), God has been trying to forge us into people who trust him. This whole world, as Peter Kreeft (again) has said, is a saint-making machine, a spiritual gymnasium in which God drills us for the world to come, the breeding grounds for holiness and eternal life. In short, God is building trust into his people here so that in the age to come we can receive more of his love, for the prerequisite to love is faith. You cannot love or be loved by someone you do not trust.

As 1 Peter 1:6-9 says:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

What do we see about faith here? It is “necessary,” at least “for a little while” (during our time on earth) that our faith, which is more precious than gold, be tested as though by fire. Why? So that “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” it may result in praise and glory and honor. The “outcome of your faith,” then, is “the salvation of your souls.”

I was confused and mad at the fact that I needed to have faith. Little did I know, this world was built to build faith.

Footnotes:

[1] George Harinck “The Reformed Spirituality of Herman Bavinck,” in Calvin Theological Journal (CTJ 38 [2003]: 248-262), 253.

[2] Ibid, 253-4.

[3] Endō, Silence, 201, 203-4.

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