Answering a Couple of Challenging Faith Questions

Teach me your ways, O Lord,
    that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
    so that I may honor you. – Psalm 86:11

– writer/teacher Derek Maul

One of the best things about my faith journey at church (WFPC) is the fact that it is interactive – not just between me and God but with one-another. There are always questions; there is always mutual encouragement; there are always different ways to see things and various paths to understanding; there is always so much to learn.

Often these conversations continue, via email, on the phone, or over coffee during the week. One such example emerged from a recent class where we talked about what we can learn from the perspective, the insight, the uncluttered faith, of children.

“Here are a couple of questions,” my friend wrote, “that I didn’t have time to address in today’s class…”

Let’s look at them, one at a time, and see where we land:

Two Hard Questions about Faith:

  • “If the “natural” development of a child results in becoming an adult that has learned callousness through life’s experiences, how does one feel that they have the ability to recapture that ‘child-like’ innocence that is required to ‘enter the kingdom of heaven?’”

Okay, so these are not “answers” per se, more of a series of thoughts prompted by your questions:

I believe that, to some extent, the experience that is life tends to inure us spiritually – unless, that is, we are intentional on a day-by-day basis in terms of keeping our relationship with God front and center. Even then our natural inclination does not lean heavenward, and even the most devout easily relegate God’s presence/influence to specifically focused events such as church, prayer time, grace before meals etc.

I think that what Jesus is referring to (“unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven”Matthew 18:3) is childlike trust, and it’s a similar rhetorical vehicle to the one he uses to talk about the rich man trying to ride his camel through the narrow gate (“the eye of the needle”).

This sense of uncluttered belief is where children have so much to teach us, if only we open our hearts. I remember one Sunday morning when Rebekah’s back was so bad she had to preach from a wheelchair at the 11:15 service. Jason Telep, who must have been six or seven at the time, was so concerned about her pain that he left his family and trotted up to where she was. Worship was beginning, but Jason and Rebekah just chatted away for several minutes. Then he put his little hand on her shoulder and he prayed for her. The entire sanctuary was spellbound. It was one of those powerful spiritual moments where everyone – briefly – recaptured that childlike innocence.

To your question about “recapturing” that… I think we can always move in that general direction. Jesus isn’t threatening to cut us off if we don’t, the Master is simply pointing out that our experience of God’s kingdom (right now) is so much more complete when we can enter that childlike space and check our “sophistication” at the door.

The Second Question:

  • “Not sure that I heard him correctly, but [One of our friends] mentioned something about how it would be nice to hear that one is ‘on track’ and to ‘keep doing what you’re doing.’ Other than through one’s own confidence that effort counts, how does one have faith that is correct? I know I’m trying but I’ve always lived my life based on measurable successes. Otherwise, I struggle!

Ah, the idea of “measurable successes”! don’t we just ache to quantify everything! It’s a little like that desire to get a check-list from God so we can make sure we’re really on the right path. But (and I’m glad about this) there is nothing so cut-and-dried for us. Instead, God is asking us to learn to listen to his voice. The measurable part is simply the evidence that we walk with God.

It’s critically important to note that “getting it right” is not the criteria for “salvation.” Salvation is (and we’ve talked about this before) our participation in God’s work, God’s initiatives of grace, mercy, light, love, etc… Jesus invites us to join him in reconciling the world: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). 

And your other quote, “Faith that is correct”! That’s always an interesting conversation. I believe this is why we are constantly engaged in prayer, and study, and conversation, and mutual encouragement. (and, on a cautionary note, I’d say “run a mile” if you come across a Christian – church or individual – who insists their understanding is always the correct one!)

I think about where the psalmist asks God to continue to teach us and lead us. Here are a couple of examples.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long. – Psalm 25:4-5

Teach me your ways, O Lord,
    that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
    so that I may honor you. – Psalm 86:11

I can only conclude that “correct faith” really means to keep our eyes on Jesus, to ask God to continually teach us (via prayer, worship, service, study, conversation), and to always be listening.

I honestly believe that “measurable success” is far less important than the “pure heart” and the “focused spirit” that children demonstrate so often.

This faith thing really is quite the adventure, isn’t it? Not so much a religion as an ongoing journey – hand in hand – with Jesus.

In love, and because love always wins – DEREK

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