Monday, October 28, 2013

The Five W's Part One: Why I Believe

"Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

As I mentioned in the introductory post on the Five W's, these posts on these five basic questions of the faith won't be in any particular order.  In fact, I'll just start with the order in which I've been led to think about them, beginning with...

"Why do I believe?"

The opening imperative issued by St Peter, as with all imperatives, is given for a reason.  In the case of effectively understanding and explaining why we believe, it's because, without an answer to this question first, all of the other questions of faith become a moot point.  At our most basic level, we operate off of needs and desires.  Our God realizes that.  In fact, he made us that way.  He created to desire his truth, goodness, and beauty.  Unfortunately, those desires have become twisted and distorted, and the recognition an acceptance of that fact leads to the first part of the answer to the question of why.

1.  I believe because I recognize that I am not as I ought to be, and the world is not as it ought to be.

I look out at the world around me, and at the same time into my own soul, and realize that, although there is truth, goodness and beauty, and a desire for more of it, without end, I am constantly disappointed by my own failings, the failings of people around me, and of society at large.  I know that the good things, the truly good things, of this life seem so fleeting, but I cannot believe that the desire for truth, goodness, and beauty, can not have come into my mind and heart without an object, and without some echo of knowledge of how things ought to be.  As the Sugarland song "Something More" go,

There's gotta be something more, gotta be more than this
I need a little less hard time, I need a little more bliss
I'm gonna take my chances, taking a chance I might
Find what I'm looking for
There's gotta be something more

2. There is evil in the world.

Evil seeks to lie, destroy, and kill.  It is real.  It exists, yet it has been said that its greatest achievement is convincing the world that it doesn't.  It is so important to convince the world that it doesn't exist because confronting evil, especially the sin in each of our souls, is something we are utterly powerless to do on our own.  However, when we do decide to confront it, to seek healing and truth (if we are honest), and that search for healing and truth leads us to look outside ourselves.  See #1.

3. Yet, despite the evil, there is still so much good.

Despite all the evil that we encounter during our sojourn in this valley of tears, there is still so much good, beginning first and foremost with the human heart.  Though society would minimize the power of the human heart, we see its capacity to do good, especially in helping neighbors in the face of suffering.  Though it may sound sort of like a cheesy movie line, there is a hero in each of us, capable of great love and ultimately called to shine brighter than the stars.   We have the capacity to bring and do so much good in the world.  Evil never has the last laugh.  As the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it,

“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”

4. I will die. Yet, because of my experience of good, however fleeting in this life, I cannot believe that death is the end.

A dear priest friend once began one of his homilies with that simple statement: I will die. Let that sink in for a minute.  In fact, try to spend a few minutes a day--particularly at day's end--allowing it to make the journey from head to heart, not in a dark, obsessive, and avoidant way, but in an acceptance of reality that allows one to look beyond it.  So many of the great saints have encouraged frequent contemplation of the moment of our death because it keeps us grounded in our humanity and limitations.  In fact, one of the greatest successes of evil in more affluent society is in removing so much of the reality of human death from our immediate experience.  Yet it remains the disease that we cannot cure, the effect of our allowance of sin into the world.  But, thinking back to #3, just as I know that evil does not have the last laugh in the world, I cannot believe that its primary objective of death and destruction has the last word, particularly for those who believe in the One who has conquered death and who makes all things new.  That is why the Resurrection is so important: because without it, death continues to reign as the great tyrant and scourge over humanity.  But in the Resurrection its power has been routed; it has been transformed into the beginning of eternal life.  Faced with that choice, the uncertainty and lack of resolute answers the world gives about the condition it cannot fix vs. the promise of eternal life made concrete by Christ's Resurrection, I choose the latter every time.

Psalm 84:1-5, 11-13, is a constant reminder of the beauty of God's dwelling place, which he has given us a taste of here on earth and calls us to enter into with him.  After all, he seeks to create a space for himself, a little heaven if you will, in each human heart; a place over which death and the pain of our human condition have no power.

How lovely your dwelling
O LORD of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and flesh cry out
for the living God.

As the sparrow finds a home
and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars,
LORD of hosts, my king and my God!

Blessed are those who dwell in your house!

They never cease to praise you.
Better one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere.

Better the threshold of the house of my God
than a home in the tents of the wicked.

For a sun and shield is the LORD God,
bestowing all grace and glory.
The LORD withholds no good thing
from those who walk without reproach.

O LORD of hosts,
blessed the man who trusts in you!


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