Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Faith is not Enough

Kelly James Clark, When Faith is Not Enough. Eerdmans, 1997.
            Clark has an excellent chapter on faith and doubt in his book, When Faith is not Enough. Like the rest of the chapters he draws from literary sources to illustrate his point.  He quotes from Tennyson: “Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,/At last he beat his music out./There lives more faith in honest doubt,/ Believe me, than in half the creeds” (94).
            Then he quotes from Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being: “I think there is no greater suffering than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do(94).” O'Connor makes an important point here. Our faith must grow as we grow intellectually. We cannot have an adult mind with a child-like faith.
 Clark thinks that faith is not like a headache or a broken arm. It is more like “arthritis, nearsightedness, and the common cold” (96). These things are not “necessarily terminal ailments, but they are not easily curable either” (96). Clark is arguing for the idea that there are no quick cures from doubt. It seems to be a permanent fixture to the life of faith. The author notes, “These are ailments we simply must learn to live with, even though learning to live with them is not something we desire or welcome. So too with doubt: it is a malady that we shouldn’t relish or glorify, but we must make do with it” (96).
Clark even draws from Calvin on the reality of doubt in the Christian’s life even though Calvin “writes of a convinced and certain faith, of belief without wavering” (96). Calvin writes: “Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief” (97). Calvin thinks that this is because of the warring between flesh and Spirit in the Christian. Calvin writes, “In the course of the present life it never goes so well with us that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith. Hence arise those conflicts; when unbelief which reposes in the remains of the flesh, rises up to attack the faith that has been inwardly conceived” (97).
 I was watching Santa Claus Two last night. It is the one when Santa Claus, played by Tim Allen, needs a wife. Two statements are made in the movie that caught my attention. Both of them occur in the interaction between Santa Claus and the future Mrs. Claus. The first one occurs when the future Mrs. Claus says she wants to be able to believe in something. She has lost her faith. She wants something to give her life meaning. The second statement comes from Tim Allen when he tells her that she does not need to have all her questions answered. We can believe without having all our questions about God answered. That is why it is called faith. Faith is not against reason, but is above reason. I like a quote by George Woodberry: “A life without faith . . . is too narrow a space to live.” Faith needs reason and reason needs faith. Mystery is part of the Christian faith. Reason will never be able to answer all of life’s questions. God is great than the human mind. We are human and there are limits to what we can know. It is sin and foolish not to accept our human limitations.

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