It is seemingly becoming less and less popular to adhere to religious beliefs. We live in a world of great scientific knowledge that offers the possibility of precluding something as abstract as blind faith in a supreme being. To some the idea of God is primitive and silly, a concept that belongs to another era. Faith is intangible and never easy to explain. It requires a leap of trust that is both frightening and exciting. For those of us who are true believers it is impossible to consider a life without God, but for those who question His very existence those who depend on Him are foolish.
I recently had an extended conversation with a young woman who is not quite an atheist but who is tending in that direction. She finds it downright silly to think that there is some spiritual element watching over us. She posed the usual arguments about the hypocrisy and downright hatefulness of some religious sects as well as the observation that people suffer. She asked how a loving and generous God would be capable of simply watching as we humans struggle.
I have to admit that in spite of twelve years of Catholic education and a stint as a Director of Religious Education I was not particularly effective in counteracting her arguments. Saying that God gives us free will and does not interfere in our choices carried little weight with her. Nor did she accept the idea that we humans often impose our own thinking onto our religious institutions rather than adhering to the teachings of God.
I have long believed that as people we sometimes become a bit too enamored with religious rules rather than simply accepting the new covenant of Jesus that states that our focus should be on loving one another. I also think it more than likely that God has revealed himself to humanity in different forms to different cultures. Therefore it would be presumptuous of us to decide that one religious group is better than another.
We also forget the difference between faith and religion, too often equating the two. It is my faith in God that sustains me. My religion provides me with a vehicle for praising Him and reminding myself of His presence in my life. I cannot prove that He is real but I fully trust that He is constantly with me. I feel Him in my very soul, and I know for certain that His spirit has guided me for all of my life.
I seriously do not know how anyone who does not have faith in God is able to navigate the rocky roads of living. There have been so many times that I have felt as though the very ground beneath me was melting away and that I was in free fall. Being human is like that. Rarely does an individual have a lifetime without pain or suffering or loss. Without faith in God I would never have made it this far. Just when I sense that I am about to explode with negative emotion I sense His presence. He may not take away the challenges that I am facing, but He provides me with the strength that I need to face whatever is happening. I truly feel his arms embracing me, His fingers locking with mine. He is and always has been a best friend, a counselor and a consoler. I don’t have to see Him to know He is there.
Just a little more than a week ago my husband had a stroke. It was a terrifying time. Had my children and their families not been with me in that moment I am not sure how well I would have done. In retrospect I believe with all of my heart that it was God who provided me with the love and support that I needed. Call me foolish if you will, but I am convinced that this was His way of helping me. He continues with His merciful goodness even as we visit doctors and learn of the dramatic changes that this event will make in our lives.
I have never believed that God gives us everything that we want just because we wish it. We all have to face the realities of living in an imperfect world. His promise to us is not that we will never have to endure hardship, but rather that He will help us to do whatever we have to do at any given moment. If we do our best in this world, the perfection for which we all wish will one day be ours.
There are indeed religious sects that appear to have perverted the very word of God. They engage in self righteous behaviors and pretend to know who is beloved by the Lord. They inflict hateful and sometimes even violent dictates on their fellowmen. I pity them because I sense that they have misinterpreted the intent of God. I do not however presume to judge them because I will never really know what is in their hearts, or why they behave the way they do. It is not up to me as a fellow human being to inflict my own thoughts on others.
This is what I believe. In my own feeble way I attempt to model my faith from day to day. I don’t always succeed in being as good as I wish to be. I backslide, become jealous, say and do ugly things. I have to continuously ask for forgiveness both from people and from God. It is the way of things so I try not to be too hard on myself. Luckily my faith in God is so strong that I know without a scintilla of doubt that He never betrays or abandons me.
I see God everywhere. He is in the colors of the sky and my backyard. He is on the faces of the people that I encounter. He is in the remarkable human intellect that finds ways to heal and teach and feed and create and love. Our power as people does not come only from ourselves. It is from the spirit of God that lives within us. He always believes in us even when we do not believe in Him.