When faith is a quest

Posted by on Dec 4, 2022 in Blog | 5 comments

shallow focus photography of man wearing red polo shirt

Jesus commended the faith of little children, seeing in it innocence, spontaneity and deep trust. But for many, faith doesn’t come easily or naturally. Indeed, for some, nothing comes easily or naturally. William Blake in his Auguries of Innocence writes:

Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night

It’s lovely for those who are born to “sweet delight”, but what about those who seem born to “endless night”? You probably know some who fall into this category, and perhaps you classify yourself in it. I don’t want to go into the “how can a loving God allow suffering and evil” question here, but would like to focus on a more narrow part of the question – some would say so narrow that its often overlooked -and that is: Why does belief come easily to some, while for others it is a tortured, perhaps near impossible, journey. We often quote Mark 9:24 “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” as reflecting the ambivalence many have about faith, but for some it is deeper – it’s “Lord, I wish I had some belief, but all I have is cynicism, disappointment and a sense of absence.”

Back in 2016 I wrote a post on Extrinsic, Intrinsic and Quest forms of faith, which was a rework of a section of my book, When Faith Turns Ugly. In it I note that for some faith is a perpetual “quest”. It involves hard questions, much searching, dismissal of trite answers, and annoyance at attempts to avoid or deny real issues. For many it is the only route to a genuine faith. Anything else would be dismissed as escapism or wishful thinking.

Quest seekers are often the prophets in our midst. They alert us when we are speaking nonsense, and let us know when the echo chamber of our monotonously similar and repetitious voices is becoming irresponsibly silly. For them truth matters, and though they would acknowledge that truth itself is a contested category and notoriously difficult to define, they would note that it is never afraid of genuine discussion or close interrogation.

Quest seekers often fare badly in local churches. Their probing questions are viewed as being sharp, or unhelpful or critical. They are sometimes dismissed with a “Just have a little more faith” – and their retort, “I would, if your answers made a little more sense” is met with a “But that’s the point. Have a little more faith.” It gets annoyingly circular – but what is mildly annoying to those who find faith easy, can be excruciating to those who do not. “Just believe…” doesn’t hack it to those who have known betrayal, dismissal, or have seen injustice at close quarters. Equally, “the Bible says it, just believe it” is not convincing to those who have taken the time to study church history and are aware of how many times Bible verses have been used to defend the indefensible. True, they might be more willing to engage in a discussion on what constitutes sound hermeneutics, but they are unlikely to settle for surface readings of the biblical text. They will want to know the “why” behind every text – and frankly, why not? Failure to explore the “why” often leads to misguided readings. Equally, many biblical texts contain the small seed of an idea that is only able to grow in fruitful cultural soil. There were reasons Paul was not able to make a direct and obvious call to abolish slavery, but later generations of Christians could. Quest seekers often alert us to the change of season and of a shift in our cultural context.

Though quest seekers might feel an awkward fit for many local churches (asking tricky questions like”why this nazi style salute in worship?”), we desperately need them. And in their own way, they also need those for whom faith comes more easily. Even if that unquestioning version of faith seems unsatisfactory to them, we all need love, and affection, and encouragement. And we all need to understand that what some can dismiss with a “whatever” is to others an insurmountable barrier. Love and kindness is the lubricant that will see us through, as will be the willingness to hold together, regardless of if our lot is “sweet delight” or “endless night”.

As always, nice chatting…

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Brian.

    “Why does belief come easily to some, while for others it is a tortured, perhaps near impossible, journey.”
    I wonder if, for the ones who’s faith is a quest what makes it a near impossible journey is not the pursuit of God rooted in deep and endless questions but doing so in an environment that rejects the quest as valid or necessary and therefore, in not so many words, undermines the God given worth of the individual themselves. It seems that a life of quest seeking faith is a deep joy, a great privilege, a heavy responsibility and, in this time and place of the modern western era, perhaps an almost overbearing curse. Maybe faith is not the impossible journey, but sometimes doing faith in community whilst sustaining one’s life is.

    If indeed the church needs the quest seeker, love, kindness and encouragement may need to be paired with a willingness to be humbled to a place of deep listening, not agreement, but willingness to listen beyond what immediately irritates and offends …lest it simply be an act of righteous pity where a spiritual power imbalance is upheld bringing all exploration to an end (and perhaps ones humanity to an end with it).

    • Thanks Ruth. I greatly appreciate your insight and the reflection that quest seeking includes both joy and weight. Sobering that it’s the community that is often the most difficult part.

  3. Words change their meanings over time in any language. I think that “faith” and “belief” are no longer good translations of that little NT Greek word ‘pisteo’. “Trust” is probably a more accurate translation of the word.

    …the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you trust that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” (Matthew 9:28)

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God. Trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who trusts in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

    One important reason for using “trust” rather than “believe” is that “trust” shows that we humans are never the means by which something good happens. God, and only God, is the means by which good things happen. We trust. God does the work. Also, using “trust” rather than “belief” or “faith” takes the action out of the head and puts it into the heart, which is where God loves to interact with his children.

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