Faith as a Choice
15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Along my faith journey about ten years ago, I decided that the church was not historically true. This lead to a period of struggle for many years over what exactly I would do with that new understanding.
I was moved watching the movie Tree of Life. Sean Penn’s character is a middle age guy, kind of a hardened by life, businessman that doesn’t seem at peace, he’s looking out his New York City high rise window, and pondering. Thoughts and all these images flashing around. He’s speaking to God in his heart and says “How did you come to me? In what shape? What disguise?” And then the movie flashes through creation scenes which the director meant to portray that God is there, he’s working in the universe, but sometimes imperceptible if you’re not looking. He says to himself “How did I lose you? I Wandered. Forgot you.”
I related to that difficulty to find God and to struggle with doubt. I felt like I had already rejected Mormonism and closing down my belief in God, but something inside me wouldn’t sit still, and I couldn’t find peace without more seeking.
I read Terryl Givens talking about faith as a choice, and I was very frustrated by it. Faith is not a choice! How can I just randomly tell my brain to believe in something it doesn’t think is factual??!!
Understanding the metaphorical and sacramental paradigm of religion as defined by Marcus Borg, helped me finally understand what these Progressive Mormon voices were teaching.
Marcus Borg argues that faith as belief is a concept that’s been hijacked by the modern church (speaking of Christianity in general) when faith historically has been more of a multi-faceted concept, with emphasis on faith as faithfulness.
“Faith as fidelitas. The English word is ‘fidelity.’ Faith as fidelitas means faith as ‘faithfulness’ to God. Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the ‘heart.’ Faith as fidelitas does not mean faithfulness to statements about God, whether biblical, credal, or doctrinal. Rather, it means faithfulness to the God to whom the bible and creeds and doctrines point. The opposite of faith as faithfulness is not doubt or disbelief, but rather infidelity or unfaithfulness. We use this language when a man has been ‘unfaithful’ to his wife or a woman has engaged in infidelity. They have broken their covenant relationship and been disloyal to one another.”
I accept this as a proper definition of faith with one quibble. I believe faith as fidelity is not just faithfulness to God but also assumes faithfulness to the teachings and standards of the religion you choose.
Stephen Robinson in Following Christ said, “In the Old Testament, the words for faith, faithful, and faithfulness all come from the Hebrew ‘aman (to be firm or reliable) and imply primarily qualities of loyalty and determination rather than qualities of loyalty and determination rather than qualities of belief…Thus being faithful does not have as much to do with our belief or even our activity in the Church as it does with whether we can be trusted to do our duty in the earthly kingdom of God…Unfortunately, due to denominational influence in modern English, the word faith has come to be associated primarily with what we believe.”
We can now interpret the leaders of Progressive Mormon thought in this new light.
Terryl Givens on faith as a choice:
“The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true….. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance. The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we ‘get it right.’ It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. …Peter’s tentative steps across the water capture the rhythm familiar to most seekers. He walks in faith, he stumbles, he sinks, but is embraced by the Christ before the waves swallow him. Many of us will live out our lives in doubt, like the unnamed father in the gospel of Mark. Coming to Jesus, distraught over the pain of his afflicted son, he said simply, ‘I believe, help my unbelief.’ Though he walked through mists of doubt, caught between belief and unbelief, he made a choice, and the consequence was the healing of his child.”
Kevin Barney in a blog article at By Common Consent, quoting Gregory A. Prince, “An Interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner.”
Prince: Let’s start by considering the question of how religions understand themselves in relation to other religions. I think if we had enough data points we would probably find that most, if not all religious traditions at some point in their maturation process either said, “We are better,” “We are the best,” or, “We are the only.” I think that the ones that I would consider the more mature have softened those stances.
Kushner: Yes, due to reality.
Prince: The Mormons immediately populated the top one and have been very reluctant, or incapable of vacating it.
Kushner: My take on that was to say, “Our religion is the best” is like saying “Our baseball team is the best.” It’s not a statement of fact; it’s a statement of loyalty.
Prince: Yes, and “My family is the best.”
Kushner: Yes, right. “My mother is the best cook.” it’s not factual.
Prince: My mother was–I don’t know about yours.
“These things are just immensely complicated and there is no way that through picking through and looking at everything you can arrive at certain conclusions. That’s easy for me as a scholar to say because that’s the nature of historical knowledge. Every historian knows that the biggest questions are all unanswerable or you have very restrictive answers to most of the big questions.
So, I think the better way to say is ‘there is a way of looking that is favorable to the Church. You don’t have to interpret everything in a negative way.’ So, all I aim when I talk to people is to keep the conversation open. Don’t close your mind. Don’t decide it’s now all over.”
I used to know the gospel was true. Then I knew it wasn’t true. And Finally I have arrived at where I am today, which is I have hope and believe. I no longer know, but for me that is ok. I am comfortable with uncertainity and I no longer feel the anxiety of cognitive dissonance. I choose to believe in spite of what I see as incongruities and complexity.
I was moved to put together this blog post by a question Kerry Shirts asked “What is ‘the truth’ of scripture?”
“The newest Mormon rhetoric to come out, that of Terryl Givens, claims that ‘…many scriptural contradictions are only apparent, [to who?] evaporating upon closer or more contextualized reading.’ Nice, but whose contextualization? Givens, being a Mormon apologist says Mormonism, of course! And we are once again back to square one.”
This is exactly the kind of statement that used to really bother me, before I moved from a literal to a metaphorical paradigm and accepted faith as something denotes choice not necessarily belief. Truth to a literal believer is limited to only statements that are factual accurate. Truth to me now is doctrine that leads us to understanding about God and ourselves, and leads us to a better, higher, happier state of living.
I choose to have faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by Joseph Smith. I understand the historical claims of our church’s origin are messy. They might even prove it is false, if you are restricted to a narrow, literal view. But by a larger definition, I believe the church is true. The evidence of the church’s truth is the rich abundance I feel in my life when I engage fully in the church. I find God in the Mormon church, and my life is enriched.