The Absurdity of Faith
This blog is a revisiting of one I wrote when I was away. One I wrote that I subsequently lost due to a random click on the computer by me. Yes, I did that awful thing of editing what I had written because I wanted to split the blog into two and then saving without renaming, and ended up losing the original, ouch!
Anyway I would still like to revisit the disappeared one, so here it is, reconstituted.
This blog is inspired in part by a guy called Rob Bell, a favourite of mine in so many ways. He started out as a leader in the evangelical movement in the US, in charge of a mega church with thousands of people, a darling of the religious right. Then he had an epiphany, and realised that what he was preaching about Christianity, about heaven and hell, and who was going where, just didn’t fit with the message of Jesus. So he left his mega church, renounced the trappings of his position, the power and the popularity and the money, wrote a book called “Love Wins” and started a journey to a more open exploring faith. In the process he went from the darling of the evangelical movement to its enemy, and you only have to look on facebook to see how much they now attack him for being a traitor to the cause.
While being an author, Rob Bell also does podcasts, where he interviews a wide selection of people, from varied faith traditions to explore what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century. Recently one of those podcasts caught my attention in a big way! Just before I left I listened to Rob interview a guy called Peter Rollins, a philosopher and theologian from Belfast, with a wonderful accent, a dry sense of humour and an incredible and deep interest in the “God “question.
Rob Bell and Peter Rollins did 4 podcasts together, where they talked about God and of course about Christianity and about spirituality in our world and time. They were great, but the third one in particular made me sit up and take notice. It was on the absurdity of faith and in particular the absurdity of the Christian faith. It really struck a chord.
Of course faith seems totally absurd in our modern, scientific world where everything is measured and what can’t be measured can’t be true. But somehow Jesus is the ultimate absurdity, even after 2,000. Traditionally the people of the first century were expecting a Messiah, a messenger from God, to come and rescue them, to put things right, to punish the wicked and reward the righteous, and turn around the world. To renew creation by power and might.
And what did they get?
What they got was a humble, peasant carpenter, quite possibly illiterate, but who could teach and tell stories and parables, who revealed the creative presence of God in the world and showed those who listened how to bring light rather than darkness and despair, who called for community, equity and justice, and who died a horrible death on a cross.
What, that can’t be right! Where is the power and might?
Jesus, in his life, in his words and deeds, represented the powerless, not powerful, and called for forgiveness over retribution, peace over violence and most essentially love over hate. The reason Jesus was killed is quite simple really, but we complicate it with rules and beliefs that exclude and divide, and he would be probably horrified. He challenged those with power and those in power responded by getting rid of this radical, scandalous messenger.
Or so they thought!
Before Jesus died he called his listeners to join in and follow him.
And that’s the amazing thing! They did and still do.
Regardless of what you think about the resurrection, literal, spiritual, or something else, Jesus’s life and teachings still resonate with people today, as they have done for centuries. The call is still there! Changing people’s lives, and the lives of those around them, inspiring them to give up things to make the world or their little bit of the world better. His message still has the power to speak to people today and completely transform them. Jesus revealed and continues to reveal life’s hidden mystery. Of God’s renewing power and presence within each one of us that can make a difference, and when we enter the stream of that mystery we can live lives of freedom and joy. We become better more complete people.
This may sound absurd today when what we hear mostly is that money and possession or jobs define us. But that’s not really true. What defines us best is how we love one another, and that includes ourselves, and what we contribute. And we have an urge within each one of us to do this if we listen to this persistant inner voice. Which is why Jesus’s message, while absurd to many modern ears, strikes a chord to others. But it’s not about getting to heaven, it’s about living the best way we can here and now.
Rob Bell realised that the type of Christianity he was presenting, that you have to believe and act a certain way to be in the group, otherwise you were definitely out, and not just out but lost forever, seemed horrible and out of step with its founder. In fact it seemed more in step with modern society that says the things which divide us are greater than those that connect us. So he left. To become a Jesus follower, to preach the Jesus way. An absurd decision and one in which he had to give up a lot.
As for little old me, I could be following the standard route as a scientist but I have chosen to follow a slightly crazy path, serving a small Uniting church congregation in Wembley Downs while combining it with secular employment. Recently I have had the opportunity to break away, giving up the church work altogether to do a Phd in Anatomy and Human Biology and finally be a proper scientist! Mmm, tempting!
Yet somehow that is not what my heart is saying.
Like Rob Bell, it seems totally absurd but I am about to commit for another 3 years to this small, but very active congregation, as long as they will have me, and leave thoughts of Phds behind. Certainly scientific ones. As one friend said, I will have to be a Dr in a parallel universe! Thoughts of Dr Who!
But it opens up a new path, which feels exciting and really quite freeing.
After walking the Camino again, a great time for reflection, I realise I want to show those that will listen that all things in life are not clear and measureable. That the path or journey of faith is one worth following. And that the way and teachings of Jesus gives us a glimpse of that path. Even in the 21st century. Perhaps this is what I have been waiting for all my life!
Absurd as it seems!