2nd Easter Year A
Faith and Belief
Acts 2.14a,22-32, Ps 16, 1 Peter 1.1-12, John 20.19-31
Today’s reflection touches on the difference between belief and faith. They are in relationship of course however they are often taken to mean the same thing. You may agree or not with the following thoughts however perhaps they will prompt some helpful personal reflection.
You might remember the story of the man who wakes in the night to see a snake lying coiled nearby. He remains frozen with fear through the dark hours. Then, as the sun rises, and light begins to filter into his hut, he sees that the snake is in fact a bit of coiled rope that he had forgotten to put away!
This is a story of perception. The man believed he saw a snake. In truth it was a bit of rope. The consequence of this mistaken perception was that the man spent the night frozen with fear.
At one time in human history human beings believed that the earth was flat. That belief or perception was wrong as we now know thanks to the advent of scientific inquiry. And people such as Galileo Galiliei were condemned for their scientific findings. Specifically, he had been charged with teaching and defending the Copernican doctrine that holds that the Sun is at the centre of the universe and that the earth moves. This doctrine had been deemed heretical. Today of course we know that Galilei was right despite the strong beliefs of the church.
So, belief is fraught with the possibility of wrong perception. Thomas, now known as ‘doubting Thomas’, seemed to me to possess a healthy scepticism. To doubt does not mean to lack faith. Belief and faith are not the same thing. Statement of belief, when they become hardened into dogmatic formulae, can indeed, stymie our growth in faith. Faith, by its very essence, can accommodate uncertainty. If it couldn’t then it would not be faith.
“Christians have often limited their understanding of faith to what they believe, or worse, what they feel they have to believe in order ‘to be saved’.”
On the cross Jesus experienced abandonment by God. At that most critical point of his life, his dying, there was nothing certain, nothing sure. Yet his whole life was a lived act of faith that took him to that moment, and beyond. His life of faith was that of one who tells us, unless you lay down your life, you will not find it.
We live in uncertain times. We don’t know when we will resume our usual social life. We don’t know when Covid_19 will be supressed. Many have lost their jobs and don’t know what the future holds for them. We do know that climate change will bring increasingly uncertain times as weather events disrupt life on earth. So, now more than ever, our faith will need to serve us and others. And the church, rather than being an institution bound up by dogma, needs to be a community of faith; a community that serves life in uncertain times; a living community of love big enough to embrace uncertainty and difference.
It takes faith to entertain doubt. It takes faith to forgive. It certainly takes faith to love as fully as we are called to love. Faith is not what we think about; it’s not an idea or concept. Faith is a way of seeing and a way of living.
What Thomas came to see, through the eyes of faith, was the risen Jesus. His perception was transfigured such that he came to recognize Christ even though his reasoning mind said it could not be so. And this seeing, this knowing, along with the other disciples, led him to living a life, not of fear, but of faith grounded in the reality of the Living Christ; the Spirit of Christ who lives through us. Jesus ‘layed down his life’, emptied himself. We too are called to such radical faith. Belief is meant to serve faith – not to stunt it. Belief is like the fingers that point to the moon. They are not the moon itself. Jesus always pointed beyond himself to ‘the Father’, to God. Christianity, in these times, needs enough faith to remain grounded in Christ even as we accommodate difference and uncertainty.
Faith is dynamic – not static. It’s a way of living. We can rejoice in our faith as the first letter of Peter encourages. We are ‘given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1.3). Such faith is a ‘path of life’, a way of living in the light and presence of the Lord where there is’ fullness of joy’ (Ps 16.11) It is a faith into which “angels long to look” (1 Peter 1.12). Human longing for God; for the mystery of unconditional Love, is a faith-filled seeking. It is about relationship with that which we can never fully comprehend. As St Paul says, ‘now we see through a glass darkly, (Cor 13.12). The mystery of Jesus resurrection; the disciples encounter with the risen Christ, filled them with faith such that they came to believe that the One whom they encountered was the same One who had died. And through him we have life. Amen.
Questions for reflection
 Laurence Freeman ,First Sight: The Experience of Faith.p 9, Continuum Books, NY 2011
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The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: