I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what to say to people who feel disconnected from God. They had once felt close, they would call themselves Christians but life got really bruising and now they are not so sure.
I woke the other morning with this insight going round my mind: ” Part of the problem is that people have been taught what to believe and not been taught how to believe and knowing what to believe isn’t enough, you also need to know ‘how’ to believe”.
This wasn’t a new insight, I’d remembered it from Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now which I read a few months ago but it came back to me with fresh relevance to this issue of discouragement.
“In the West” he wrote “religion (has) become preoccupied with telling people what to know more than how to know’ (The Naked Now, emphasis mine).
I think this gives us part of an answer as to why it is that sometimes God feels SO far away, especially when we are in pain.
I get asked that question quite a lot. So this blog post is my first answer as to why that is.
We have been taught “what” to know but not been taught “how” to believe.
And when we are in distress, enduring ill-health, pain, bereavement, any kind of anxiety, or stress, the “what” of belief can suddenly seem curiously irrelevant.
The essence of the Christian faith can summed up on the back of a postcard (that was after all the whole point of creating the creeds, boiling the basics down the essentials we all agree on). Here it is:
God came in Jesus as a human, lived and died and rose again.
That’s pretty much ‘it’ as far as it goes for “what to believe”. Okay, it can be packaged in all sorts of fancy theological words but the essence is simple. However, when it’s our nose that’s flat up against the pain, reality and stress of life, many of us find ourselves thinking (if we are honest enought to admit it): “What has that piece of information got to do with me, right here and right now?
This sense of disconnection (disconnection from ‘what we believe’ or disconnection from God), arises because we have only been taught ‘what’ to believe (information) and not ‘how’ to believe it (experiencing Presence).
Faith is SO MUCH MORE than intellectual assent to certain facts, stories or agreeing that certain ideas are ‘true or false’. But here are some boxes you might like to tick or cross:
If you can run your finger down the creeds and go ‘tick, tick, tick yes I believe all that that’ but still find yourself wondering what earthly difference that makes right here and right now, then you need to ‘get out of your head’ and get into your life. You need to move away from a belief based religion and lean into a practised based faith.
A practised based faith is the ‘how’ of ‘how to believe’ .
Each morning it is one of my practises to say a form of Morning prayer. In the words I say, there is this quotation from scripture: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God”.
The underlined phrase catches my attention every time.
In the West, we are used to knowing something first, intellectually grappling with it and then coming to believe in it. Rational engagement comes way before heart engagement.
What this phrase is saying is that belief is the doorway to knowing something or someone, in this case God. Rational engagement will only get you so far, unless you enter through the doorway marked ‘belief’ you cannot begin to know God. There is no other route available. God is not someone you can rationalise or work out in your head and then think ‘yes I’ll believe in this God’. If you can only allow yourself to believe in a God you can rationally comprehend with your mind then you are believing in a very small and very unmysterious God. No wonder when the chips are down, this God seems so irrelevant.
So if you think you are losing faith in God, maybe you should ask yourself ‘what God do I no longer believe in?” When we live too much in our minds, we actually limit what we know because the human mind is self-obsessed and repetative. In order to know God we need to find another route (not an alternative to our minds, I’m not saying reason has no place) but a route that allows us to experience the Presence of God, as mystery, as the source of life and as the giver of unconditional love.
This route is provided by the ‘how’ of ‘how to believe’
So ‘how’ do we believe? One day at a time, one step at a time, one decision, one prayer, one loving action, one act of service. Walking, talking, living, loving, giving, listening, praying, singing, laughing, crying… it all counts.