Does Faith Need An Object?

December 5th, 2012

I’m driving around a parking station looking for a space. Its full, spaces are scarce. I pray, “God, find me a space and I’ll be forever grateful.” As I turn into a new row, the perfect space opens up, poll position right near the store entry. As I steer into my prized space, as an afterthought, I look up and say, “Never mind God, I found one myself.”

I’m going to take a leap of faith here. I’m going to dive into a topic that will hit a raw nerve for many. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.I’m going to be brutally honest, but don’t mean this as an offense for those who see it differently. I know how personal this subject is.

Does faith need an object? In other words, do you have to believe in God to have faith in your life?

This is the rapid fire version of how its evolved for me.

As a young’n, I had occasional moments of faith in God. On dark nights, when my heart was full of worry, I would lie in bed and say, “Over to you God! I’m out of ideas!” There was a vague feeling of comfort in just saying the words. There was something about the honest communication that was therapeutic.

The running commentary with God continued for a number of years, even after I’d concluded that IF there was a God out there, it made little difference to me. It was a lot like the parking space story.

The problem was that as an adult, with far greater responsibilities, the comfort started to feel empty. In moments of genuine life crisis, I tried out the same prayer, “Over to you God! I’m out of ideas!” But after that it was crickets. Zip! The crisis was still there. It was still up to me to take responsibility; either to do what needed to be done, or to accept that there was nothing  that could be done.

Enter ambiguity; a state that I hear many people express when it comes to God. Belief in God becomes more of an inner dialogue than an actual interactive affair; calling on God, but knowing that its all up to us. While I say its ambiguous, its not all unhealthy. In my mind, its half a truth. Who is it that’s engaged in this inner dialogue? Which parts of yourself are in conversation? One way to think of it is that its knowing and unknowing in dialogue; certainty and mystery, responsibility and surrender. Its a personal way of wrestling with the serenity prayer; what to change, what to accept and how to know the difference.

Its faith without an object, because faith with an object is not really faith. Its expectation. When you come to moments of choice between action and acceptance, you are face to face with faith.

In my moment of great crisis as a 20 something, it went a lot like the story about the man who slips over the edge of cliff while hiking. He manages to cling on to a single branch, dangling his legs over a massive drop to certain death. When he realizes his predicament, he calls out. “Is there anybody up there? I’m all out of options. Please help me.” A voice comes as if from the clouds; “Let go of the branch. Trust me. I’ll catch you.” The man looks up at the sky, looks at the thin branch holding him and looks down at the massive drop below. He looks up and down a few times, and then says, “Is there anybody else up there?”

For me this was the point of letting go of an interventionist God and then saying, “Is there anybody else out there?”

The amazing discovery has been that I no longer need anybody to be out there, once I truly come face to face with faith. Everything I need I have within me, including the ability to surrender to the parts of life that I can’t control. I trust that life has its own patterns and purposes, even if I don’t understand them.

There is still great value in the expression of surrender. Much like the first of the 12 steps, I come to many points in my life when I throw my hands in the air and say, “I’m all out of ideas and options. So whatever needs to be, let it be.” I’m surrendering to the flow of life. But, and this is my main point, when I realize that even surrender is a powerful choice, the very act of surrender becomes a way to reclaim power. I have options after all. Surrender is one of the greatest ideas.

Many people call what I’m describing “God within!” I understand the attraction in putting the God word on this inner experience. Call it God or not, but either way, its a powerful and empowering experience.

That’s how its worked for me. Without an interventionist God, I have found that my life is fuller and freer. I experience more of the finer things of life; like gratitude, wonder, faith and love, without God. I feel more motivated to live well and generously without God. I’m more prone to surrender and trust life, without God. I wake up with more of a spring in my step, without God.

Its different for others, and I can respect that. I’m not an angry atheist. My reason for outlining this in detail is so that those who, like me, don’t have a need for God, can still experience ALL that life has to offer. Have faith, in yourself, and in life’s mysterious connectedness. Life is a drop dead miracle in every moment, before which you can often only stand in wide eyed amazement and surrender to the scope of it and your small place in it.

This is faith for me.

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  1. Bob says:

    Joseph Campbell once said to a Priest when talking about faith, well Father if you had proof, you wouldn’t need faith

  2. Jim Fantone says:

    Thanks Ian,
    A very thoughtful approach to a very sensitive subject.What I like most is that it is an evolution. Live on!

  3. Tenzin Chosang says:

    Hi Ian
    I am the Buddhist monk you knew in Auckland. Thank you for a beautiful and profound piece of writing – it reminds me of the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Hope and the family are very well and happy.
    Best wishes, Tenzin.

  4. ian says:

    hi Tenzin, I remember you fondly. How nice to hear from you. In fact your name came up only last week in an email.
    Thank you, we are all well. I hope you are too, and that we might meet again one of these days. Be well Tenzin, Ian

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