I’ve been discussing with a friend the different understandings of faith. Some people claim a very personal, life-changing experience of God’s love. They hear stories of the 99 sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, and they say, “Wow, isn’t this amazing. God loves ME that much!” They hear verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or John 14:2-3, and they are overjoyed that God has a plan for them, and that Jesus is even now preparing a place for them in heaven. They love to hear the pastor preach from the pulpit that God loves them so much, He would have still sent Jesus to die for them even if they were the only person on earth.
Some would say this is a beautiful acceptance of God’s love. It is complete, utter devotion in response to the ultimate sacrifice.
But others take the stance that this is a hugely egotistical understanding of God’s love, typical of modern-day society’s obsession with self. It’s all about me, me, me….instead of God.
Which one of these viewpoints is correct?
Does one of them have to be wrong?
The thing I have come to realise time and time again over the past few years is that my faith is not defined on stone tablets. It is a dynamic organism that is continually evolving…often in ways I don’t expect.
Sometimes, it goes through long periods of stasis, and then inevitably, just when I think I’ve defined my faith or reached some sort of “faith milestone”, something happens to toss me back into chaos and change and uncertainty…only to come out on the other side with yet a new aspect to my faith.
Sometimes, I look back on my early Christian days and I just cringe with shame at comments made or action taken with a gusto fuelled by “righteousness”. I cringe because although at the time, I thought I was living out the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, I was completely oblivious to the second, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
My newborn faith was very starry-eyed and full of the joy and awe of being loved by the Creator. It was also a very self-centric thing. But can it really be anything else in the beginning? Should it be? Does a child appreciate his or her parents because of the incredibly capable people they are? Because of the contribution they make to this world, how they help other people on a daily basis? I’m pretty sure that for the most part, children don’t even realise, let alone appreciate, the fact that their parents have lives outside of them. Plans, expectations, goals that don’t directly involve them (the children) can even seem a threat. The only relationship that defines the parent is that of mother/father.
But as the child grows, they see differently. They still know that their parents love them, in fact, they learn to appreciate the depth of that love in a way they couldn’t before as they understand the sacrifices made, the opportunities given. They come to that point where they can be involved in their parents’ lives in a much deeper, more meaningful way. They can see their parents as individuals with outside interests and goals and not feel threatened. In fact, this just gives another dimension to appreciate, and maybe even gives a chance to take a turn as the helper instead of the dependent.
I love my children dearly, and at the moment, they really are at the centre of much of my decision making. But I will be sorely disappointed if they think that this is the extent of their lives. Yes, I want them to feel lavished in unconditional, ever-supportive love. Yes, I want them to appreciate the depth of my devotion to them….and then I want them to take that and use it to grow into maturity. To bring more love, more compassion, more generosity, more patience into the world. To love their neighbour, as well as me.
So maybe it’s not a question of right or wrong viewpoints. Maybe it’s just understanding and appreciating wherever you are in your faith…and knowing that God has more in store.
“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set out before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” Heb 12: 1-2