Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The posture of Faith

In the group I've mentioned before that meets to listen and discuss the words of different religious thinkers, we just listed to a program about Elie Wiessel, an Auschwitz survivor who lost both his parents in the holocaust. Though we listened to the whole program, there was one quote from the beginning that grabbed my attention, and that seized the entirety of the discussion afterwards:
Some people who read my first book, Night, they were convinced that I broke with the faith and broke with God. Not at all. I never divorced God. It is because I believed in God that I was angry at God, and still am. The tragedy of the believer, it is deeper than the tragedy of the non-believer.
The words resonated with me, and with one of the other "messier" Christians in the room (whose dying father is an atheist and whose mother is a Buddhist). But for the other people in the room, from Christians to unaffiliated theists, the words were anywhere from irrational to repulsive. Why would one be angry at God? they wondered. If it seems like God is not doing his/her responsibility, you must have the wrong idea of what that responsibility is. Change your perception of him; he is beyond anger.

I think one of the best parts of being a Christian is that three-quarters of our Bible is the Jewish Bible, the story of Israel who was named the Wrestler. Abraham barters; Jacob wrestles; Moses argues; David pleads; Jeremiah laments; Jonah pouts; Job demands.

To my Christian friends, that posture often seems dangerous. To my unaffiliated theist friend, it is ridiculous. But I wonder if it is the posture of true faith in a God who claims to be just and righteous; I wonder if anything less is to not take his words seriously. At the very least, God has shown himself big enough to take it; at most, he has specifically chosen the wrestlers who will take him to task about making good on his promises. Certainly he will prove himself right in the end, but that knowledge doesn't seem to keep the faithful from wrestling with him in the mean time.


Kate said...

Yes. Very well said. I was at a theology book group last night where we were discussing John Swinton's 'Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil' (good book - very accessible but also thorough and challenging), and we were talking about the absence of lament in contemporary worship. Why are the lament Psalms so often missed out? Why are the difficult questions never asked? It's not a rejection of God or of God's will or of God's love, but it is precisely what Wiesel says. Because we believe in God, we can - and should, I think - ask these questions of him. Lament (or wrestling) is an act of faith, not a show of lack of faith.

Anonymous said...

Where fear is absent there can be no courage, but only lack of perception or concern. The same is true of a faith which is dismissive of counterveiling reality--it is the mask of a weak mind or heart.