What do I believe? It’s a question that’s been posed to me more than once by sincere believers who happen to be creationists, and who struggle to understand how I could claim to be a Christian---and yet an enthusiastic advocate for evolutionary biology, to which their understanding of the Bible forces them to oppose? Sometimes the whole business is not even put to me as a question, but rides piggyback with invective, as in phrases like ‘this so-called Christian’ or ‘you claim to be a Christian.’

I used to get mad about that, but I’m starting to feel more sympathetic to my sparring partners in the pews, so in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I would post about the things that I can’t possible prove, but which I believe to be true. I’ll let you decide what label to give me, whether I’m a true believer, a sell-out, a phony or simply batshit crazy.

I believe that there is a realm outside our present universe which is not subject to scientific investigation at the present time. Both within and without that realm there exists a transcendent source of power which is distinct from, yet which interacts with, all of Creation—including humanity, with all our great potential and sorry failings. The intuition of many is to regard this source as a personality, a being which desires relationship with us. This being goes by many names; we can call it God, if you like, as long as we remember that we are naming that which we can neither understand or define.

Now, the fact that there are many names is telling, for, despite the best efforts of many, the sense of relationship is fragmentary, incomplete. Our failings (which is to say our limitations, our lack of understanding) lead thoughtful people to correctly regard the state of belief as both fantastic and incoherent. Our great potential is revealed in our response to the situation, as we seek to more fully explore and understand the parts of the universe which are accessible to us.

From this perspective, the only thing that can feed the possibility of real faith is honest doubt. We can not truly say we believe anything unless we are willing to admit the possibility that we are wrong, and in addition to commit ourselves to the task to investigating every claim by every means at our disposal. As a Christian, I hold certain things as true on faith, but I do not think I should privilege those claims to the point that they are not up for discussion.

Having said that, I believe. I believe that the Bible records experiences that are, in a very real sense, true accounts of interaction between God and humankind. It is filtered through different peoples, in different times and different cultures, and much of the latter is unlikely to be relevant to my present circumstances. That they testify to the possibility of relationship, however, remains mysterious, miraculous and deeply meaningful, and it culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ.

Christians believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s desire for relationship, a human being who embodies God, and who lives in God. The ‘kingdom of God’ at the heart of Jesus’s parables is about the indwelling of God in human life, and the insight that we should live not to serve ourselves, but to serve others, just as God is given to us in the life and death of Jesus. There is much that could be said here about a host of rules and traditions associated with various flavors of Christianity, but it boils down to this: if you believe that Jesus truly manifested the sort of relationship that God desires with humankind, and you desire that relationship, you will attempt as best you can to follow Jesus’s example.

‘As best you can’ is acknowledgment that you can not bridge the gap between yourself and God on your own. Rather, we Christians believe that Jesus has already bridged the gap, perfecting the relationship between God and man through Death and Resurrection. If you believe this (and I do), then you will have begun walking down the path that leads to God, ‘as best you can.’

‘As best you can’, however, means that you must recognize and accept human frailty and not regard any human pronouncement as perfected. Scripture is to be treasured, but not worshiped. Christianity has many traditions, practices that enrich the experience of faith, but we do not pray to tradition. The mistake that many Biblical literalists make is that they confuse mere products of Creation with its source. Authentic faith rests in our relationship with God, not human custom, and so it follows that we can not get hope to get closer to God by demeaning either old ways or new ideas that differ from our own. We can not love our God more by loving our fellow man less.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Hatfield,

Thank you for the interesting blog.
I am curious if you read any works by C. S. Lewis.


Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Thanks for stopping by, Michael! I've not really read Lewis in many years. I can remember making my way through the Narnia series without really appreciating the allegory. I have to admit I prefer real myth to allegory, as did Lewis's friend and fellow scholar J.R.R. Tolkien.