[Last week, I shared a little bit of my thoughts about faith. I specifically outlined the differences between phenomenological faith—faith in physicals laws, etc—and relational faith—faith in a friend or other “person.” This week, I’d like to expand a little on that theme.]
One of my favorite candies is jelly beans. But I don’t just like any old jelly beans: my favorite are Jelly Bellies. When I eat one, I can taste it as a distinct flavor, every “green apple” or “licorice” or “Dr. Pepper” flavor tasting as it should, with the right amount of candy-goodness mixed with its advertised flavor. But wait! Why would I be talking about jelly beans at an Inklings meeting? Aren’t we supposed to be helping each other to search for a deeper meaning to life, or at least to be presenting unique perspectives thereof?
I didn’t come here just to make a product endorsement (and no, they aren’t funding us), but I do mention the specific brand for a reason. It is fair to say that I have a certain amount of faith in my Jelly Bellies, that I believe that they are good (to taste) and that they advertise correctly (“green apple” tastes like green apples, after all). But when I say that I have faith in Jelly Bellies, I am not necessarily making an endorsement of all jelly beans, everywhere. When I say that I like jelly beans, I am not necessarily saying that I like the abstract concept of “jelly beans” but rather a specific type of jelly bean.
Similarly, when I say that I have faith in my friends, I can either be referring to the abstract concept of friends or a particular friend or friend. To borrow a generalized for of an analogy used last week, suppose that every time I needed help with a project, James and Andrew came to my aide. I could then say that I have faith that my friends will come to help me when I need it, but I would be referring ultimately to James and Andrew, two specific friends, and not just to the concept of “friends” or to every friend I’ve ever had.
Similarly, when talking about faith in God, we are talking about having faith in a specific Being. God is not merely “the supernatural;” He is not an abstract or impersonal force or a mere term for “the will of the universe.” God is a Being, a trinity of Persons, and a specific One at that. He has specific characteristics or traits: He’s just, merciful, compassionate, holy, graceful, faithful, and so on. He is, in fact, the standard by which these traits ought to be judged.
Thus, our faith in Him should resemble a more perfect and complete version of our faith in other people, for He is “personal,” but in a more perfect and complete manner. Our faith must be based on Whom He is—or at least, based on what we know about Him, what He has revealed to us. Among other things, this means trusting in His infiniteness and His perfection—two things which we, as flawed and finite beings cannot fully comprehend. A God of infinite wisdom and knowledge may answer our requests for help—our prayerful petitions—not with the help that we want, but with the help that we need. In other words, His interaction with us—his presence in our lives, his answers or (perceived) non-answers to our prayers, etc—will reflect what’s truly best for us, and not that which is most pleasurable.We truly should have absolute faith in Him, for He is the absolutely faithful. However, we must be sure that it really is God in Whom we are placing our faith, and not merely an abstraction of our own making. Just as not every jelly bean is a Jelly Belly, not every idea about God is a true idea. Thus, while we can have absolute faith in God, we cannot have such absolute faith in our own conceptions of Him, lest they be false conceptions.