I’ve heard it said that faith means “not questioning.” If you have faith, then you have all the answers, right? Or, if you have faith, then you know you don’t need them, because you trust someone else who’s in charge, right? Faith is accepting what we’re told like good girls and boys. Don’t ask questions. Or, ask questions that have answers you’ve studied and memorized. You can ask, “What are the ten commandments” or, “What is the form and matter of the sacrament of baptism?” But you can’t ask, “is there something after this?” Because if you ask, that means you don’t know, and if you don’t know, that means you lack faith. Yes, I’ve heard all this said. But I think nothing could be further from what a mature faith looks like.
St. Augustine is famous for having said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Oh Lord.” Questioning is a form of restlessness.
So what does our restlessness indicate? It may be, as many who subscribe to the train of thought above would suggest, that this restless indicates something is wrong. Restlessness is a sign that we haven’t encountered real truth or real faith. Restlessness is a sign that we haven’t found our source of peace.
If I understand St. Augustine, though, restlessness is none of these. Restlessness is a sign that our hearts are functioning properly. Things in nature behave according to their design. Skunks were designed to spray when threatened, and they do. A skunk that does not spray when threatened is not functioning properly, and is susceptible to harm because its natural defense mechanism isn’t functioning.
Rabbits were designed to seek sexual mates (apparently quite often). Following this instinct keeps the rabbit population going. If rabbits stopped listening to it, they would go extinct. Bees were designed to seek food from flowers. This restless buzzing keeps the bees fed and it pollinates countless plant species. If bees stopped buzzing, so much life would die.
If the birds and the bees and the rabbits and the trees and the skunks all exhibit a restlessness that indicates their design, so do we. I believe, as does St. Augustine, that our hearts were designed for a destination. As I’ve indicated in past posts, this destination has many aspects. We might call it God. We might call it Heaven. We might call it unity. My metaphysical belief is that God desires to have a personal relationship with each individual, and, yet, also embrace all of us together.
Like a parent with many children, God has designed us simultaneously to relate intimately with him as close friend, confidant, protector, guide, and doctor, and also in community with all our siblings as he holds us all together. If we look around, we know that we have not arrived. We do not all get along in a Heavenly embrace. Far from it. Therefore, our restlessness does not indicate that we lack faith. It indicates, instead, that our hearts are functioning properly. We know there must be more than this.
I believe God loves when we wonder about him. I consider what new relationships often look like. The newness of the questioning period is exciting. “What is your name? What do you like? What are you like? What makes you angry? What makes you laugh? What do you like about me?” If our hearts were made by God to engage with each other like that, what is to say that isn’t a mere reflection of how he designed our hearts to engage with him? And if we are indeed seeking after God, demanding “why is the world like this?” “How could you let this happen?” “Who am I?” “Who are you?” I believe God interprets these things not as hostile demands, but as the inquiry of young love.
So often, we are taught the tenets of the faith through rote memorization, forced answers, and formulaic outlines. I believe it would be better to let those things appear as answers to existing questions, not as “good news” forced on a person who didn’t know they needed any.
We are so often taught to read the Bible as if a duty. I wish it were taught to us as the love letter in which we might find answers to the questions we are asking.
Hebrews 1:11 tells us that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for,” the “conviction of things not seen.” What does it mean to be “convicted?” We know criminals are convicted. Conviction assumes a certain air of attack, capture. We must be convicted of reality in order to possess faith, some say. And yet, it seems that love and ambiguity, more than rigidity and certainty, are at the heart of the Gospels as I read them.
The pharisees were wholly convicted that their way was right. They had God figured out, and they were going to tell you what’s what. These are the people and attitudes Jesus ended up raising an eyebrow to. And yet it was the doubtful Thomas and the worried, denying Peter that Jesus stayed with. This tells me that the conviction of things not seen does not mean “we are certain we hold reality in our minds; we’ve figured God out.” It means, instead, that we know there is more, and we know it’s worth pursuing. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there. It’s curiosity, not finality. It’s openness, not rigidity. Like love, it’s not knowing we’ve got the other person figured out, denying them any opportunity to share new information about themselves. Instead, it’s knowing they are worth sticking with to find out, and trusting that they are who they say they are, and trusting that they mean it when they say, “Yes, I love you; please share yourself with me, too.” That is a conviction, and that is how we are called to be convicted.
Indeed, it is not a sin to question. It’s a sin to just go through the motions. The opposite of doubt isn’t faith. It’s certainty. In fact, it seems to me that people thinking they know everything about everything is the root of a lot of problems.
Why do we limit ourselves to answers and rules? Why do we forbid questions? I believe a roller coaster metaphor is appropriate. Life is an adventurous ride meant to thrill, surprise, and delight us. Sometimes it terrifies us. We are meant to go “hands up” and embrace the unknown thrill of waiting for what is next.
The terror, however, sometimes outweighs the joy. Sometimes twists and turns jerk us around and we become weary of the ride. In order to help calm ourselves and each other, we strap each other in, tie ourselves down, hold on tight. They are meant with compassion, or, at least, they usually start out that way. they are meant to make people feel strapped in, secure, like they’re not falling.
However, those same straps sometimes make us feel trapped, bound, suffocating. We’re not meant to be held so tightly. We’re meant to be kept inside, but not so tightly. Hands and arms in the vehicle – but can I please move my head? We’re not meant to hold on so rigidly. The excitement is part of the reason we went on this ride.
We have hearts that seek God. We try to quiet our hearts with easy answers and numbing pseudo-comfort. Our hearts are onto us, though. They are still restless. When will we stop settling for less than what they were made for?