The Autobiography of Belief
I’ve just come to the end of a 4 week holiday. I thought I’d have some time to write during the time off, but I was wrong. Between mountain-biking, long walks, swimming, movies and plenty of fun and games, the time simply flew by. I haven’t had such a good break in years and my whole family and I enjoyed every minute.
Now, while I didn’t have any time to write, I did have a lot of time to think and reflect on some of the content that has been floating around inside of me.
And so I kick of this week, not with any specific topic, but rather with a reflection on belief and how it affects everything I/we write, think and speak about.
I found an old Frederick Buechner book at a second-hand book store a while ago. At the time I was already reading a number of other books and so lent it to a friend. Well, I got it back last week and had time this week to start reading it. I absolutely loved what he wrote on the opening pages. It went (something) like this, “a person’s theology, rather than being a study of objective truth, is more often an autobiographical account of the person to whom that theology belongs”.
In other words – our theologies are not so much shaped by the prophetic revelations of God as they are by our own experiences. Now, I know that many people will consider this an attack or insult. If our theology isn’t objective truth then all of a sudden our entire faith system begins to feel quite unstable. But for me this thought of Buechner’s was actually quite freeing.
What if Luther’s reformation had less to do with Luther having a direct line to the Holy Spirit and far more to do with the person that Luther himself was and the experiences that he had during the course of his life? What if my Catholic friend’s experience of God through Catholicism has less to do with the truth of Catholicism than it has to do with my friend’s life and experiences? Is my Charismatic friend a Charismatic because God told him to be or is he one because his life and experiences led him to believe/feel that it was the best place to find God.
Do I speak in tongues because I have the gift from the Holy Spirit or because I believe I have the gift? Is Jesus God because he is God, or has my life and experience led me to believe He is? Is the contemporary church getting it all wrong because they really are, or is it simply my experience of church that leads me to believe the whole church is heading for the scrap-yard? Is the world heading for apocalyptic oblivion or do I only think it is because of my own beliefs and experiences? I just don’t know! I could go on and on.
What I do know is that we all place a heck of a lot of faith in all our various beliefs and it is steadily occurring to me that whether we want to admit it or not faith is all we really have to defend most of those beliefs.
And let me make it clear that I’m not even talking about having faith in God. We have faith every single day in a hundred different things, some of them related to God and some of them not. Quite often we defend those beliefs with Bible verses, or claims of Spirit guidance or some other Intuition of the heart. Sometimes we go to great lengths to set out logical explanations for our view – writing papers, theses or books.
But I think I agree with Buechner – what we believe says more about us than it does about the truth.
Now this doesn’t necessarily resolve anything for me and I still have plenty of questions. Like what IS the Holy Spirit saying to me if he’s not helping me with my Theology? But I’ll leave those other questions for another day and another post.
I’ll end with a strange reflection on my star-sign. Since becoming a Christian I’ve tried hard to keep my distance from occult practices that I was involved with before committing my life to Jesus. And while I never gave much thought to astrology, even in my pre-Christian days, I always refused to acknowledge my star-sign after becoming a Christian. But yesterday as I was reflecting on some things, struggling with them and weighing both sides of the arguments I suddenly realized, I’m a Libra.
Now anyone even vaguely familiar with astrology will know that the sign of Libra is the balance or scales. And even though I’ve disavowed any ties to astrology and the like, I found it rather interesting that throughout my teenage and adult life I have spent a great deal of time weighing things. Where others have often chosen their path and followed it without looking back I have often stood at the cross-roads, holding various options in hand, considering, reflecting, weighing! Of course I’m not suggesting that this means astrology is true, but I found it rather coincidental none the less.
Even this blog is an example of my struggles between two, often opposing, forces bearing down on me from both sides. I think next time I’ll be tackling the Jesus issue…I’ve been weighing it for a while now.