Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Weak in Faith

I had this experience a few years ago, so I don't remember exactly how it happened.

It was after a funeral.  I was sitting with a couple who were visiting our congregation, but it turned out they had connections with my husband's church, so we began to chat.  And (here's where I get fuzzy) I don't know how this came up or what I said exactly, but I must have said something about "the historical view" or "the critical view" of the Bible, and they both got this stricken, deer-in-the-headlights look, a look that told me that they were afraid, very afraid of what I might be implying with just a few words.  So I remember that I backpedaled, said something innocuous until they looked a little more relaxed, as if it was safe to believe again.

I had just gotten the feeling that they were, without words, telling me "If you go any farther along this line, you will cause us to lose our faith."  I don't know if this is true, but those were the vibes that I got. 

The Bible is a dangerous book.  In many ways.

I just read something a fellow pastor wrote about those "Read the Bible in one Year" or "Read the Bible in 90 Days" programs.  She said she was not sure she wanted to do that again.  Last time she did, she lost a couple of families.  Every time they turned around, they were reading about wars.

I know there are people sitting in the pews every Sunday, reading along with the Bible stories we read, and in their hearts they are saying, "Give us permission to question, Pastor.  We want to believe, and we want to question too.  Because, you know, some of this is hard to believe.  And if we think we have to swallow it whole, we might just lose our faith."

This week, we're reading a section of Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  It's about a certain practice alien to us but intensely relevant to the Corinthian church:  eating meat which had been sacrificed to idols.  Some people think it's okay to eat, and some people have an attack of conscience when they see other people eating.  Paul recommends abstaining from eating if it will help those who are "weak in faith".

All of this might make your eyes glaze over.  It's just not something that we care much about these days.  As far as I know, none of the meat at the supermarket has been sacrificed to idols.  So, we're okay. 

But I can't help thinking about Paul's phrase, "the weak in faith."  Who are the weak in faith?  I mean, these days.   Because the idea is not to do something that will cause them to lose their faith. 

And these days, when I think about what will cause people to lose their faith, one of the first things that comes to mind is how we read the Bible.  Do we refrain from bringing up questions in and about the Bible because it might cause some among us to stumble?  Or is it possible that not bringing up questions is a bigger offense?

I will tell you that I lean the second way.  Because I believe that the Bible is God's Word, in all of its puzzling complexity, with all of its stories, strange or comforting. 

Still, it gives me pause.

Who are the weak in faith? 


Di said...

I listened to someone say not long ago that people need their stories, and that undermining them before they're ready for a new story is wrong. I think there's a lot of truth in that, and it seems to me it goes right along with what you're saying about the weak in faith.

Diane said...

I'm not sure I know who's weak and in what way. I'm not even sure that this post is "really" done. but I am aware that I want to give interpretive tools for the Bible and teach people to read in such a way as to both encourage faith and questions, and that is not so easy.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I know that it is important to question and to be comfortable with questioning. And it is very important for a pastor or Bible teacher to say, "I don't know" when that is the sincere answer.

Somehow rather than thinking we have to know everything or understand everything, I've found that I've become more comfortable with the I DON'T KNOWS. And that doesn't matter.

For one thing, my mind can't comprehend God even a bit, much less completely. How dare I say that I understand some God concept completely? Another thing is that we may have an incomplete translation/copy of the bible because it was translated/copied by men who were sincere, but didn't have all of God's mind withing their mind. And they may have had their unacknowledged biases.

And we know that in the Bible, there is the example of the Pharisees, who did know their scriptures, were sincere in their beliefs, actually believing what they had been taught. But they missed the Christ because their interpretation of the scripture was not broad enough.

So the older I get, the more I just rest in the saving grace of God. There is a lot of stuff that doesn't matter.

And maybe I got off topic on this.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindy said...

I didn't use this language for it in my own mind, but as I traveled last month I realized that I could be much freer in my God talk with unbelievers than with believers. The unbelievers were interested to know that belief is not so important, that the Bible stories might have multiple meanings, that it's not all so easy as the black and white page would seem to imply. Most were even willing to struggle a little with me, to investigate. It was the believers who wanted traditional God talk and to have their own beliefs reinforced. Who is weak in the faith? I don't know.