Help My Unbelief!
December 2, 2009 § 2 Comments
Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” My theology professor is fond of saying, “An unexamined faith is not worth believing.” Engaging in theological discussion is valuable, if for no other reason, simply because it forces us to think – sometimes rigorously – about what we believe. Especially if you’re an external processor like me, you need forums of discussion and debate to help you understand. This blog is thus intended to serve the double purpose of helping me work through ideas while (hopefully) enabling others to do the same.
Anselm of Canterbury described the practice of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” This seems to echo the cry of the father of the possessed child in the Gospel of Mark: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Faith must be the starting point for all theological reflection.
Oddly enough, this was actually quite a revelation to me. You would think that, growing up Christian, I would assume that faith was the starting point, but for a long time I sought after more neutral territory, solider ground upon which to stand. The realization that faith in Christ is the foundation for Christian life was a novel idea to me, because I had often been uncomfortable basing my life on something so seemingly capricious. I wanted a more concrete foundation, such as reason, the infallible judge of modernity. I wanted Jesus to be a provable fact that I could demonstrate empirically, leaving no room for doubt. I was about “understanding seeking faith.”
Accordingly, the relation between knowing God and seeking God was, to me, of simple effect and cause. Because, in fact, I did not actually want to seek, I wanted only to find. I too often treat the search as nothing more than a means to the end of discovery. This does not take seriously the fact that we are creatures in time, imprisoned in the perpetual present, and that those who live only in and for the future do not really live at all. Treating the present as nothing but a means is to live a phantasmal life, ignoring the only point in time in which we have any real experience of freedom and actuality. To treat the journey as both a means and an end is simply to accept – even embrace – the fact that we have not yet arrived.
That is why I like Anselm’s description of theology. It puts the whole endeavor on proper footing: “faith seeking understanding,” but it also emphasizes the journey: “faith seeking understanding.”