What does it mean to have faith in God?
The Shema Yisrael (usually shortened to Shema) states, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is found in Deuteronomy, and forms the basis of most Jewish prayer services. It is a continual reminder to the Jewish people of the Divine kingship of YHWH. It is both a statement, and a prayer. The statement, continually professes their belief in the Lordship of God. When said as a prayer however, it is a cry for belief in times when one is not quite up to the task of believing.
Throughout Jewish tradition, it isn’t quite so important to get all the answers right, as it is to wrestle with the tradition itself. This is an important part of Jewish education. Learning the Torah and being able to recite it verbatim, is quite useful to the education of Jewish children, because once they know the Torah, they can then begin to dissect and examine it as a whole. Once they understand the Torah, they can question it. And to question, means they have begun the journey of faith.
This ties back all the way to the Patriarch of the Jewish people, Jacob. On his way back to Canaan, Jacob encounters an angel, an emissary of the Almighty. There, they wrestle, and Jacob refuses to let go unless he receives a blessing from the angel. The angel blesses Jacob, and changes his name to Israel, meaning “He who struggles with God”. Jacob and his progeny forevermore have been characterized by this struggle, and God has blessed them for it. The core of the Jewish faith, the core of Israel, is wrestling with God.
Ironically, even though Christianity began as a sub-culture of Judaism in first century Palestine, Christianity has taken an altogether different approach to faith. Most Christians do not find value in the struggle, rather Christians are instead encouraged to put aside doubts, and place their faith in God. This strikes me as being rather simplistic. I am not sure that I understand how one is supposed to place their faith in God, if they haven’t wrestled with God enough to be sure that He indeed is God. Why should I follow His precepts if I do not believe them to be intrinsically valuable? I cannot find them to be intrinsically valuable if I do not first wrestle with them. Thus placing faith in God without confronting Him with my doubts.
Truth be told, if God truly was uncomfortable with my doubts, I’m not sure He would be worthy of much praise as a deity. But a god who can handle any doubts I throw his way, and a god who is totally cool with wrestling with me throughout all of my trials and tribulations – that is a God. That is God, who is totally and completely so powerful and beyond compare, that He encourages us to confront Him head-on. He challenges us to engage with Him, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)
Belief is passive. I can claim my belief night and day, and shout it to the rooftops. I can do my good deeds, night and day, and proclaim them for all the world to see. But faith is done in secret. It requires strenuous activity that is best done when others are not around. Faith requires that we be completely vulnerable to the thought that our lives are not our own, that we may indeed need to be changed or molded by the Truth. Sometimes, faith in God necessitates a renunciation of previously held beliefs – no matter how strongly we believed them. Sometimes, faith in God requires wrestling with anything and everything we thought we knew, just to get a taste of what is real.
Belief is passive. Faith is knocking down the door and saying, “Oh no you bastard, I want what you’ve got, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” Faith is wrestling with God – and winning.