Question: John Mary
Could you help me to understand what exactly is faith and how it affects our Lives?
Answer: Dominic Veliath SDB
Thank you for the question. To answer, let me go back to a thought-provoking letter which I happened to receive from a friend of mine who is highly-placed. Day after day, he saw himself in the same institution, doing the same job, caught up, as it were, in the same rut. Finally, he found that he was asking himself: Why am I doing this? What is the significance of this monotonous routine? This issue highlights one of experiences which continues to haunt quite a few individuals in our contemporary world – both Christians and others. This has also had its repercussions on the lives of Christians.
The response to this challenge calls for a “Return to Faith.” But what exactly is faith? It is not merely a belief in a body of truths revealed by God (though this dimension is obviously there!). Faith involves and this is the issue I want to highlight a Fresh Perspective; or in other words, a way of looking at reality, a way of looking at God, at human beings and at the world. It is like a new pair of spectacles that one wears.
In the first place, faith involves a way of looking at God as Abba. The author Joachim Jeremias in his well-known study: The Central Message of the New Testament, observes that in the entire Old Testament, God is called “Father” only about sixteen times. In contrast to this, God is called “Father” in the New Testament about a hundred and seventy times! And what is more! He is called ‘Abba’ – the babbling sound uttered by a little child who is just learning to speak. Perhaps this word would be more appropriately rendered in English by “daddy” or “papa.” What are its implications? In the first place it involves an experience of Intimacy and Communion with God (an existential knowledge which, for instance, a mother often has of her infant, which makes her alert and alive to every movement of the little one). This is insightfully expressed in Mt 11/27: “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Furthermore, it presupposes a total Trust (an attitude of total self-surrender), beautifully expressed in: Mk 14/36: “Abba my Father let this chalice pass from me. Not my will but thine be done.”
Secondly, the perspective of faith involves a new way of looking at other human beings. Human beings are not merely “objects” to be exploited, but brothers and sisters who share our lives and are called to share our love. The faith perspective calls for a new way of understanding the precept of love: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” People often take this commandment to merely signify that one should do to others what we would wish to be done to oneself. But, this commandment calls for something more fundamental. It asks us to “view” the other person as we view ourselves. How do we view ourselves? We know ourselves “from within.” We know our attitudes, our struggles, our crises etc.; as a consequence, we are able to understand ourselves adequately. Unfortunately, more often than not, this is not the case when our neighbours are concerned. We view them from the outside. We see their actions; but do not understand them. This Christian commandment of love therefore traces out a programme of radical involvement in the lives of others and commitment to them. As the character Fr. Zozima in the well-known novel of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov says: “To be a Christian is to be responsible to everyone for everyone in everything.”
Finally, the perspective of faith calls for a new way of looking at the world. At times, we tend to look at the world as the valley of tears – as we pray in the Hail Holy Queen. Admittedly, the world does confront us with problems and challenges; nevertheless the world is not “evil.” Let us remember that the Bible in Genesis 1:1-31, calls creation “good” no less than seven times.
Adopting this faith perspective with respect to God, human beings and the world, we are confronted with several challenges: One is the tendency to resort to evasion, which the theologian Paul Tillich calls “Compensationism.” An example can serve to clarify the issue. The author refers to a situation in a religious seminary where there was a breakdown in human relationships. The obvious remedy to such a situation would have been the mending of these relationships by taking the first step in this regard. However, instead of doing the obvious, the members of this community started increasing the number of prayers said. In other words, the implication seems to have been: “Since I am unable to speak to human beings, I begin speaking to God.” The authentic faith perspective would involve the courage to confront reality – or to use the oft-quoted phrase of Paul Tillich, “the courage to be.” Viewed from a dynamic point of view, another dimension of the same perspective would be trust or “the courage to take a risk” in the Lord – as Rudolf Bultmann words it; and finally, from an inter-personal point of view, as underscored by the Jewish philosopher and psychologist, Emmanuel Levinas, this faith perspective involves “a sense of the other.”
I conclude this brief explanation with a parable made famous by Tony De Mello. There was once an eagle which happened to lay an egg in a chicken coop. Eventually the egg hatched together with the chicken’s eggs. The little eaglet followed the mother hen and her brood of chickens, scratching the earth for worms, thinking, all the while, mistakenly, that it was a chicken. This is an open-ended parable with two possible conclusions. In the first conclusion – a sad ending – the eagle grew up. Occasionally it would look up to the sky as if recalling hidden aspirations and urges; nevertheless is finally died thinking (mistakenly) that it was a chicken. The other ending – a happier one – has it that, one day, the eagle looked up at the sky and suddenly realized that its destiny was to fly to the heavens. It flapped its wings and away it flew to the sun. I tend to think that this is what the faith perspective does to our lives.