That Jackal, Faith

My friend Jon is an intelligent, thoughtful man who spent his career serving others. He reads seriously, listens to great music even more seriously; and yet finds Church irrelevant. (Maybe we should worry more about those who find it too comfortable.) At the end of a conversation I compared faith to a jackal that leaps onto a man’s back from a tree. Laater, I wrote to Jon as follows:

That image might be as misleading as any other description of faith, but it suggests several important truths. One: the thing comes from an unexpected direction. Two: we don’t necessarily like it. Three: it’s not our own doing. On the other hand, it doesn’t always arrive suddenly; looking back one can recognize stages of development, even if there is a single moment one sees as the turning point. Augustine’s Confessions are the locus classicus for this discussion.

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Faith vs. Belief

Some of our unchurched friends think faith arises from an irrational will to believe. In truth, there is such a human tendency. It is the reason we have the law against idolatry, given by Jhwh at Sinai. The true God frustrates our will to believe by not showing himself, or showing only his backside moving away (Exodus 33:17–23). Any belief in the presence of this God is belief in him, not about him.

The difference between ‘in’ and ‘about’ is more than a rhetorical trick. It prevents us from domesticating God, grasping him to ourselves. The Phillips translation of the New Testament (1958) says “the kingdom of God is inside you,” a suffocating position for both man and God. Our beliefs about God are vain unless God has visited himself upon us first. Then we might have beliefs, and perhaps be able to speak of them; things we might never have thought were it not for our own private Jabbok.

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