The idea of religious belief can seem a strange old thing, can’t it. We live in a time when we are equipped with so much knowledge about the way the world works and how we’ve evolved to get where we are. Some would say that there’s no room for the God stuff anymore, that it’s been pushed out by science and reason, that anyone who holds on to that kind of thing is doing it out of tradition, or the need to hang on to something, but are ultimately deluded because we know better now.
I understand this thinking. I’ve always wanted to dig deep into the reasons for my faith, because I think we owe it to ourselves to understand why we believe, to look into the available evidence, to use our reason to come to conclusions about these matters. It’s one reason I did a theology degree, which took my faith apart into tiny pieces… and put it together in an even more robust, exciting way which fired me with more enthusiasm for apologetics and the history of Christianity. I discovered a wealth of intelligent and convincing arguments for why this faith is reasonable, and became more convinced than ever.
Yet knowledge and reason, while important, are not always enough. We need lived experience, we need to see with our eyes and understand in our deepest places. I love the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, because as well as it being an example of Jesus’ radical inclusion and breaking down of societal barriers against women, it’s a story of how God gets into our experience and into our hearts. Jesus speaks right into the hurting places in this woman when he says these life-giving words:
John 4: 13-14
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
He knows that there’s something we need at the deeper levels, something that satisfies the ache in us that nothing in this world ever seems to alleviate.
This weekend has brought these things to mind once again. On Saturday we had our Alpha ‘away day’ where we talked about who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. We always try to ‘de-mystify’ the Spirit – it’s not some kind of spooky essence, but the person of the Trinity, the part of God that is the assurance of who God is and who soothes and strengthens us, fills us with the peace beyond understanding despite our circumstances, and with inexpressible joy, a deeper level of joy than can be granted by anything else.
And as always on these days I saw people experience the God who longs to fill to overflowing. Not in scary, weird ways, but in beautiful moments of encounter, in emotion which needed to be expressed, in hunger for more of this God who loves them so passionately. This is where the healing takes place, the transformation, the excitement of finding out that you are loved utterly unconditionally. And it’s always so exciting to be a part of.
Yesterday I spoke at a cafe church event in Derbyshire. I was speaking about my own journey and how I’d learned a little about what Paul meant by the secret of contentment, despite living with long-term sickness and pain. Again I witnessed how this stuff isn’t just nice words, a bit of theoretical pondering on matters, but how it is profoundly real, a beautiful and incredibly restorative adventure. For anyone interested, here’s a recording of my talk, which focussed on contentment, disappointment and how on earth those two words fit together.
This thing isn’t just a bit of self-help, a reflection on how we can become stronger in ourselves or change our perspectives, although these things can always be beneficial and part of the process. It isn’t about holding to a belief in something because of fear, tradition or out of brainwashing or unintelligence, but it’s about stuff that is real. Stuff that matters. That slices us open in our deepest places and assuages the depth of pain we hold there.
This thing is real.
This thing works.This faith thing can seem strange in our reasoned-out world. But the wild places in us cry out for more. And this thing works… Click To Tweet
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