Obstacles to Forgiveness: Doubt

During the weeks leading up to Easter, this blog has been exploring the obstacles that hold us back from intimacy with God.  Whereas intimacy with others involves revealing truths about ourselves to them, intimacy with God involves truths being revealed to us.  Hence, there is a strong connection between honest introspection, self-awareness, and intimacy.

The last three posts have examined issues surrounding forgiveness in particular.  After spending any amount of time in honest introspection, we will confront issues of forgiveness.  We might see things we have done wrong in a new light and realize we stand in need of forgiveness, or we may discover ourselves clinging to some long hidden resentment we should release.  What holds us back from seeking God’s forgiveness may be feeling we don’t deserve it, we don’t need it, or we don’t want it.  Another obstacle is feeling forgiveness is simply not possible.

“Maybe it’s possible for you, but not me, not with what I’ve been through.”  Have you ever heard this from someone?  Or do you recognize it in yourself?  Sometimes we don’t believe God can or will do what we ask because we can’t see how the transformation we want is even possible.  It’s not possible for me to shake depression.  It’s not possible to have fun without having alcohol.  How could this suffering possibly harbor meaning or lead me to growth?  We want to make a break from our past and start life anew, but we don’t see how it is possible, so we doubt.

Martin Smith’s book on reconciliation in the Episcopal tradition encourages, “pray about what you believe and what you desire to believe more wholeheartedly.”  When our faith in God is lagging, we can take heart from God’s faith and constancy towards us.  Perhaps these verses and breathing prayer can help shift the focus from the limits of your belief to God’s limitlessness.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

Inhale: God’s faithfulness
Exhale: my doubt

Join the conversation.  What did you think was absolutely impossible before it actually happened?

 Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Coming to Belief in God

Are you ever asked what you believe and why?  Do you ask yourself?  Most of what we believe is based on evidence.  Belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is based on the evidence of experience.  Belief that a friend will keep her word might be based on the evidence of experience with the friend specifically or with people in general.  If I think of faith as belief without evidence, I could say I have faith that my friend will keep her word despite evidence to the contrary.  Furthermore, we all believe some things we can’t prove.  

Some people come to belief in God through a dramatic or miraculous experience.  I once worked with a man who described being an agnostic and hopeless drug addict for many years before Jesus appeared to him and cured his addiction in a single encounter.  It was a memorable testimony of healing and life change.  Many people, especially young people struggling with their faith, yearn for a dramatic sign.  They want decisive evidence on which to predicate belief in God.  Some get it.  Most of us don’t. 

Most of us come to belief in God through a process akin to the scientific method.  The body of modern scientific knowledge has been built using a method of assuming hypotheses, testing them, gathering evidence and concluding whether the evidence supports the hypotheses.  If contrary or inconsistent evidence is observed, then a hypothesis needs adjustment.  We can find God this way, too.  

If a leap of faith isn’t within reach, formulate a hypothesis and make observations.  If you are beginning to explore spirituality, assume God exists and is good.  If you have a robust spiritual life already, focus on some question of faith burning inside you at present.  For example, you might assume God has laid down an abundance of grace that is enough to heal you completely for all time if only you reach out and lay a hand upon it.  Or you might assume that there is meaning in suffering and although it pains God, who is infinitely vulnerable to us, he uses all the loose and frayed ends in our lives even when the meaning of our suffering lies beyond our human ability to perceive or to comprehend.  Treat this hypothesis as a tentative or provisional belief.  Live your life and observe evidence that supports or contradicts the assumption.  

When something in life trips you up, as is inevitable for us all, examine your choices and actions within the framework of your belief.  Do the actions and reactions make sense?  Can you understand the forces at work?  If it doesn’t add up, reevaluate what you believe in light of new experience.  In the absence of inconsistencies or contrary evidence, you might get comfortable with the hypothesis and assume yet another building on it.  Here, your state of belief might be partially evidence-based (a long run of experience without contrary evidence) and partially faith-based (you may desire more evidence).  Don’t conceptualize God’s nature based on what you want to be true.  Rather, develop your powers of observation.  If you seek spiritual growth, give God your provisional trust and give the experiment time to yield evidence. 

Join the conversation.  What do you believe that you can’t prove?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.