Romans, faith, and God’s plan.

Believe it or not, I have recently been involved with a discussion about the Bible. Some folks were discussing the Book of Romans in the New Testement, and some described it as one of their favorite books in the Bible. Now this may seem odd, and may broadcast my ignorance like a neon marquee, but I have found Romans to be troubling. Two ideas in particular have given me pause: 1) the idea that faith is God’s gift to all of us, a gift that has no strings attached, and is given independent of any action taken on our part; and, 2) the idea that suffering produces perseverance, character, hope and faith. It seems terribly ironic to me … that the same words that reassure others give me doubt. Please give me a chance to explain. Faith, as I understand it, is defined like this: “… a secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will; … a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” (Taken from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.) In my own words, I’ve seen faith as a belief in God and a trust in his will or plan. My problem is that “having faith” has been a personal struggle. I see people in church, in public, and in the media… who’s faith seems to come easily to them. Mine does not. My problem does not stem from a lack of a belief in God, his son, or why he died; but rather a lack of faith in A PLAN. I see my own evidence for God’s existence in the world, such as the complexities of life and nature, as well as the words of the Bible; but I also see my own evidence for a lack of a plan in the world… suffering, tragedy, genocide, and the list goes on.

Then there’s that bit about personal suffering and how it leads to character and strength. I do find a certain amount of truth in that, but I don’t find it to be true in every instance of suffering, or for everyone who may be suffering. It seems to me that suffering, in some cases and for some people, leads to acceptance and defeat… such as with suicide, the onset of mental illness, the suffering and persecution at the hands of others, and so on. Some would say that the “seemingly meaningless” suffering of some may offer a lesson for others. I see this as the “higher purpose” argument. But there are so many cases where the suffering seems to vastly outweigh the value of the lesson or the strength gained by others (like Hitler’s “Final Solution”, etc), so how could this hold true?

So what exactly is God’s plan? The answer I usually get is “I don’t know, that’s why it’s called ‘faith’ “. While I sense God’s presence in the things around me, and I am grateful for his sacrifice and his love, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of a Plan, or things happening according to his Will. I see this as a failing of my faith. But now we talk about faith being a gift from God, and I wonder why I haven’t received the whole gift. We briefly talked about there being barriers to faith, but what are they? If God gives the gift to everyone, and it does not have anything to do with me, then what? Is the barrier a third party? Is it the suffering in the world that I see? But then, isn’t the suffering ultimately a part of the overall plan? Can you detect a circular, downward spiral, to my reasoning? In the past I have chalked up my struggle to some failure on my part. I know I am not perfect, so in a twisted way I have found comfort in my imperfection; I can look on my failings in the faith department as just one more imperfection in an imperfect man. That’s not to say that this was an excuse for not trying, but it was still a comforting excuse. Well, if I have to take myself out of the equation, where does that leave me? Maybe my problem is that I’m looking for evidence, trying to prove that which can not be proven. After all, if there were evidence it wouldn’t be faith, it would be fact. Yet it seems that even faith is based on something, some glimmer of truth that points us in the right direction. We learn of God’s love and sacrifice through the words of the Bible. These words may not offer empirical or scientific evidence, but they give us that glimmer of truth which makes faith possible. My problem is that I see things in the world which also seem to have a “glimmer of truth”, but are contrary to the idea of a plan or a greater good. It seems that this is my principal barrier to faith.

Take someone who is currently suffering, and offer them the “suffering as a character building exercise” idea. My guess it that they will not find much comfort in the fact that, ultimately, their suffering will make them stronger. I ask myself, “do my doubts take root from my own suffering?” While it would seem to be a likely explanation, I don’t think it would be the right explanation. Someone recently asked me “how’s life treating you?” At first I said that things were pretty good, but then I conceded “it could be better and it could be worse.” You see, the question caught me at a bad moment. We’ve been trying for a second child for a few years, with three miscarriages along the way – two of which were this year. Add that to the all too common complaints about money and things breaking down at the worst times, and you see me and my station in life. I felt bad about giving such a coy answer to the question, but I hate to be dishonest and I thought my first answer, “pretty good”, was just that. At the same time, I feel guilty for even suggesting that any of this could be a barrier to faith. On the scale of human suffering, mine is very low. I have so much in life, whereas others have so little. I’ve had the love and support of an extended family and good friends. I have a job that I like. I’ve had bumps in the road, like anyone else, but I see myself as a generally happy person (even if I am a bit shy, or seem a bit low in the self confidence department). And yet, I’m still writing this entry.

Surely I’m missing something, at least I hope I am.

Perhaps asking the questions is the first step to finding the answers. I figure it can’t hurt.