Though we established no formal theme for the present volume, an attentive reader might notice several of the following pieces engaging in various ways with challenges of faith. Amidst personal doubt, disagreement in the Church, and religious pluralism across the globe, faith in Christ and knowledge of him can be difficult to establish and sustain. Pieces in this volume offer various responses to some of these challenges, but it might be helpful to acknowledge at the outset that there is a lived dimension to these questions which intellectual engagement cannot fully capture. Sometimes when faith is difficult, part of the way to address that difficulty is to live as though Christ is Lord, trusting that “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”1
But persistence in faith need not amount to dogmatic stubbornness, for faith is not a product of gritted teeth and willpower. Instead, it is a fruit of the Spirit,2 born in those who abide in Christ. As fruit is not a result of a tree’s willpower, but rather a healthy manifestation of that tree’s true nature and proper function, so also faith is a manifestation of God’s work in a person’s heart and life. Thus Christ tells us, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”3 The father who begs Christ, “I believe; help my unbelief!”4 summarizes the heart of faith, in that his plea for help is itself an expression of faith that Christ will be able to help his faith. So also we who cannot summon faith in our own strength have nowhere better to go than to Christ with a plea for help to believe.
This is not to suggest faith is passive, nor is it to indicate one’s exercise of faith is passive. For when Christ instructs us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,”5 he gives us work to do in our life of faith. Asking (especially asking helpful questions of the right people), searching (most of all when one would rather give up), and knocking (even when the door conceals something new or unfamiliar) are actions which depend for their realization upon our faithfully implementing them. Far from being passive receptacles of faith, we are agents in God’s kingdom, and our faith in Christ is and must be an intentional, active pursuit of Christ.
But human agency will never outpace divine agency. One who asks, searches, and knocks may do so with confidence that “the heavenly Father [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,”6 so that no petition for God’s own self is ever in vain. Moreover, the more one knocks, the more one comes to realize Christ himself is already “standing at the door, knocking,” ready to “come in and eat” with anyone who opens the door.7 Any human pursuit of Christ is thus a response to Christ’s primary pursuit of us, for “[w]e love because he first loved us.”8 Faith, then, can be “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”9 precisely because the One in whom we hope has already promised to be “with [us] always, to the end of the age.”10 We may be assured of our hope because the subject and object of our hope is sure, and when our surety is shaky, we may look “to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith,”11 to perfect in us what is yet incomplete.
Turning to Jesus amidst struggles of faith could seem quaint (at best) to those skeptical of religion in general or Christianity in particular. Emily P. Freeman remarks along these lines that “[g]oing to Jesus when you doubt Jesus seems kind of like using a word in its own definition.”12 And yet, Freeman observes, this is precisely what John the Baptist does when he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”13 In this moment of vulnerability, Jesus “doesn’t reprimand [John] … for lack of faith,” nor does he “get angry or become defensive.”14 Rather, he invites John to pay attention to what he sees: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”15 A posture of attentiveness to such wonders is for John an invitation to a life of faith in what he does not yet wholly see, so that his lack of sight may over time become spiritual sight to see and know who Jesus is.
For if Jesus is in truth the “image of the invisible God”16 and “the way and the truth and the life,”17 then there can be no person nor resource nor thing better able than him to receive our doubt and questions and transform them into trust. Asking Jesus to take away doubt in him is perhaps counterintuitive, but such a request follows the example of John the Baptist, of Thomas,18 and of the father who cries out for help to believe.19 To whom else, after all, can we go?20 He alone is “able to keep you from falling and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing,”21 and he will be faithful to preserve hearts and minds in himself. When struggles with doubt and doctrine arise and threaten faith, keep turning to Christ, who is faithful to hold us even when our hold is weak. To him be the glory forever.
Lydia Harrison ’23
Editor in Chief of The Bell Tower
1 1 John 3:2
2 Gal. 5:22. Note that while most translations list “faithfulness” among the fruits of the Spirit, Greek does not have separate words for “faithfulness” and “faith,” meaning the language leaves room to suggest faith itself is a fruit of the Spirit.
3 John 15:4
4 Mark 9:24
5 Luke 11:9
6 Luke 11:13
7 Rev. 1:20
8 1 John 4:19
9 Heb. 11:1
10 Matt. 28:20
11 Heb. 12:2
12 Emily P. Freeman, “When the Mystery Becomes My Home,” Emily P. Freeman, https://emilypfreeman.com/mystery-becomes-home/.
13 Matt. 11:3
14 Freeman, “When the Mystery.”
15 Matt. 11:5
16 Col. 1:15
17 John 14:6
18 John 20:24-29
19 Mark 9:24
20 John 6:68
21 Jude 24