Friday, February 5, 2010

The Ultimate Paradox of Faith

First of all I would like to make clear what I mean when I use the term ‘faith’. When I say ‘faith’ I mean ‘experiential knowledge of God’. To me they are one in the same and going forward I will use those two terms interchangeably. This, I think is an important note to what follows and in light of the fact that so many of us struggle to get our own clear concept of what faith means it is necessary to attach a definition to it. With that in mind please read on.

Our scientifically linear, rational, organized structure of thought does not permit knowledge of God. This to me is the greatest paradox of all; It isn’t really ‘thought’ at all that permits knowledge of God and no willful, intellectual effort to understand what faith means or where to find God will ultimately result in our gaining that understanding which we seek through our search.

And yet…

For some that search must happen. That willful task of struggling to understand, of groping for answers cannot be excluded from the process, the journey that seeks spiritual truth and growth. Why? I have no idea. I am reminded of a passage from St. Paul in the book of Philippians:

“So then my beloved just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

This passage seems to suggest a requirement of effort on our part and yet in the end confirms that ultimately, the result comes only from God, that our effort is somehow superfluous to the whole thing. Crazy, crazy stuff yes?

If I were to sum up my discovery of faith I would say this:

My willful efforts can only produce that which cannot find Him because my willful efforts can only be carried out in such a way as to obfuscate Reality. And so when He did show Himself to me I immediately understood that I could never have attained by my own strength that which He allowed me to know.

And yet…

I cannot help but think that everything that had come before, every moment of the search that I had undertaken to that point, every book I read, every conversation I had, every minute I spent struggling to understand by force of my intellect was absolutely necessary.

Paradoxes. Crazy, crazy stuff yes?


  1. This is very insightful and beautifully written. I think I have to read it several times before it all sinks in but you've summed up very well what many have unsuccessfully tried to say.

    Do you think this is the same as works vs grace? That works (will) is necessary but grace (faith) ultimately comes from God?

  2. Hi LM and welcome back. I think it quite possible that you've put your finger on the pulse of the works vs. grace 'problem'. To be sure this is one of the mysteries which is to say one of those aspects of deepening spiritual clarity that can only provide some understanding when you've actually attained a measure of it. In other words it can only be clear AFTER you've attained it.

    There is a great story in the Bible which starts at 1 Kings 19 about the prophet Elijah who at one point and for various reasons goes into the desert to escape persecution. There he has a direct encounter with God and he asks God to show Himself, a request to which God agrees. However God only shows his 'back' to Elijah, after He has passed by him. In other words Elijah was only able to 'see' Him after He had already passed by him and left His mark. It is an excellent literary metaphor for the reality of an experience of personal contact with God.

  3. How interesting. I consider some biblical stories to be factual and some to be metaphors; or both. What a great insight to the story of Elijah!