In Tom Matlack’s last column, ‘Questioning My Faith,’ he declines to choose a particular religion. One reader thinks that makes him a wimp. Here, they talk it out.
[Read the article that set off this discussion here.]
So the whole point of this article is that you chose to take the easy way out. Instead of thinking, praying, researching issues that are deep and difficult, you’re just going to worship and make idols of the things around you. Instead of standing for God and being a strong example to your son of what that means, you’re going to make your son into your God. Wimp.
With all due respect, is “faith of a more general variety” really faith at all? Does believing in things that are physical in nature really require any faith? I have faith that my car will start and drive me to work—big deal. I have faith that the sky will be blue and the sun will be bright—so what? Is there anyone on Earth who does not possess that kind of faith? If not, then is that really “deeper,” or is it as shallow as you can possibly get?
Religious faith, by definition, is hope and belief in things that are unseen. This is the faith that your son is asking about, and that he wants you to provide him guidance on. He wants to know if you think there really is a creator, an all-powerful god—not whether he himself is a god, or your wife is a god, or whatever else that makes your particular life happy and comfortable. Just like your children (especially your sons) desire the wisdom of your experience and look to you as an example for everything (how to conduct yourself in social situations, react to difficulties, act in competition, etc.), they also crave spiritual wisdom, and for you to set the example of what a man of God looks like.
Would it be inaccurate to say that, by looking for God in these things (or people), that you are using them as idols? If you think that calling them idols is exaggerating, that it’s merely looking for some semblance of God in his creation, then can you really know a man (or God) by merely looking at his art, his inventions, or even his children? If not, then how do you get to know him, especially if he seems unreachable? One way is by talking to others, perhaps friends of his who are probably closer to him than you (pastors). Or you could read a book about him (the Bible). Or, even though he seems hard to reach, you could still try communicating with him (prayer).
If “all the great prophets” are saying the same thing as you suggest, then are they really all that great? Well, there is one prophet that said something completely different. And I don’t think anyone could dispute that he was great, whether you follow him or not. Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m talking about Jesus. Isn’t he the only one that should matter to an Episcopalian (and therefore a Christian) anyway? Andy why is that? What is it that made Jesus so great anyway?
For starters, he spoke incredible words of wisdom that are very widely quoted still today (2000+ years later), even by atheists. He performed miracles and incredible feats of healing, providing, multiplying food, altering physical objects, controlling the weather, fulfilling hundreds of ancient Old Testament prophecies, and demonstrating without a doubt that he had supernatural powers, in front of thousands of witnesses at a time. And not only all of that, but he lived a flawless and sinless life, too.
Or did he?
Think about it, if Jesus really didn’t do these things, or if he really did sin, wouldn’t the people who witnessed the sins or the lies about what he did (or didn’t do) have come forward, especially after he had been brutally executed? If the people who followed him were not fully convinced that he was who he said he was (the messiah, God become man, etc.), then would they really allow themselves and their families to be tortured and killed for Him?
Sorry to drone on, but I just wanted to explain, logically, why in comparison the rest of the “prophets” are really mere fools, or at the very least just flawed and sinful humans.
I know it’s not easy to pursue something that is invisible. But there are plenty of logical reasons to believe in a real, personal, all-powerful creator of a god, and there are plenty of reasons why your son (and other children, and wife too) want and perhaps even need for you to be a spiritual role model for them.
Hopefully I can encourage you to be just that. To dive into your Christian faith and get really deep. Then the next time your son asks, you can tell him with great conviction and purpose. Or better yet, he won’t even have to ask, because he’ll know the answer just by watching your example.
Have you been to the Temple Mount and seen how Jews, Muslims and Christians treat each other? It’s not love but violent hatred. The wars of the world have been largely born out of specific faith, where one group of people has decided they have direct access to God and go about killing those who believe in a different faith.
I respect your belief in Jesus greatly. I would never try to convince you that your faith is not valid. If you have been saved by Jesus and it is working in your life, that’s all I need to know. To me, the question of God and faith is not something anyone else can answer. That is exactly what I mean when I say that my own faith is of a more general variety. Let me try to explain a bit better.
Fourteen years ago I was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal for putting together a $2 billion deal. I was 29. That week my wife kicked me out of the house for being a drunk and a cheat, leaving behind two baby children. I sat in a church parking lot on a sunny Saturday morning with nowhere to go, wondering what I was going to do. I called my mom and tried to explain to her how I had gone from wünderkind to homeless in a matter of hours.
I eventually got an apartment and started to pray. I went to AA and heard other men tell their stories. No one tried to tell me what to do. The first night I had my baby son at my new house overnight, I fed him a bottle for the first time. I inhaled the smell of him and felt his body go limp in my arms. I realized that I had completely missed the reason I was put on this earth. It was in that darkened room, holding my boy, that I first felt God’s loving hand.
In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time trying to define what I had felt—to put a name on it and erect a picture of God in my mind to hold onto. Ultimately, I just let go and comforted myself knowing that there is a God who has a plan for me, and I really don’t need to concern myself with what that is and what He looks like. To me, it all came down to the third step of AA, which says, “Turn your life and will over to the god of your understanding.” To this day, when the going gets tough, I find a private place, get on my knees, and recite those lines.
Perhaps what spoke to me about AA’s broad view of faith is my own grounding in Quakerism. The Quakers believe that we all have an “inner light” that allows us direct access to the divine. They were formed at a time with the Church of England was corrupt. So it was important to them that each person have the religious freedom to define their own vision of God, undisturbed by intermediaries with ulterior motives. In Quaker meetings, there is no minister or priest—only silence. And when any member of the meeting is moved by the Spirit, they rise to give testimony (originally, they literally “quaked” with faith). The Quakers were and are Christians. They believe in Jesus. But just that we each see Him differently.
In my original piece I held out a bit on purpose. I actually do believe in Christ. I take communion. My family attends the Church of Our Savior, a lovely Episcopal chapel literally down the block from our house in Brookline. My son Cole was baptized there. My wife and I were married in a very similar church in Tuxedo Park, New York. So I guess you could actually call me an Episcopalian, though I have never referred to myself that way.
On Sunday morning, we can hear the church bells ringing as we walk out our front door. I have grown very fond of the priest, the congregation, and the physical space with its stained-glass windows and spiritual air. What I like most about going to church on Sunday isn’t the music or the Bible reading, or holding my wife’s hand. It’s the time to rest and think. To pray. And to hear a man I like and respect talk about faith in a way that I can understand and reaches beyond Christ. He is talking about the Bible for sure, but his message is much broader than that. He challenges the congregation to take God’s word and live it as broadly as possible. Which gets to the crux of my faith.
I believe in Christ. But I also believe in the Buddha. And I believe in Allah. And I believe the Jews are right. And my atheist friends are on to something too. I believe in one god that we all find in different ways. When I hold my children or kiss my wife or see the moon hanging in the window, I remember that I am a just a speck of dust in a massive cosmos over which I have no control. And the goodness of my life is a miracle for which I am eternally grateful.
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Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.