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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Door

No matter what one may think of the philosophy embodied in The Matrix movies, we have to recognize that millions of young adults across the country are being influenced by the way it talks about faith. As we saw last week, while these movies have a pretty skewed understanding of faith in some respects, they also get some aspects of it right.

Last week, we saw how the Wachowski brothers, the creators of The Matrix movies, described faith primarily as an emotion; they specifically denied it had anything to do with reason. We saw why this is wrong: faith is substantially a result of encountering historically accurate facts and correctly analyzing those facts. However, while this logical analysis forms the foundation of Christian faith, there is something more to faith, something that cannot be left out.

“I can only show you the door. You have to walk through.” Morpheus tells Neo this as Neo comes to the realization that he has a profoundly important role to play in the lives of the people around him. In this one sentence summary of what faith means, we can see an echo of the correct understanding of Faith. This is not surprising. Every heresy of the Church is based on a correct understanding of one aspect of Christian doctrine, a correct understanding that uneasily co-exists with several incorrect understandings. This is why heresy is so appealing: it’s almost right.

As we saw earlier, Faith is not an emotion. It gives rise to emotions, but it is not itself an emotion. Faith is just a short-hand word for an accurate analysis of accurate facts. But it is precisely the nature of faith’s facts that raise faith above even the logic and reason that are its foundation.

These facts have two characteristics. To begin with, the facts are not facts we have personally encountered. “Faith comes through hearing,” says St. Paul. Why through hearing? Because the facts of salvation history aren’t anything I’ve seen myself. I didn’t see God part the Red Sea. I didn’t see Him heal the blind man near the pool of Siloam, or talk with the woman at the well. I hear about these facts from other people, people I trust.

I trust these people, almost all of them Semites, most of them Jews, because the story they tell me spans several thousand years and dozens of generations. It is a story that every generation swears to, a vast sea of people together testify that what they tell me is real historical fact. These people are quite honest about their own shortcomings and the shortcomings of their families and friends. They don’t pretend these things happened to them because they are better than everyone else. They just witness: this is what happened.

I see from their testimony that they are like me, at times good, at times evil. I see that both of us strive for a goal we have not yet reached, a goal outside of ourselves, a goal that we cannot reach without help, but that is still somehow within our grasp. I see that we are kin. They do not intend to deceive me. I trust them.

Modern Biblical critics don’t. Many of today’s critics approach the text of Scripture with something called, “the hermeneutic of suspicion”. In other words, people using modern Biblical criticism don’t trust the authors of Scripture, the Semites, mostly Jews, who wrote the words of the text. Though the text is filled with warnings against the lying mouth and the deceiving tongue, these critics explicitly lack faith, even human faith, in the people who wrote the Scriptures. They trust the authors of Scripture less than they trust the gas station attendant who gives them directions to the freeway. Why?

That question is hard to answer. Some people are surrounded by “friends” who regularly lie to them, family members who have betrayed them. Anyone who feels betrayed, especially by a close personal friend, will naturally have a certain unwillingness to trust others, no matter how remote. Such people may even blame God for allowing such betrayal, for allowing men free will, allowing them to choose between being faithful and being traitors.

Indeed, it is possible these critics don’t trust God. Perhaps they’ve never felt God move in their lives. They’ve never found that impossibly good parking space, discovered the $50 bill in their winter coat at the very moment the bill collector called, or rolled through a mile and a half of green lights towards the hospital with their bleeding child in the back seat of the car. Maybe they’ve never felt that preternatural peace infuse their hearts at the very moment they needed it most. Whatever the reason, these critics deny kinship with the authors of Scripture and they deny that we should trust such people.

As a result, the facts that I receive, the testimony I read in Scripture, is not testimony for them. Instead, it is to be considered perjury until such time as the facts can be proven via other witnesses. Even if other witnesses come forward, archeology, anthropology and its brother disciplines, it may not help much. We cannot really trust the testimony of texts written by… these people.

The second characteristic of the facts flows from the first. The facts I see in Scripture have a depth beyond my understanding. I understand what I read, but I sense that there is more. Like a simple math equation that turns out to apply to dozens of wildly divergent disciplines, the facts of Scripture seem to ripple through human experience and pop up in the wildest places. I don’t know why the number pi is found in so many important mathematical equations. I don’t know why the figure of Christ appears in so many great works of visual and literary art, even pagan art. A mystery is something I understand, I just don’t understand it fully. The facts of Scripture are a mystery.

And herein lies the most mysterious aspect of the divine facts that I analyze through the working of Faith. I find that the very mystery of the facts, the very clarity of their analysis, fuels me with a power I would not otherwise have. When I encounter them, I am strengthened. Faith not only shows me the door through logic and reason, it empowers me to walk through the door.

Because the facts are true and the analysis is clear, I, along with every believer, am able to “see” consequences that no one has seen with their eyes. Like a blind man who can “see” the territory around him through his other senses, the infallibility of faith allows me to “know” facts that no one has yet told me. By the fact that God willingly reveals Himself to me, by the fact that He empowers me to see Him clearly through my logic, my reason, and my sense of depth, of mystery, I am willing and able to walk through doors of suffering and privation that I would never otherwise attempt to approach.

Faith is just a short-hand word for accurate analysis of accurate facts, but it brings me to a door. When I see bread crumbs scattered in a line along the forest trail, I “see” that a rational hand must have arranged them on the path, so I follow the trail, eating the bread along the way. However, like the bread crumbs in this example, the facts and the analysis do not just lead to a syllogism. Ultimately, divine Faith is a mystery precisely because, though it begins in an encounter with facts, it leads to an encounter with Persons, the Three Divine Persons who are Infinite Love. And in that encounter, these necessary and useful facts drop to the floor as I am swept up in His arms.

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