As teenagers, my brother and I both made a firm and informed Christian commitment that shaped our lives. But our views were so different. He chose to take the Bible literally, as history and was sure he knew what to believe. I preferred to read it metaphorically and to think of theology as story. Billy Graham often said in preaching: ‘the Bible says’. But I felt no need for that sense of certainty or a list of beliefs. Do you? Let us think together about what we need to know for an authentic and fruitful faith. What metaphors do we find helpful?
In 1979, Nigel Hawthorne (Yes Minister) was in the movie called ‘The Knowledge’ about the examination of Taxi drivers wanting to drive in London. This is a metaphor for faith as knowing the Way & destination.
Faith Knowledge as facts comes from Deut. 6. Israelites were to recite the Torah and fathers were to teach it to their offspring, like catechism in the church. But from the same era the writer of Jeremiah envisions a new covenant in which knowledge of the divine will be written on the heart of each person. Jesus affirms Jeremiah in his radical teaching that the kingdom of God is within you. Knowledge of God for Jeremiah is the intimate knowledge of Adam and Eve. Intimate but mysterious.
For St Paul, the ‘knowledge’ was knowing Christ, in a mystical union. In 1 John 4:7 it is the knowledge of loving: ‘Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God’, not ‘who is loved’.
To the philosophers in Athens who had erected a statue to the unknown God Paul used their own poetry to point to God as spirit in whom we live and move, not some unknown elsewhere. Not far but still a mystery eg for the man in the parable who scatters seed and finds it grown but he does not know how. While reliable historic facts undergird my faith, I want to leave my nets, push off from the shore, and experience the mystery with my golden rule: ‘Believe as little as possible’.
Agnosticism, not knowing, is the path of faith. We meet the divine and the holy unmediated in the wonder of the stars and the atom; in the opening of a flower and the birth of a child, in a dying breath; in the creative genius of humanity discovering bacteria or responding to COVID; in the love of parent or child, in the forgiveness and grace of our partner. Like Jesus, we meet the holy and the transcendent in the midst of human life. We receive it as sheer gift and we are inspired in response, to follow in the self-giving way Jesus took.
Let’s not agonize about what we can or cannot believe. Let’s act in Jesus’ name to bring reconciliation and hope in our world.