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I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

FAITH WHEN BELIEF DIFFERS

How do we handle differences in our own lives? Can a couple survive
if one is an involved Democrat and the other is just as involved in
being a Republican? Can a couple survive if one is minister and the
other has no belief? What's a parent to do when their child/ren just
don't care to go to the church in which they were raised? How should a
parent deal with a child denouncing religion, choosing a different
religion, or refusing to attend church altogether?

In a country and culture such as ours valuing independence and the
freedom to choose, this is all too common an issue. In my own case, it
would be more difficult to be different political parties than it is
for me to have a spouse who doesn't share my religious belief system.
Religion just doesn't dominate the news as politics does so the
divisions between us are less apparent. And my religious belief
system is strongly anchored on the belief that we are all God's
children and only God judges. Whereas political affiliation centers
on how we allow our leaders to deal with issues that affect our daily
lives.

I am blessed to have a partner who does not share my belief but is
committed to giving his time and effort in supporting me and the
church I serve. He may not worship with us, but he is always "in the
back" to make things go smoothly. How does that work? Respect,
respect, respect.

It is a doctrine for all Christians that faith is a gift. We differ
greatly when we consider the gift offered and then not accepted.
Personally I have been mystified by this gift since my childhood. In
my own family we shared the same baptism but not the same attachment
or interest in the church. Our parents made sure we went to church and
attended Catholic schools, but we often arrived late, sat in the back
of church and were among the first to leave. I, on the other hand
wanted more.

Our parents also made friends with a diverse crowd of people who were
more like aunts, uncles and cousins. They were also Protestants and
Jews. When my one sister converted to Judaism there was no great
turmoil or question of accepting her decision.

My family supported, but didn't fully understand, my leaving home
after 8th grade to become a priest. They supported me all those years
and took pride in me. Thus I grew even more convinced that faith was
indeed a gift, not equally or always offered to everyone.

As an ordained priest I was even more mystified when in true
Pentecostal manner I experienced rebirth and witnessed the miraculous
power of the Holy Spirit. Mystified that I have had at least two
friends who truly wanted what I had and whom I led through the
sinner's prayer and laid hands on them for the baptism of the Spirit
felt nothing. Was it me? Was it them? or Was it God?

Throughout my 40 years of priesthood I have been asked a hundreds of
times by parents concerned for their adult children who have drifted
from church what they should do. I've also listened with compassion
the sadness and deep concern a wife feels when her husband rejects any
involvement with a church.

For couples it is a test of their ability to accept differences and
just how much they can respect their partner's choices. For parent's
it becomes more a question of respecting the independence and an
acceptance that their influence has waned. I have often seen children
of very committed church members resent church. They find it
difficult to have a relationship with God that isn't blocked by the
parent's displeasure with their own search or disinterest.

This however is what the Judeo – Christian belief instructs us – we
are created in the image of God. That means we have the unique
privilege of creation to say yes or to say no to God. We have free
will therefore we are in the image of the all-powerful one. If God who
is all powerful and our creator would not interfere with our choices,
then who are we? We as Christians in particular profess God died for
us as sinners, not as saints. His love is ever present even we are
not. It seems to me then that our faith demands we see God's love for
a person even when they do not.

My faith tells me God never abandons a person even if they abandon
Him. Faith gives me eyes to see past a person's participation in
belief to the heart of a loving and compassionate God who does not
insist on someone acknowledging Him as much as the person who actually
loves another and respects all of God's creations. Faith yes, Love
above all.

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