by the Rev. Ken Turley,
minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Portland, Me.
In the July, 1994 Issue of Our Daily Bread

In the dictionary, "faith" is defined as "unquestioning belief as in God or religion." At least that is one definition, and probably the most commonly known. You may be surprised to hear that I have a little trouble with that. That "unquestioning belief" really bothered me. I used my concordance and began looking up passages in the Bible that contained the word "faith." And there was in each this element of unquestioning faith, and yet, somehow, it didn't quite sit right. David and his faith in God which let him go out in the face of insurmountable odds against Goliath, his unquestioning belief that the Lord would guide his hand and protect him. And Peter and the faith that he had to step out of the boat onto the water, and yet somewhere, Peter had some questions. Certainly he needed some reassurance before he stepped out of the boat, and there must have been something running through his mind that left him sinking in the water and yet Jesus held out his hand, brought him to the surface and back to the boat with a compassionate upbraiding: "Why did you doubt?" Why did you doubt with the evidence right there in front of you?

So here we are in this world. Two thousand years have passed since the opportunity to have the evidence right there before us has existed. There are many variations and interpretations of the Christian faith. There are many churches that vary in practice and teaching and yet read from the same Bible. It seems to me that in order to have an unquestioning belief we have to first ask a lot of questions. How strong can a faith be if it never asks questions? How complete can a belief system be if it hasn't questioned everything at least once?

There may be churches that do not encourage questions, that demand blind obedience, that consider the individual so uneducated or unintelligent that members are not encouraged to ask questions, but this church is not one of them. There may be priests and ministers that expect or even demand unquestioning faith, quiet obedience and provide a set of rules to be memorize and followed, but this minister is not one of them. I expect you to question. All that you read, all that you hear from me or from anyone else: question it. Examine it thoroughly against what you have come to know through your learning and experience. Examine it thoroughly against your feelings. And on top of that, question your own knowledge and intuition. Ask questions, put your faith to the test.

Now this is not to imply that we should  live life in constant doubt and uncertainly, and it is certainly not to say that you should put the Lord to the test. But I do encourage you to ask questions, and to find answers to those questions. Put your beliefs to the test and find out what you truly believe and what you believe just because that was what you have been told at some point in the past. For your faith to be worth anything at all, you must believe not because you heard it in church, or read it in a book; you must believe because in your mind it makes sense, because it answers the questions that you have asked, because in your heart it feels true and puts to rest the doubts that you have carried. That is why you should believe.

God is present within all of us, and we can get in touch with that presence of God within us. Worship in church is one way to get in touch, reading the Bible is a way to get in touch, simply talking with people is a way. Prayer, talking directly to God is a way to get in touch. But the important thing in developing your faith is that you ask questions and find answers that resonate true with that presence of God within you.

Now certainly faith has to do with trust. And certainly that bond of trust needs to be there between us and God. But faith also implies something else. It implies a believe system. It implies that which, without thinking, we assume to be true. And it implies, on the basis of what we assume to be true, how we will then act. The most secular of scientific studies, the most clinical approach to psychology, the most fundamental concepts in sports and in the arts are founded on the concept that what you assume to be true, what you believe to be true will affect what you perceive and how you respond.

Now the point of all this is to convince you of just how important your belief systems are, just how important your faith is. If you believe that you are not worth very much and the only thing that really exists is this physical world and that the only thing that really matters is getting as much out of it for yourself as possible, you are going to have a much different attitude towards life, a much different purpose in life, and a much different life than if you believe that you are one of God's creations, and you matter, and that you are a part of the spiritual world, now and continuing after death, and that growing in understanding, wisdom, and our ability to love is the most important thing. If you believe this, your life, the way you perceive the world and what happens to you, and the way that you respond will be very different. If you believe that God is the Creator and Source of all love and wisdom and is an active force in your life, God's presence will be much more accessible and effective than if you have closed your mind to God's existence. In the first case you expect it, you open yourself to God, you welcome God's presence in your life, and use that presence in your life. In the second, you don't believe it and so remain closed to the possibility and probably wouldn't recognize the presence of God if it were right in front of you.

Everyone has a belief system of some kind. Even not believing in anything is a belief system and it will affect your expectations and your experience just as much as if you believe in the power of money or the power of love. There is no escaping our belief, but there is change and there is growth. That is where the importance of questioning comes in. It is in reevaluating our beliefs and how they affect the way we perceive life, and how we act, that we are able to grow. And it is in growing that we are able to move closer to the reality of God which exists independently of any single human being's belief.

Charity and faith are the two sides of one coin. They are distinct and yet inseparable. They are like heat and light from a flame. We can conceive of them separately, we can talk about them separately, but we cannot actually separate them. If you take charity out of faith you have nothing more than the cold light of the moon, and nothing will grow in that light alone. Charity is centered in the emotional part of our makeup, the will, and it grows out of love. Faith is centered in the rational part of our makeup and it grows out of what we know and learn, and what we acknowledge and confirm. For it is in acknowledgement and confirmation that we make our beliefs our reality.

If we remember the two great commandments, the two most important things in the Christian faith are confirming in our minds, our hearts and our actions, the love of God and love of our fellow human beings. It seems simple enough, and yet there is an endless depth that will only grow stronger with a lifetime of study and questioning. But more, there is a depth that will provide power and richness to those who life their lives with this as the cornerstone of their belief system. Swedenborg, as always, has something to say about the practical application of belief. He defines faith as "active reliance on the reality of God and the things of the spirit." It is not just knowledge; it is reliance upon the belief that these things are fundamentally true, that God IS and that the realm of the spirit IS. With those as fundamental beliefs, live your life accordingly.

And so I would like to leave you with a question to ask yourself: What would change in your faith, in your belief system, what would change in your perception of life in this world, and most important of all, what would change in your actions, if you were able to whole-heartedly, without doubt, without question, actively rely on the reality of God and the things of the spirit?


Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they go into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

Matthew 14:22-33

Reading from Swedenborg:

It is according to the laws of order that no one ought to be persuaded about truth in a moment, that is to say, that truth should be so confirmed in a moment as to leave no doubt whatever about it; because the truth which is so impressed becomes persuasive truth, and is devoid of any extension, and also of any yielding quality. Such truth is represented in the other life as hard, and as such that it does not admit good into it so as to become applicable. Hence it is that as soon as in the other life any truth is presented before good spirits by a manifest experience, there is soon afterward presented something opposite which causes doubt. In this way it is given them to think about it, and to consider whether it be so, and to collect reasons, and thus to bring that truth into their minds rationally. By this there is effected an extension in the spiritual sight in respect to that truth, even to its opposite; and thence it sees and perceives in the understanding all the quality of the truth, and thence can admit influx from heaven according to the states of the objects, for truths receive various forms according to the circumstances. This is the reason why the magicians were allowed to do as Aaron did; for thereby doubt was excited among the sons of Israel about the miracle, whether it was Divine; and thus an opportunity was given them of thinking and considering whether it was Divine, and of finally confirming themselves that it was so.

Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #7298


He who does not believe Divine Truths unless he is persuaded by means of scientifics, never believes.
Heaven and Hell, #356 App.


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