What is faith? It's a belief in something that cannot be proven, no? How is it possible, then, for people to be punished or rewarded based on their beliefs? How can one change one's beliefs? I can't just wake up one morning and decide that from now on, I believe in (fill in the blank). I can say I believe, I can perform actions that may imply that I believe, but in my heart of hearts, there is nothing I can do to make myself believe or not believe something that cannot be proven anyway. I either believe or I don't.
In the Army, there was a motto that went "fake it 'till you make it", referring to our having to pretend to be enthusiastic about being soldiers until, one day, it would finally get internalized and we really would be enthusiastic about it. But you know what? Being a soldier never grew on me. I faked it with the best of them, but it never seeped into my inner being. And so with faith. I can fake it till I make it, except what if I don't "make it"?
Even though Catholicism, in that it's Christianity, does include a very specific set of beliefs in the Trinitarian God, the Virgin Incarnation, the Ressurrection, I find there is a lot more leeway for those of us who find ourselves having to "fake it till we make it". I'm not saying that the Catholic Church encourages false pretenses. No, I'm saying that the Catholic Church offers more than just faith (sola fide) as our ticket to heaven, as it were. Now, my Protestant sisters and brothers, please bare with me. I write this only as an attempt to be truthful about where I believe the state of my faith lies. I cannot say "I believe" if I do not believe, because saying so will not make it so. Therefore, I must hold onto my integrity, something that Jesus was quite fond of, I might add.
By being Catholic, I know that how I live my life, what I do in the way of charity, has direct meaning in my salvation. Jesus showed us the way; He modeled it for us, He told us to follow His example. To pretend that this was in some way secondary to belief in who He is is misguided. Yes, Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6), but what did He mean? This is a serious question. If Jesus is "the way", does that mean we should follow Him on this same road to heaven in how we live our life? Or does it mean that we should simply add our name to the "guest list" at the door and rest assured that since Jesus traveled the way, we get into heaven simply by association?
And what does it mean that Jesus is the truth? Does it mean that He tells the truth, so we should pay attention to His teachings and believe everything He taught? If so, then why do Protestants not believe Him when He said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me" (John 6: 53-57)?
The answer, inevitably, will fall that Jesus was being figurative. And yet some of the same Protestants will say that when God created the Garden of Eden in 6 days, He literally created it in six 24-hour periods. Who decides when God was being figurative and when He was being literal? There is a saying I recently heard that really speaks to this point: Every Protestant is their own pope. This means that while Catholics rely on the Pope and the Magisterium to interpret our faith, Protestants rely either on themselves individually, or on the pastor of their church at the time, or a televangelist, or a best-selling Christian author. No matter how the cookie crumbles, you cannot have understanding of Christianity without interpretation. But I digress.
Jesus is the life. What does that mean? How is Jesus "the life"? Is His life a model? Is there no eternal life without His human life? I don't even know what questions to ask, let alone truly understand what Jesus meant here. Ok, maybe the second sentence in John 14:6 will help. He says the only way to the Father is through Him. Again, does this mean that Jesus will simply vouch for us, as long as we cast our vote in the religion election? Or does this mean that the way we get to the Father is the same way Jesus did, by integrity and obedience to His will?
Ok, so now I've pointed out my very real concerns with the ambivalent feelings I have about theological salvation. Having said that, I have already learned that it does me and my soul absolutely no good to worship God with others who are equally unsure of what they believe in, or a group where each individual believes something different. I've attended Unitarian Universalist church service, and it only made me feel less close to God. I ended up returning to the Catholic Church when I finally realized, after years of church-hopping, that there is no single church that can give me the fullness of God's truth, because - HELLO! - God is not able to be grasped by our mere human minds. If we could grasp Him in such a way so as to put into words what He's all about, then surely no one would ever question this type of testimony, as they'd sense in their heart of hearts that it was directly from God, and everyone would be of one religion.
No, God cannot be explained, so I stopped looking for a church that could explain God to me. Instead, I remembered that the Catholic Church does a wonderful job of providing opportunities for the faithful to experience God. I experience God at Mass, by receiving the Eucharist, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, via the various devotional practices such as the Rosary or Stations of the Cross, through Lectio Divina (where the Word of God becomes more than just words on a page), and through the encouragement of simply being in God's presence in silence. Ahhh, how I terribly missed silence during my time away from the Catholic Church. There was so much preaching, so much singing, so much fellowshipping, that there was no time left to simply experience God's presence.
Some people will read this and start praying for the salvation of my soul. Prayers are always appreciated, thanks! But I think these folks' time may be better spent praying for peace.
If it takes a certain belief to get to heaven, then that sounds a lot like censorship and dictatorship, and I'm afraid I won't be making it in if that's what it is - a university, or a place where everyone thinks and believes the same way. The idea that God wants everyone to think the same sounds like a truly human innovation. We like it when people agree with us, because it's less threatening when we don't have to defend our own beliefs.
My experience of God is such that He (for lack of a better term) is indeed love, in that at the pearly gates, He will not be literal and legalistic like the Pharisees. I believe that God looks at our lives and sees how closely we followed Jesus's example, regardless if we even know who Jesus is. I believe that those who claim a belief in their salvation via Jesus's coattails without putting forth their own effort will not be known to God. Instead, I believe that countless non-Christians and fallen-away Christians who felt the need to purge themselves of Christian beliefs in order to get to the core of God's desire for our lives (serving Him through love) will be on a first-name basis with God and get into heaven right away, ahead of the line, because He will personally recognize them through their good works: "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).
1 John 4:8
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.