For many people, faith is about believing what they are told to believe, with no questions asked. For me, it is about searching for the best and not just the accepted in every religious tradition.
It is about bringing our own best judgment to what others ask us to believe for their own reasons. This means that coming to genuine faith involves asking questions — a lot of questions. The most helpful answers will be those we discover for ourselves, after struggling honestly with others’ answers to the very same questions.
A life-long member of a small but lively church, distraught over the possibility that her best friends may leave it over the issue of homosexuality, is told: You just have to trust that our leaders are telling us what God is telling them, that we should leave. A father of two severely troubled teenagers, painfully second-guessing his decision to divorce their mother, is comforted with the proclamation: You don’t have to worry about your sin if you trust in the Lord; he already paid the price for it in full on the cross. A staunchly pro-life advocate, still in shock over an unexpected pregnancy at age 44, is advised by her Catholicism-bashing good friend: Abortion is your decision and yours alone to make.
Any one of these affirmations might be true for any struggling believer at one time or another. But it would have been better had these particular strugglers been listened to more, and encouraged to seek answers that make the most sense to them on their own terms.
About this approach, though, one pastor I know raised an important question: But shouldn’t a genuine believer answer someone’s faith-question the way their own religion answers it? To me, this listening approach says that whatever answer the questioner comes up is ok, as long as it is sincere.
No, sincerity is not enough. But neither is insisting that a religion must present its message the same way at all times and everywhere. No religion has anticipated and provided for every changing circumstance across history, and none ever will.
If our faith is to grow, we must be ready to question and disagree about what religious ideas and beliefs can mean in and for different times, places, and circumstances. Hopefully, in the process we will have the support of fellow strugglers who understand. We deserve them.