Monday, January 14, 2019

Is not having faith, or having weak faith a terrible sin?

Very often, I hear penitents coming to confess their struggle with faith, and many of them carry a very heavy and burdensome load, believing that this struggle somehow displeases God, and is therefore a sin.  Maybe you are one of these many people, and your repeated confession of this ‘sin’ sees you still mired and bothered by this, perhaps because your confessor priest did not have the opportunity to address this issue at length.  While I am not declaring that once you take the time to read this reflection of mine that you will immediately see a much stronger and vivid faith life, I am hoping that with the Holy Spirit working in and through my words, and your effort at reading this, you will be able to lessen the burden that maybe you too have been carrying for a prolonged period of time in your spiritual journey.

First of all, let us be very clear that faith, by the very fact that it is not something that is physically seen by the human eye, is always going to be something that is also both challenging and also something that is supernatural (beyond or above nature). This fact means that it is going to take more than just natural efforts to tend to it and to help it to grow. What I mean is that if it is just something worldly, tangible and even quantifiable, we can just apply our efforts at it and find success in it, like the way that many people apply themselves, their resources, their energies and their sheer willpower to reach their goals in life, be it an academic degree, the mastery of some skill or talent, and in the end, reach their goal.  

One of the main reasons faith isn’t something that works the same way, is because faith is very much related to and involving something else that also isn’t physically quantifiable and tangible, and that is love.  Our faith in God, if it is not connected closely and associated with the love of God and the love for God, will be even more nebulous and abstract. Love is only seen in its effects, in the way a child looks at the face of his parents, in the actions that a husband does to show affection and devotion to his wife, and in the way that a night nurse cares tenderly for his geriatric and frail patient in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps changing his adult diapers and giving his hands a comforting hand massage.  Otherwise, love is just a concept, and not relatable to life as we live it.  Faith is something that needs a similar expression.

When faith is connected with love, then we need to apply to faith the very same things that we apply to love. We must will it to happen, the way we will our love to happen.  When we will our love to happen, we make efforts to be demonstrative of our love, we inconvenience ourselves and we put the focus and attention on those we are loving. Our world, in some ways, begin to revolve and centre around the beloved.  It is no longer about ourselves, and spiritual writers sometimes call this disinterested love, which may sound rather strange to many.  But it merely means that one isn’t interested in what one receives, how one is feeling, and even the way the loving overtures are received by the one being loved.  What matters is the giving of the love and the loving actions.  Anything that comes back or anything that is returned, is then a bonus.  And if nothing comes back, it really changes nothing.

When we apply these principles to faith, something else, however happens.  That is because faith applied with effort and zeal will always benefit the one applying it, because one’s belief (in God) is strengthened the more one applies it.  There is no such thing as disinterested faith, even though there is disinterested love. A purposefully applied faith in loving God and faith in a loving God necessarily results in a stronger faith, not just in his existence, but in his providence.  

Many people who say they lack faith or have a weak faith relate to me that this is because they see their prayers unanswered.  Does God always answer our prayers?  He definitely does.  But does he always answer our prayers in the way that we formulate these answers in our heads?  Not necessarily, and perhaps not even most of the time.  When we have faith in God, we also express that we have faith that God has our greatest interest at heart, and he wants us to flourish as his children. This flourishing must not be imaged as only having a comfortable life, a healthy and illness-free life, and a successful life.  Our definition of a flourishing life is perhaps too conditioned and shaped by a world that only defines happiness in a very narrow bandwidth.  But when we have faith in a loving and providential God, we will be able to say with confidence that even though I am with afflictions in life, even though I am not successful, or have to suffer in various ways, that these do not necessarily mean that I am not loved by this loving God. 

Admittedly, this kind of faith isn’t nurtured overnight.  It is something that we have to tend to with great care, not unlike the way a gardener is careful to tend to the saplings that he plants in his nursery.  Our daily committed prayer life that sees us loving God as a non-negotiable part of our 24-hour day shows this commitment lived out. 

Is not having strong faith in God a sin?  It cannot be a sin per se, because it isn’t something that anyone sets out to do with a purpose and intention.  But seeing how weak our love for God is, and not doing anything about this would be something that is slothful and that would be jeopardizing our faith life.

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