Seeking Knowledge, but Meeting Dead Ends
Posted by MERYEM CHIN
I recently embarked on a quest to seeking answers to the questions that I had, and who best to ask than the learned people of my Catholic faith? So, armed with the email addresses of a priest (Fr. E), and a nun (Sr. C), I decided to bombard them with my questions, as I was too afraid of getting scolded and figured I could hide behind a screen instead. Here is a record of my e-mail to them:
I would like to first explain that in my own faith journey, I am seeking for a path which I can logically believe in my small human mind. I know that it is impossible to know everything that God does, and I accept it. But I also believe that God cannot contradict himself. I am seeking logic in my path to God, not asking for a sign like what Thomas did. I just don't want to be guided by blind faith, and have to tell my kids later on to "just believe". I want to be able to explain to them why, and how.
So these are a few of my initial questions:
1. I believe in the One God, the God of Abraham and Moses. This comes down to the first struggle I have- I would then be believing in many religions (ie. Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Islam etc.). As I was a cradle catholic, I just accepted the Trinity, until I was a little older to question (about 17 years). Then it started to not make sense. I love Jesus, I accept the presence of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that God sent His message through them. However, so many verses in the Bible mention Jesus as His Son (as are we all sons and daughters of God?), and Jesus mentions God as His Father. How can these then explain One God, if they call each other like this? Can God call himself His Son and His Father at the same time?
2. Also stemming from the previous question, yes some might accept that the Trinity exists, but I am sure many of us really take things literally and visualise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as 3 separate entities, because we are humanly logical. Won't this create misguidance in some sort, as God has already said that there shall be no other besides him? If we really start to think of them as 3 separate beings (even if they aren't) then wouldn't we be displeasing God even if we didn't mean to?
3. I have read in Leviticus and Deuteronomy many rules that God set and delivered, through Moses. Many of these rules are still being practiced, but I am wondering why us as Catholics and Christians do not follow some. Surely we cannot pick and choose which we are to follow? Yes, since it is in the Old Testament it was written in context to that time and period, but I am sure that those rules that are able to still be applied in today's context can still be practiced (like how Muslims don't eat pork, for example.)
4. That leads to my next question, if everything should be based on context and time and period, then shouldn't we too recognise the Quran (which was the last Book sent), since it has the latest 'updates'?
I am sorry for such a long email! But these questions have been burning at the back of my mind for a really long time. I have more along the way but these are forming the basis of my faith journey and I need to get them off my chest.
Here is her reply:
Basically faith is a gift that needs building on and theology is basically what St Anslem said "faith seeking understanding" so, questions are good but the premise needs to be that of Faith which is in God's hands and God will answer all questions in God's time and place.Knowledge is good and necessary up to the point where we as humans tend to make that a criteria for faith and then it can become tools for the father of lies ie evil. Adam and Eve were content till they sought the 'tree of knowledge' which God had forbidden for valid reasons... way I see it, they could not handle the truth so... perhaps God was in fact protecting them and asking them to trust which they didn't obviously.With this premise I will try and answer your questions but note that it will never be complete cos' completion and perfect understanding is in God's hand and in God's time... we can only trust and wait with the knowledge that God's love is perfect and unconditional.
We're not expected to practice 'blind faith' only to trust that God will unveil the mysteries of life in God's time... this has been so since all of creation. God has given us the gift of free will and will never revoke that so, TRUST is the KEY.
Am not sure about Islam but yes, our roots are in the Jewish traditions and we as Catholics are also Christians which basically means 'followers of Christ" Islam began with Mohammed who lived long after Christ and they have taken similar roots as we have but certainly we do not take from them nor do we accept their Koran as 'sacred' for us.
The Trinitarian mystery can be explained up to a certain level as we have a finite mind in contrast to God's infinity. Because it is a rather difficult concept you'd need to do a serious study to understand it's roots which can be found in Scriptures beginning from Genesis. I'm sorry but I will not be able to help you to do this as it would take too much time and needs more indepth study.
If we seek God in love and trust Jesus, the WAY, TRUTH AND LIGHT will show us the way and keep us safe. We get lost when we 'demand' without trust or patience. We need believe that God loves us through it all and will lead us to the truth with God's perfect timing.
Catholics, do not read Scriptures literally and Jesus has opened doors that teach us how to live at true children of God... the many rules were for those who lived in lands and places that were foreign and they needed the reminders. Do you?? I'm sorry, the Muslims have a way of life that totally differs from us... they for one do not believe in Jesus as God as we do and that's a radical difference to their practices and beliefs. I'd rather not compare with the Muslims beliefs as I am not well versed itn their Koran and am deeply saddened by the many hostile events that has their teaching as a base.
I see NO reason as a Catholic to even refer to the Koran much less accept their 'updates'. My faith is based on Jesus the Son of God and yes, God in the Trinity. I have a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and have my Catholic Church as the ONE Church that has it's roots in Jesus for my guidance. As such I have no need for the Koran. I's say that a Catholic who ventures into the Koran without serious study, reflection and prayer and guidance from a priest or theologian would be to venture into quicksand.
Thank you for asking these questions but I feel you need more guidance, prayer and reflection. I will not be able to do that for you... Perhaps you could go to the Jesuit centre at St Ignatius and ask the priests / counsellors who are trained for guidance? Base line question is if you are prepared to take the time [God chose to take 7 days for creation... God is slow ;) for good reasons and we need to remember that] for this and to allow God to lead you... the wide road as Scripture says is the road to perdition((in Christian theology) A state of eternal punishment and damnation into which a sinful and unpenitent person passes after death.)... so, I'd say take the narrow path and learn of the God in our Catholic faith, who loves unconditionally and will bring you much happiness.
After the reply from Sister C (which was basically the reply I've been getting from everybody), I decided to try my luck with Fr. E, whose contact my dad had gotten for me. His first reply was somewhat relatively different from the ones which I had been previously getting:
Before I answer your questions. let me ask you a more basic question. Does your Christian Faith actually work for you. Do you find it gives you a clear reference point for your life. I am a practical man and whatever the dogmatic distinctions maybe with other faiths. I first want to ascertain whether your christian faith actually works for you. What has been your experience of living this faith?
I ask this question because all these faiths that you mentioned have some fundamental common ground but Christianity has one point that makes it exceptional. I want to know if you have experienced the exceptionality of Christianity first.
Well, I was definitely curious with that reply, so I decided to let him in on a little history of my 24 years of being Catholic. Then his reply:
Well sadly your story is similar to many catholics who have grown cold in their faith. Catholics of your particular experience are called cultural catholics, in the sense that you follow the external norms of the faith in terms of Creed, Code & Cult. What we would call the external trappings of all religions.
If you study different religions the claim each one has is that God has inspired a particular person in their search for enlightenment to develop a particular set of creed code and cult that their adherents follow in order to gain the blessings of God and to be enlightened. However the exceptional fact about christianity is that while we do have these external features of creed code and cult – following that alone does not make one a Christian or Christ bearer.
To be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ ... why is this necessary, because the Christian claim is that God did not inspire a man where Christianity is concerned but – GOD BECAME A MAN – THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH! No other religion makes such a claim. In fact in some religions this would be considered sacrilegious! This is in fact why Jesus was crucified by the Jews. In other religions the whole idea of having a personal relationship with God is not emphasized. God is wholly other and cannot be pictured (Islam) or God has many faces (Hinduism) or they are still waiting for God (Jews). But for Christians God has a human face, lived among us, loved us and died for us. We can only encounter this God when we encounter a real Christian someone who talks and behaves and has the attitude of Jesus and can bring us to Him. Sadly many catholics do not behave this way as has been your experience.
Hence the reason why I asked you your experience of Christian Faith. Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ one cannot experience Christianity. That is why the universal church has embarked on this work of the New Evangelization. Many Christians today are what we called baptised or sacramentalized but they are not converted or evangelized. Hence they invite people to church but they don’t know how to bring someone to Jesus. They follow the laws of the church half-heartedly but this is because they do not follow Jesus Himself!
I also believe this is why many people go on a search asking many questions about different faiths a hunger and restlessness grows in them but I realize it is not a hunger merely for knowledge of facts but it is really a hunger for the living and true God Jesus Christ, the one and only Lord and savior. A hunger to be loved in this deep and intimate way.
Your search needs to take you to discover the real Christianity, and through this process of conversion of heart find the true faith, after which begin the intellectual conversion of reading more about the faith in an attitude of trust, right now because the heart conversion is missing in you, your intellect is merely looking at arguments for and against, and that people have been doing for ages.
This is why I say faith has to be practical in that it actually has to help you live your life well and not just give you an intellectual peace that you are following the right way .... may God bless your journey and lead you on the right path.
I was more confused, actually, after that reply. Yes, for the past 23 years of my life my faith didn't help me to live my life well. Yet now I sincerely wanted that 'heart conversion', but I couldn't see that happen until I could make sense of what I was following. And I was getting some of my answers from somewhere else. After all, I am a person who tends to follow logic before following something wholeheartedly, because then everything makes sense. I can't see myself doing the reverse (ie. putting heart before brain). Mind you, in this case, brain does not refer to knowing God's plan. It just plainly refers to knowing my own Faith (or rather the logic of the Church's teachings).
For all other religions, their founders ... are human ... the exceptional Christian claim is that God is now a man and enters into a personal relationship... in this sense Christ is a revelation of the living god ... an event in life ... and not only a religion ...
So without this experience then, of course you settle for an intellectual belief ... which at this time seems enough for you ... so your conscience has to be respected. ..
May you find the peace you are looking for and have the courage to search further when the intellectual assent seems insufficient ...
Ok, so he kinda just gave up on me. I think they really have got it all mixed up- seeking reasons for a Church's teachings as compared to intellectual belief is NOT the same thing. The Trinity was after all a concept created by Christians to explain why we believe that Jesus is God, so why can't anyone just explain to me how they derived this concept? Intellectual belief happens only when GOD HIMSELF says he is the Trinity, and I ask him WHY he did it, and HOW he did it, etcetera.
So after the episodes of back-forth e-mail discussion, I decided to meet up with Sister C even though I wasn't too keen on meeting her after the way she answered my questions. Yet I decided, ok what harm can this do, after all I was open to seeking answers. So I went.
Thinking that she might have gotten the wrong idea in my email, I clarified with her that the first thing I wanted wasn't to know why God did this or how he did it. I wanted to know why the church taught a certain way, so that through understanding I can find the way to God.
Without waiting for me to finish my sentence, she said, "The way you asked the questions, you are not open to any answers. You will never be satisfied because there will come to a point where there can be no answer."
"Can you say that you have faith?" She asks. Well, yes if I can understand what I am believing in.
"Faith has no ifs." She cuts. "When you start questioning like that, it means you have some agenda. Let go of all agenda that you have."
My only agenda now is to find the way that most pleases God, the path to Him, I insist.
"You aren't ready. You cannot accept God yet."So when am I going to be ready? Forever not? Who determines when I am ready but God, anyway?
I asked about the Trinity, how prophet Isaiah said the messenger of God was coming, how God said "this is my Son, the beloved." How all these should say something else when God was going to talk about himself.
Pauses for a moment, lost for words. Then laughs and says,"You cannot know exactly what God does, why he says it that way. You must take in the context of that period, who it was written for, what it was written for, etc. Haven't you learnt how to read texts like that?"
Yes, in school, during literature class. She laughs again.
"The trinity represents a community. God is movement among people. (Then in the Old Testament, there wasn't movement?) God was unclear and people couldn't follow, they strayed... We need Jesus to show us the way.
"The bible should be straightforward and easy to understand,"I said. "I read it and I understand what is written and only hear it isn't easy to understand from you."
"God is not black and white, he isn't easily understood. Thus the Bible also cannot be black and white. The Bible is not easy to understand," she laughs again. It is getting really annoying, somehow, the way she laughs. Don't want to say anything mean because after all I still have to respect a nun.
"Everything in the bible cannot be taken literally, you need guidance to be able to read it. You cannot just use the Bible by itself. You cannot read the Bible on your own. There is no such thing as I, my Bible, my God. The Bible isn't a history book, nor a Literature text. It has to help you live your life with God."
"Catholic churches have hidden the Bible because of the fear that the Catholics will pick up the bible and misinterpret it according to how the devil wants them to. (O REALLY?) When you are left on your own, you allow space for the devil to enter. Because when you get closer to God, it gives more space for the devil to tempt you. If Jesus can be tempted, so can us"
"What have you been doing in the past? Why are you only asking the questions now?"
Imagine me as a young kid asking such questions, I said. How would you answer me?
"The same way. How would you teach your kid not to play with fire? He will just say ohh, it's so pretty, so nice the colors. I want to play. Will you say, ok go ahead?"
"You need to see a spiritual director, and a counsellor." She concludes. Later on she tells my mum I have to see a counsellor.
Well, if the Bible is only for the advanced to know and is a book that is so easy to create evil when read by only one person, it's a really ridiculously, scary thought, isn't it? Shouldn't the Bible be non exclusive? What if the person teaching me was wrong about his interpretation?
Lastly, why is it evil to want to know the reasons why the Church teachings go a certain way? And if it is evil, why can't you give me an answer so I won't be led down evil? Why do you say I am not ready? When will I be?
My dear Sister, this isn't the way how you guide people down the right path.