What one’s faith is – that, verily, is he.
– Bhagavad Gita 17:3
And the Apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.
– Luke 17:5
I am a Christian Friend, with many of the beliefs you might expect a Christian Friend to have. I’m also, by the grace of God, a person of faith. I’m eager to share my beliefs with anyone willing to listen, but that eagerness pales next to my intenser zeal to help kindle others’ faith, a related but altogether distinct thing. Belief is a thing of air. Faith is fire.
Of belief it is written, “Thou believest that there is one God, thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). The One God, all-wise and almighty, is at the very center of my belief-system, a foundation stone for my sanity in a world where fate seems so capricious, the selfish and ignorant so powerful, and my own understandings so inadequate. But bare belief in God, as the apostle James and his devils knew, is not faith in God. Belief may say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place,” but only faith says, with Abraham and Samuel, “Here I am, Lord.” Faith stands always ready to show itself through works (James 2:17-18) and to do its works through love (Galatians 5:6). No love, no works; no works, dead faith. And faith dead, right belief is truth locked in a box whose key is lost.
But faith does need a belief system to support it, as the candle flame needs wax and a wick, and in this lies the value of right belief. And so let me tell you of the beliefs I hold most important:
1. God cares what we do and experience, and is willing and able to communicate with us. One day almost twenty years ago, as I was coming home from work, I heard a Great Voice in my mind say, “I give ear.” The majesty of the voice told me that it was the Lord’s, and the language – the English of the King James Bible – was perfectly chosen to sweep away all doubt about Who was speaking. So this belief of mine is grounded in experience. It was perhaps many years before I “got” the second meaning of those words. “He who hath ears to hear, let him hear!” the Jesus of the Gospels would say. I’d been given not only the assurance of God’s concerned attention, but also an “ear” to discern meanings God wished to convey to me. But if God gave such an ear to me, then why not to you also? Are you prepared to ask for such a gift? Are you prepared to clean the vessel that carries it, so that the mouth that declares God’s truth avoids untruth?
2. God wills the salvation of all. But there is no salvation without a radical shift in attitude, contrary to our natural inclinations, for which the traditional term is “repentance.” Unfortunately this term is sometimes confused with mere remorse for misdeeds, or disgust with the way one is, both of which one may live with for years, as I did, without undergoing the radical shift I’m speaking of. I believe that repentance comes only as a gift of grace; the Christians of Judea so spoke of it in Acts 11:18. It may happen dramatically, as with the Apostle Paul, or imperceptibly – and both to people that call themselves Christians and to those that don’t.
I believe that there is no salvation outside of Christ, the Word that was in the beginning (John 1:1-2), the Firstborn of all creatures, in Whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-16), the but this does not mean that a Jew, a Muslim, or an agnostic has to throw away a precious existing belief system and accept Christian doctrine. God is the Savior, as Jesus’ mother prophesied so beautifully (Luke 1:47), and there is no god but God; Christ, having no will apart from God’s own, is the Great Being through Whom God saves, into Whom the saved are gathered back into one, to stand, purified, before God. Call Christ what you will, or live in Him without calling Him anything at all, as pre-verbal infants do; He will still see to your salvation, except for so long as you persist in deliberately choosing evil over good. For God respects individual choice.
Salvation implies that there is something to be saved from. And isn’t this world of impermanence, suffering and death painful enough to want salvation from? But there is also the kingdom of hell, which lies within us as the kingdom of heaven does, even as we walk this earth. If we cultivate the hellish side of our nature, fear, anger, greed – Beware! That’s what we’ll be left with when this outside world falls away at death. But Consciousness Itself is divine, cannot be destroyed in any sort of hell, and must ultimately return to its Source. And he shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17, 21:4)
3. Everything I experience is for my spiritual education (cf. Hebrews 12:10). I’ve begun to see providence at work everywhere, for “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28), a truth more easily evident as one grows in purity (sattva), by which “one sees in all creatures a single, unchanging existence, undivided within its divisions” (Bhagavad Gita 18:20, Barbara Miller tr.). There’s nothing so small, trivial or random-seeming that God’s hand cannot be in it. But this applies to things that distress as well as things that please me. “What?” said Job to his wife (Job 2:10), “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not evil?” Do unfeeling people threaten me? I can say with Jesus: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Remembering this sometimes spares me fear, anger, and discontent. In The Imitation of Christ (3:46, Sherley-Price tr.) Christ tells the Disciple, “It is by My will and permission that events happen, in order that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Even when others’ hearts remain opaque to me, each event shows something about the thoughts of my own.
4. The impulse to pray is to be trusted; God will not ask us to pray for what God does not intend to grant. This becomes particularly crucial when we doubt our own worthiness to be forgiven our misdeeds and the condition of our heart. But if “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12 ff, Luke 11:4) and “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) are held up as model prayers, our sense of unworthiness is of no relevance, unless we’re actually blocking the gift by denying others forgiveness and mercy ourselves. Jesus would never have said “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11) if the sinner had been incapable of living without sinning further; neither would He have told us to be perfect, “as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), if such a goal were unattainable. God can be counted on to give us whatever we need to achieve what God wants us to do: even “a mouth, and wisdom” in situations of terror (Luke 21:15); even strength to resist any temptation that might be given us (1 Corinthians 10:13). But do we not know what we should be praying for? For this reason God has given us the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). In particular I know we would never have been given the yearning to know God, or to be united with God, if it were something we could not have.
Such are my key beliefs. But as I said, I’m more zealous to ignite faith than to preach beliefs. If souls whose faith God kindles into fire through my influence happen to have belief-systems different from mine, I care more that they cherish the flame of faith than that they think as I do about, say, the Resurrection of Christ or the authority of Christian Scripture. As the flame of faith continues to burn in them, it will bring them into right belief – the belief-system that God, knowing their cultural heritage and personal vocabulary of faith, deems right for them at this present stage of their development. It is faith that saves, and not the belief-system. It is faith that sooner or later leads all the faithful into repentance of ways with no life in them, and through repentance into the “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17), the sat-chit-ananda, of an eternally wakeful life, infinitely satisfying, in the bosom of God. Of the different beliefs that helped us get there, the Qur’an teaches: Whatever it be wherein ye differ, the decision thereof is with God: Such is God my Lord: in Him I trust, and to Him I turn. (Qur’an 42:10, Yusuf ‘Ali tr.)
O Friends: cherish the flame of faith you’ve been given; sweep away everything in your heart that might dim or quench it; and be thankful to the Giver. Beliefs are to reason with, and are useful helps; but faith is to die for.