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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Defining Faith

People tend to think of faith and doubt as mutually exclusive. It is typically said that one either "has faith" (in or for something) or they are "doubting". In this way of thinking, faith is reduced to a state of mind.

Christians continually feel guilty because they don't "have enough faith", and by this they seem to mean they don't "believe strongly enough." When they encounter things in life that cause them to experience doubt (wether in small or large matters), they usually see that as something bad.

I would define faith differently. I would even say that faith requires the presence of doubt. Faith is not just a state of mind, but an act of will, which by definition requires exercising. Faith is not the absense of doubt, but it is what you choose to do when faced with doubt.

Were I to tell you that flying elephants exist, you would not naturally believe me, nor could you choose to believe me because you cannot force your mind to accept something that is contrary to what it knows to be actual. Again, faith is not a state of mind. You could, however, choose to trust me, and make decisions based on what I have told you. In this you would be exercizing faith; not in flying elephants, but in me and in my character.

The above example is absurd. But in the same way God calls us to have faith in him and in his character through making decisions based not on what we naturally perceive, but on what he has said.

Taking all this into account, I would say that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. God has spoken clearly that he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exo 34:6). God has spoken clearly that he is our provider (Gen 50:21). In fact, the most repeated command in the bible is, "do not fear," or some variation of that.

When we are confronted with doubts or situations that cause us to doubt, we can either choose to be afraid and to worry, or to exercise faith by trusting in God's characteristics, and continuing to live in light of what God has said about himself.

This also releases the Christian from the guilt associated with doubt. Doubt is natural to the rational mind and is very healthy. Instead of trying to ignore it, avoid it, cover it up with endless religious activity, or feel guilty about it, we should engage it, wrestle with it, and allow it to send us seeking for answers. After all, an unexamined faith is not worth having.

Seeking truth should be any person's foremost agenda. By wrestling with doubts we obtain much understanding, and ultimately more solid grounds for our faith, and also the things we believed that turn out to be groundless, we can leave behind.

Why is God invisible? There would be no need to exercise faith were he not. But God enjoys being sought after.

So my friends, do not be afraid, take advantage of your doubts, and remember, we are to live by faith, not by sight.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cigarettes & Prostitutes

Following the trend of the rest of the European Union, smoking was finally banned in all public buildings in the Netherlands last year in July. Many neighborhood cafes around the country are going out of business because of the new regulations.

Many people were understandably outraged. What right does the government have to make such bans and take away our civil liberties? People should be free to do as they please, unless of course they infringe on the freedom of others. Non smokers are free to avoid smoke-filled cafes!

Of all the EU countries, the Dutch have been the most resistant to the new law. One cafe owner went to the extreme and moved his "bar" into a small storage closet, so that the rest of the building could officially be the smoking room!

In my thinking, such matters should not be up to government, but up to the free market. Were there enough people who disdained cigarette smoke, then more restaurants would open that do not allow smoking. The smoke-free restaurants would make huge profit, while smokers would still be free to acquire cancer in the locations that catered to them!

Some try to play the moral card; that smoking should be made illegal because it is bad. But I would say that people cannot be forced to be good. One can only be good when he has the freedom to choose. It's the government's job to establish justice, not to enforce a set of morals.

However, the argument that finally got me was the public health factor. Not the health of the public mind you (they can choose whether or not to expose themselves to a smokey environment), but the health of employees who have no choice but to be exposed to smoke all day because working in a cafe is the only job they can land.

Protecting the rights of cafe workers who don't smoke is what finally pushed the legislators into action, I think. And it makes sense... Peoples' freedom to smoke had begun infringing on other peoples' freedom to breathe clean air.

Well, Dutch government, I'm smelling some double standards here. It seems a bit funny to me, considering your new and intense concern for workers' well being, that prostitution is still legal and smiled upon!

What about the rights of women to work in an abuse-free environment? What about all those women who who cannot land another job?

If citizens are so helpless and incapable of making good decisions that the government needs to ban smoking to keep them from hurting themselves, why are they not banning prostitution? People should be free to do as they please, unless they infringe on the freedom of others.

Prostitution harms women as surely as smoke causes cancer.

Oh, but Sean, we must protect civil liberties! After all, we have an image to uphold...