Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Incipient Faith

I like the word incipient. It means something that is just beginning to exist or appear. When something is incipient, in its very earliest stages of development, does it exist? Doesn’t it exist whether it is fully grown or barely embryonic? It doesn’t seem that size, age, maturity, or development is the issue. While all those things may happen, the question of existence is settled when something begins to be.

So goes my philosophical reflections … perhaps meaningless ruminations, deserving of dismissing offhandedly … but there is one area where the meaning and question of incipient gnaws at me: Faith. You see, as a follower of Jesus Christ, the question of faith is a critical one – without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) because God makes us right in his sight by faith (Romans 1:17, 3:28-30, and scriptures too numerous to list). According to the Bible, faith is at the heart of a personal relationship with God. But how much faith is necessary? Jesus said that the tiniest faith could accomplish great things (Luke 17:6). He asks us to have faith as uncluttered, simple and innocent as a child’s faith (Mark 10:13-15). Since it seems clear that God doesn’t require full-blown, well-reasoned, mature faith in order to enter into a relationship with him (Mark 9:24), how much faith is needed?

My answer … incipient faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” This seems to be the irreducible minimum: God exists and He will reward my search.

God’s choice to “reward” the sincere seeker is not based on the degree to which one searches but on his graciousness based on what Jesus Christ did at the cross. His sacrifice made the way possible for everyone to enter into a relationship with God. When one searches, whether they know it or not, their search is made possible because of the way opened by Christ (John 14:6).

Why does someone without any need or requirement search after God? How do we explain this behavior? Is it social preconditioning? Or is it something more? When does the unconscious question become a conscious search? When does a logical uncertainty become the search for the divine? When does an instinctive longing become the living mote of faith? I don’t know. But when that speck appears, for whatever reason in whatever form, it is the beginning of the relationship with God. As that faith grows, He will continue to reveal himself, ultimately as the Christ. But up until that time, even embryonic faith is acceptable to God … existing and eventually emerging – if we allow it – into the faith that acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord.


enderC said...

Excellent post! Very nice followup to our last discussion.

Brian McLaren gives an excellent analogy of what you describe as "incipient" faith in his book "Finding Faith." He gives the example of a person walking into a totally dark room and yelling out "Is anybody here?" That simple question seems to me to be the most incipient faith. The very fact that the person is even asking the question proves that he has at least entertained the possibility that somebody might be there.

In fact, that is a very good test for true atheism. I doubt that very many self-proclaimed atheists could walk into a pitch-black room and resist the urge to call out to the darkness. A true atheist would walk in, then immediately turn around and walk back out, completely uninterested in the lack of immediate physical sensory interaction. McLaren argues that the majority of self-proclaimed atheists are really just closet agnostics. But by labeling themselves atheist, they are able to convince themselves that their spiritual search is over, or never even existed in the first place. In other words, they have "figured it out."

The irony, of course, is that this atheist is really no better than the type of person he despises: religious zealots who force their rules and laws on others because they have also "figured it out" in the other end of Extremist Land.

So, as with most everything, it seems like the best place to be is somewhere in between these two extremes. is for me anyway. I certainly would not presume that it is the better place for the atheist personality-type or the zealot personality-type, cause then I'd create an infinite paradox loop and I think the universe would implode. :)

Clint said...

You're something different altogether if you can implode the universe merely with your presumptions.

I agree that the atheist is generally a religious person, even if they won't admit it. I've listened to some atheist v. non-atheist (is that a double-negative?) debates, and generally both parties are trying to prove something scientifically/logically that isn't packaged that neatly.

Most agnostics I know just haven't put that much thought into it. Agnosticism can be the fancy way of saying "spiritual apathy", which is unfortunate.

I can't imagine having incipient faith and not exploring the possibilities that the faith-seed holds.

enderC, are you saying that you can "stop" in the middle, or that you can't foresee leaving the middle because there is not enough proof on either side to adequately sway you?

enderC said...

If atheism is the far left answer to spirituality, and zealotry is the far right, I'd consider myself smack-dab in the middle. But I'm certainly not stopping, because then I'd have to concede defeat in my quest (as compared to the atheist and the zealot claiming victory).

One of my favorite quotes is that of an unnamed Buddhist monk: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."

He's basically saying that if you finally think that you've gained complete enlightenment, that you've found your Buddha and figured it all out, then you should immediately go back to square one in your quest. The "Buddha" that you have met on the road is really just your subconsciousness expressing a natural desire to come up with a finite answer to the infinite world around you. I believe he's saying that you must accept the fact that the finite human brain is simply not capable of understanding something as infinite as the supernatural, and never will be.

The trick is accepting that basic principle, and yet paradoxically never giving up the search. Oh, and killing the Buddha from time to time as well.

Clint said...

Another question: Is "incipient faith" just as valid as a well-developed, rich, aged faith?

...and if so, can you stop with incipient faith and still be considered righteous?

gmarie said...

I enjoyed this as well...It is amazing. This morning I came across a blog from a women who struck me as just what you've described...the beginning of a quest...a seeker. Wow just teetering over the threshold.