"Isn't it amazing that you are never wrong!" - ever heard that ?, interesting isn't it. The reactive morality: using your creativity to justify whatever you unthinkingly did after the fact. "The reason I sat by while everyone abused Gareth was ..." is inevitably something like "he had it coming", "that guy is annoying" rather than "I was a coward", "I have a nasty streak" etc.
I suppose my point is simply, I fail. I fail all the time, I let myself down. Anyone who has disagreed with me on a subject about which I care, knows how unpleasant and unreasonable I can be, how quickly the suspicion & ad-hominem arrives un-bidden into the argument. You don't need to know me well to experience my pride & foolishness leaking out around the place. I should go on ...
How many times, if (instead of the simpler post-justification) you have stated some principle you invariably adhere to: 'justice', 'defending the oppressed', 'loving others' - only to be painfully reminded minutes later of how far you fall short of even this. Don't believe me ? try it. C.S.Lewis once wrote No man knows how bad he is, until he tries very hard to be good.
When I came to a concious faith in Christ, age 18, I found that I had this strange problem and it was called 'sin'; but I had no idea how hard it is to root out. Beyond self improvement though, my real Sin, the root of it all, is a rejection of God himself, and his rightful place in my life. Fixing that, is the work of more than a lifetime.
Many people I talk to say this in different ways, sometimes because they have been condemned by over-zealous believers of one sort or another, but mostly because it's easy to critique others. It's -really- hard to accurately see your own faults.
Examining these Christians en-masse, it turns out the church is full of sinners, in fact there is no-one really 'good' in them. The Church could well be labeled 'Sinners Anonymous'. Of course, going to a church is no solution, and can be an impediment to a cure, but if you meet Christ there - there may be hope after all: Jesus when asked why he associates (even in a covenant meal) with the likes of Meeks: said It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Paul says Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.
Is faith an emotional crutch ? if so, I came to see a world full of crippled people in denial, and amidst them - a healer you can trust.
Perhaps that is true, I certainly thought so, but there is a grave danger here. Confusing God-given temperament for virtue, or considering externalities rather than the heart it's easy to poison the mind to a more accurate appraisal. Psalm 32 An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.
Luckily a brief examination of my heart & actions led me to glimpse my true state, but I can certainly believe many are more virtuous than I. Perhaps when they meet their Maker, they will have nothing to explain.
People today are perhaps confused by their feelings. For example, people (apparently) think 'love' is something you 'fall' into ( and by inference out of again). That is not love, perhaps infatuation. Love (in a relationship sense) is a far tougher choice of the mind: (of course often supported by intense feeling) to be caring, faithful, compassionate, charitable, and act lovingly regardless of what you feel.
Faith in God by extension, is not some permanant paroxism of blissful certainty, in the same way that true-love is not some continuing, efervescent, starry-eyed oblivion. Instead (while, like love, it can often start that way) it is a decision to be faithful, to live as God (should he really exist) would have you, to try to trust in his completed work, commitment & loyalty etc.
Of course, like a love relationship, it tends to deepen over time, in understanding, in shared attitudes, in concern for each other and so on, it's exciting - and just sometimes, it's amazing. Put simply, the difference between a doubting athiest and a doubting Christian is a chasm that can only be crossed by faith in Christ, but if you want to bet your life on Christ, don't think you need a permanant fuzzy feeling to validate that. As Jesus said whoever comes to me I will never drive away
Whan I studied marketing I was intrigued to learn that mostly people make at best semi-rational decisions that they later try to justify rationally. Having said that, there were a number of obstacles I had to work through on my path to faith.
No one likes to be exploited, indeed - to avoid that, it seems to pay to guard your wallet & time suspiciously & carefully. Interestingly the Christian position of 'stewardship' (holding ones possessions in-trust for the real owner) can give a similar result. People can get upset that some of my Brothers & Sisters go to Churches where tithing - 10% is mandatory & enthusiastically preached. Where is that money going !? are they being exploited ?
A few, perhaps helpful, ideas I came across thinking over this were these:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (NIV)It is quite a leap from this text to extrapolate that it's necessary for everyone to give everything away to follow Jesus, and indeed - we find many examples in the New Testament where this is not so. On the other hand, if your wealth gets between you & following Christ, you have to fix that.
I guess this was troubling to me - the whole pre-destination / free will thing. After all - God should like me anyway ! even the head-master liked me. If there is something wrong it's not with me: I blame God.
After considerable angst I came to the view that if God created all of time in an atomic operation & hence free-will was an illusion then he could still be just in condemning me; as a particularly broken bit of his design. Of course Romans 9 is quite helpful here. What if I create some really awful software [perhaps not so hypothetical], is it not mine to destroy again ?
I've been particularly blessed to be confronted by a number of competing religious claims during my short time here. Some sought me out, others I went to see. Ultimately, I'm a Christian not because I have all the answers, nor answers to all my personal questions - but because I am convinced it's better than what I was before: a mix of apathy and agnoisticsm.
Of course, perhaps someone else is right & I'll be persuaded some day. I don't pretend to have an impartial view by any means, but since I currently am here, if you want to move me - you need to engage with my world view, as I do with yours; perhaps some of these notes might meet you half way.
Much of my contact with Islam came from the Cambridge ISOC: Isoc has many events which aim to a provide a true and comprehensive understanding of Islam. As in any such interaction, it was good to simultaneously deepen one's own faith, and understanding of others: as iron sharpens iron...
At a polemical level, one thing intrigued me as a major problem from the Islamic perspective: the incarnation - that God could truly become fully man in Jesus Christ; Phil 2, and, having stepped into the cess-pool of human existence, was tempted as we are (yet without sin), defecated as we do (even the Queen has to (apparently)), and so on. Donald Knuth puts it well I think in his commentary on John 3:16 (in his beautiful book 3:16 p173):
All human analogies are imperfect when applied to God, but we can gain some understanding if we try to imagine ourselves in God's place - loving the world, yet knowing the faults of it's inhabitants. How would God help such a world? As a computer programmer, I can glimpse what the situation might have been like, because I can effectively create new worlds in a computing machine. The ultimate act of love would be to become part of those worlds myself, if I could.