By Canon Gerry Conroy
There is a fashion in our era to refer to faith as a system of personal beliefs, which I think is more about how individuals have put together their disassociated fragmented understanding of life. You often hear people say, ‘this is what I believe; you have your beliefs and I have mine’. What they are really saying, is I don’t really understand this world, I don’t think there is any real meaning to life other than what I give to it, but this is how I make sense of it to let me live my life in peace.’ They are saying this is what reality is for me and that is what matters.
But Faith isn’t simply our interpretation of reality, an explanation of how we look at the world as opposed to how others look at the world. Reality isn’t subjective, it doesn’t depend on us and our understanding of it, it is hard and unyielding and we cannot manipulate it to be as we would like it to be even with all the technology that is available to us.
So how do we know if our faith is real? How can we judge if our view of reality is true or just another view of what is real among so many others? How do we know if we are not simply kidding ourselves about what we believe, or how we have put life together, how can we be sure about believing? What does it even mean to say ‘I believe’? I think that is the point of the Gospel today. But how it is presented to us is perhaps not the way we might have chosen to answer those questions. Faith is framed in terms of love and not just any love, not just the love we all feel at times for others, but the love that comes from God. We can all say that the meaning of life is found in our love. But that can be just as subjective as anything, since there is no guarantee that our idea of love is the same as the next person’s. For St John in his Gospel and in his letters, the love he is speaking of is love of a different quality. A love that lays down its life, even for its enemies, a love that can pray for the forgiveness of its enemies even as they torture and kill it.
Reality isn’t kind and caring, often it is cruel and thoughtless and it is hard for us when we are surrounded by such thoughtless cruelty not to respond in kind, not to become thoughtless and uncaring of anything other than ourselves and our interests. But we have heard of another reality in the love that Christ not only spoke of and taught, but lived even in his willingness to die to show us that this reality was possible even in the face of our cruelty. And then he rose from the dead to show us that his reality was the true one, his life was the true life. That is what we are asked to believe and we show we believe it by living it.
This love does not deny the reality of life, it doesn’t try to hide from it, it confronts it with the truth of a love that is greater than the cruelty and greater even than the joys of this world. It is not a dream because it doesn’t deny what it sees, but it sets itself to transform this reality into something that reflects the truth of what it has seen in the love that God has shown to us.