What role does consistency play in one’s faith development? I remember being a senior in high school and an undergraduate student and having some doubts about the life of faith. Those doubts were 100% based on the lack of what I perceived as inconsistency in the Christian faith (although this critique could easily apply to any faith that is founded on a God or Gods who is eternal and unchanging). The obvious question would be “why do bad things happen to good people” and the shadow side of that same question “why do good things happen to bad people”. If one’s faith journey is a linear line of learning to be and do good and God is a supreme being who sits on a throne and judges us according to some litmus test (Ten Commandments, Matthew 25, John 14) then surely those of us who are “good” ought to prosper and those of us who are “evil” should be punished. Some punt this question and suggest that while there seems to be no justice in this world that eternal reward will happen in the next life. But since there is little assurance of this reality here and now it begs the question for those struggling this life what does a life of faith offer us today beyond the promise of a good life in the sweet hereafter?
These questions, which we in the seminaries refer to as the exploration of “theodicy”, come to us at some point in our lives. For me it was in high school and my first year of university, strangely for many it does not seem to come until a very late stage in their lives when at 70 they receive a cancer scare. Then there is this outrage of “why me?” But surely that begs the question, why didn’t that person wonder at some point why persons they knew are pure goodness have a much easier and longer life? Why did North Americas have to wait till 09/11 to ask, “How could this happen to us?” Surely there have been much more examples throughout history of the suffering of the innocent. Why did it take a terrorist attack on New York to finally raise this existential question of “why me” or “why us”?
As I got older I began to see there is no such thing as total consistency. Life is a series of compromises and there is some form or moral corruption in motive in every choice we make. To put it in more theological language the reality of sin is everywhere and failing to see it only makes our innocence a conceit we cannot afford in these challenging times. If in fact no one is consistent and the presence of God a mystery then that basic human impulse for faith, for spirituality, for a connection with the sacred other, is one we need treat with respect and understanding. In spite of the inconsistency of who gets what and when I know in my bones there is a source of life and a presence of Spirit in my journey and in the world at large. And making sense of that source and that Spirit has become my life’s work. If I can help people experience that source and Spirit I feel I am living out my vocation.
It’s not that consistency is unimportant, all of us should attempt to be fair with others, and make sense of why we do what we do, why we believe what we believe. But surely this deep and long-lasting impulse to connect is greater than our limited notions of what is consistent. In other words while rational understanding and reason are very, very important parts of being human they are not the be all and end all of what it means to be human. There is a mystery to the human experience that needs attention and speaking of this impulse is necessary to explore all that is possible in this life.