Monday, November 24, 2014

What Weakens Faith?

Here are ten things that can weaken your faith from Life in Faith by Pope Shenouda:
  1. The Self
  2. Domination of the Senses
  3.Submitting Faith to the mind
  4. Associating with Doubting people
  5. Yielding and having a weak personality
  6. Fear
  7. Lust
  8. External circumstances
  9. The Devil's deceptions
10. Doubt
The Self: 
When I think of the self it seems natural to think about my own ability to assert my will for this or that. I sense that it is very strong and does not want to give up this ability easily.  It definitely protects itself and its freedom. Pope Shenouda says this part of us is the greatest hindrance to faith. Jesus affirms this when he told to his disciples, If anyone desire to come after Me, let him deny himself (Matt 16:24). He also says, He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Matt 10:39). Faith is based on a trust in God instead of our self. So each time I rely on my own reasoning without seeking help from God, I am denying my faith in Him, and saying that my intellect and my will are better than God's. I can see why my faith is weak as I reflect on this. My own will is very strong and not willing to give up much control. I can see how critical it is to deny oneself but it's not at all clear how I am to do this and place total reliance on God. Based on my experience it seems to b a gradual process.

Domination of the Senses:
Our senses are the main way we know the reality of this world. Our eyes are sensitive to a small band of wavelengths that our brain translates into images allowing us to make a vivid moving picture of worldly reality. We add to this our ears which are sensitive to another narrow band of wave movements in the air.  From this we discern different tones and can hear sounds when the air is disturbed. Our nose also picks up an narrow range of smells, or a sensation of different chemical particles that are in the air. And with our ability to touch and taste we pick up a few more clues about reality. How our brain takes all this input and creates something that we see as a complete picture and totally real is mystery even to scientists.  But we know there is much more to the reality of this world that we cannot pick up with our senses. We have developed instruments to aide us in learning that there are other wavelengths of radiation that we cannot see. With a certain kind of goggles or computers that translate these invisible wavelengths into visible ones, we can see what is not visible. Our senses are definitely limited and tend to make up the totality of what we believe to be real.
How does our reliance on our senses weaken our faith?  It constrains our knowledge of God's Creation to what we can pick up from our senses. Using these we are also blind to the entire spiritual realm. The Apostles had the advantage of being with God in flesh. Even so Saint Thomas could not believe in the Resurrection unless he used his senses to touch and see. But now we must believe without seeing, without using our senses. This demands faith in a reality that is beyond the ability of the senses to capture. If we rely only on our senses we will not know God in a way that affirms His presence and builds within us the faith we need to place our total trust in Him, to give up our self.

Submitting Faith to the Mind: 
Our minds are also very limited as are the efforts of science to understand things that are not available to our senses. If we limit ourselves to our senses only, or to our man made logic from our intellect, we will deny miracles as told in the Bible. We will deny the work of the Holy Spirit and God's grace. We will be limited to only what we can determine from our senses and our own rationale. We will be blind to the whole spiritual realm, limiting ourselves to what will fit a human logical system. With Faith coupled with a surrender of self we are able to open up a greater sense in our soul, to become exposed to a divine logic, to receive divine grace, where we can have in intimate relationship with God. In our Heart where He resides we can call on His grace, the Holy Spirit, that is not physical or measurable to work though us enabling us to become like Christ and do His will. The Church Fathers affirm that with faith and humility we can experience His energies which are very real, but are beyond the understanding of our mind. So to submit faith to our mind reduces it to a faith that is human centered and primarily based on physical attributes of reality. It becomes a self-centered faith.

Associating with Doubtful People: 
If we have a weak faith and we continue to associate with others who have doubts or even do not believe in a God, we will be influenced by them. Saint John tells us, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2John 1:10)  It makes sense to develop a circle of friends who have a strong faith and are striving to develop their faith like yourself.  This is the nature of the Church, the Ecclesia, the faithing community.

Yielding or Having a Weak Personality: 
I find there are many times when I have sat back and said nothing because I knew it might bring ridicule among those I was with. I was week and succumbed to man-pleasing behavior instead of one that was God-pleasing. I often find myself not able to stand strong like Paul and the other Apostles who were not afraid even to lose their life to speak their faith and I find myself sometimes worried about possible ridicule or rejection. We see in Scripture that even Mary Magdalene had a weak personality. She had been with Jesus and heard his teachings. But when she went to the tomb and saw it was empty she said, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him (John 20:2, 3, 13, 15). After being with Christ and being prepared by Him for this eventuality, she did not have faith in His Resurrection. She could only think that someone had taken His body and put it somewhere else. So we can see that this weakness is not uncommon and can be overcome as she later became a strong voice for the spread of Faith in Christ.

This is similar to the above item. We see that the Apostles before they received the Holy Spirit after Christ's Ascension on Pentecost, were very weak. They ran and hid at the time of the Crucifixion because they feared that they too might be subject to such cruel punishment. But later when they had developed a stronger faith, they had no fear of death, trusting totally in Christ. All except John faced a martyr's death standing firm in their faith. One who has a strong faith does not have such fear and his faith is strong enough that He relies on the promise of the life to come in Paradise.

Our earthly desires keep us attached to what is of this world. With them we do not want to give up our earthly pleasures to follow all His commandments.  James tells us, Whosoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God (James 4:4). And Jesus tells us, No one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24). I do not think this means we cannot enjoy the pleasures that God had provided for us in this world, but we cannot become attached to them. When we face death we will feel like they are being taken away from us and we will be more focused on trying to retain them rather than being born into a new world where we will find true joy in union with Him.

External Circumstances:
We can easily be overtaken by circumstances that are beyond our control. It cases such as a natural disaster we often forget to call on God for comfort and help, knowing that He is good and wants us to rejoined with Him. When the situation of our circumstance overwhelms us we can lose our focus on God and our faith.

Devil's Deceptions:
Especially in our dreams we can easily be deceived by the Devil. We are told in Scripture to be wary of dreams and false prophets. Jesus says, false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders (Matt 24:24). Jesus prepared His disciples for these deceptions He knew they would encounter. So too we must be attentive, watchful, for any thought that is leading us to a temptation to abandon God's teaching.

This is the method used by the devil. When he deceived our first parents in the Garden of Eden he planted doubt when he told Eve that God did not really tell them they would die. When we encounter doubts, which we surely will, we must remember that these come from the devil. We have to have a strong faith so we will not let them linger and lead us away from God.

Developing faith takes our concentrated effort. If we are aware of the above points we can avoid what will weaken our faith and work against our efforts to develop a deeper faith.

Next: Tests of Faith

Reference: Life in Fatih by Pope Shenouda III

1 comment:

  1. Father,
    I find many of your posts to be helpful.
    Thank you for sharing what you have learned in this blog.