The Struggle is Real

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

In the 1600’s philosopher and mathematician Pascal wrote that the human heart has a “God-shaped” hole in it, and that throughout life we discover and use different vices to fill this hole (ie: alcohol, relationships, work, etc.) He argued that this is the root of much suffering, and that the only way to fill the hole was through a relationship our creator.

This makes me think of a scene in the movie The American President. There is scene where two of the president’s staff members (Michael J. Fox and Martin Sheen) are strategizing with the president prior to the State of the Union address. In the scene, Michael J. Fox argues that people “want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert towards a mirage and when they discover there is no water, they’ll drink the sand.” The president (played by Michael Douglas) turns this around to say, “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf7aoj_Xcs0

I think the same sand/water analogy describes the “God-shaped hole” Pascal referred to. In fact, this same analogy could be used to distinguish between religion and faith.

Not to get two controversial in your Tuesday afternoon devotion, but I do think there is a difference between religion and faith. Merriam-Webster defines “religion” as “a set or institutionalize system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” “Faith” on the other hand is defined as “something that is believed, especially with strong conviction.

There is a story in the Bible that I think defines faith a little better. It’s the one from Genesis, where Jacob is moving his family across Jabbok River. By the time he’s moved his wives, servants, and 11 children, night has fallen and Jacob spends that night alone on the other bank from where his family is sleeping. And while he’s alone… “a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and you have overcome.’” (Genesis 32:24-28).

You have struggled with God and with humans and you have overcome.

I struggle with lots of things.

  • I struggle with why some relationships heal while others fall apart.
  • I struggle with why such global conflict can break out over such simple disagreements.
  • I struggle with trying to understand the patterns of self-destruction our loved ones choose.
  • I struggle with bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people.
  • I struggle with the fact that the UN recognizes over 900 deity based religions in the world—all of which presumably teach doctrines of love, hope, peace, forgiveness, etc—and yet these ideals are still so scarce in our world.

For me, faith is the struggle. Religion teaches us what to believe (and that’s important too) but faith is the willingness to act on it. It’s the willingness to see beyond the pain of this moment. It’s the willingness to believe people can change. It’s the willingness to love or to forgive one more time. It’s the willingness to admit we don’t have all the answers but we are doing the best we can with what we know.

In returning to Pascal’s “God-shaped” hole, religion teaches us about the hole; with faith, we stop trying to fill the hole. Instead, we acknowledge the hole, we dive into the voids of our lives, and we discover that God is there, struggling and wrestling with us.

Zach Herzog


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