My November Column Full Text – What Faith Does For You

The Year of Faith - a Voyage of Discovery

The Year of Faith – a Voyage of Discovery

This year I’ve been considering the Year of Faith and what we are called to do for the Faith. This month I’d like to have a look at the benefits the Faith brings to us. I’ve heard people talk of the obligations that faith places on us and how it restricts their lives. Their lives would be freer and happier without these restrictions. I must confess that I’ve never felt that way but I know others who have abandoned their faith in search of something better.

It set me thinking about how faith can be a benefit rather than a handicap. Can faith free us rather than restrict us? What evidence is there of this? Now, looking for evidence is a scientific technique and that reminded me of the supposed conflict between science and religion. That is where I find my first bit of evidence.

Science, as we know it, began with pioneers such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton. Copernicus declared that all the planets, including the Earth, revolved sound the Sun. At that time it was assumed that the Earth was at the centre and everything revolved round it. Copernicus’ ideas were not welcomed. The prevailing ideas satisfied the needs of farmers in predicting seasonal changes; why change? Copernicus was more interested in getting a better understanding of creation and the God who was responsible for it. His ideas proved to be correct. Today we talk of the Solar System, planets held in orbit round the Sun.

Newton set out to explain the working of the solar system. He gave a mathematical proof of his theory explaining how bodies move. Both of these men were contradicting accepted wisdom. They contradicted theories that worked well. They were driven by their belief in a God who created everything; a God who made it possible for us to understand what He had done. They were driven by faith to understand God’s creation. This drive resulted in the beginning of Science as we know it.

Their faith freed them to think beyond generally accepted ideas and ultimately changed the way we all think. Rather than restrict us, faith brought about the means for us to understand more.

That’s ok as a general thing, but what benefits can I see on a personal level? This year I have had an experience that gave me an insight into how faith can shape the way we see things and enable us to live life differently. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. This is probably the worst thing anybody wants to hear. It can sound like a death sentence to some, but not my sister.

She accepted the news bravely and faced surgery with a calmness that surprised us all. After the surgery she faced a programme of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. I was lucky enough to accompany her for some of the therapy sessions. I say lucky because it gave me the chance to see people dealing with an extremely difficult situation.

I have to say that I did see some people who were very worried. They faced a threatening situation and medicine, despite all its advances, can never promise everlasting life. My sister took it all in her stride. Losing hair presented no problem, in fact it ended up with three sisters in uncontrollable laughter. Why was this? The simple answer is that her faith gives her an understanding of life beyond the here and now. She knows that life is a gift from a loving God who will not abandon her.

Her faith enables her to live a normal life in the face of extreme danger. She has been a wonderful example of the benefits of our faith.

To see life through the window of God’s love allows us to deal with the changes in our lives. This time last year I was a carefree young man in his sixties. Today I am a grandfather of three boys. What a change! No more clubbing for me. But what a great gift they are. I was apprehensive about the recent birth of two boys, identical twins. They were born more than seven weeks premature. One of the boys had been lying in a position that restricted his growth and that prompted the early delivery.

To see two small boys, still not fully developed, in their incubators brought home to me the nature of this gift of life. Despite the difficulties they faced and with the wonderful help of the NHS professionals they are growing well. Human life is no accident. All our children are a gift to us. They are the future of humanity. Each one has been created by God and each one has a purpose.

What has that to do with faith? Well, we live in a society that increasingly chooses to disregard God’s purpose in creating us. Our faith shows us God’s hand in creation. Absence of faith in God leaves the purpose of each human being with a question mark. Why should a child with a serious disability be allowed to live? Why should old or seriously ill people be allowed to suffer?

In our society we hear of thousands of abortions being carried out. We hear reports of abuse of old people in care homes. We know of people travelling abroad to places where they can legally commit suicide. I hear that another bill has been presented before the Scottish Parliament to change the law here in that respect. Respect for life seems to be an old concept, out of place in our society.

This seems to me to be the great example of the difference that the faith brings. When we have faith in God we see things through His teaching. We know that God has a purpose in creation and even if we don’t fully understand that purpose we feel sure that it is right. Lack of faith leaves an emptiness in us where there is nothing to point us in the right direction. With no purpose in life we don’t see the value of life.

How can we react to current trends? Our response must be to reaffirm the value of each life. Our response will be seen in how we react to threats to life. The recent Typhoon in the Philippines brought a great response from people all over our country. Charities gathered in millions of pounds in a few days. People saw the threat to lives and responded as best they could.

These were not threats to their next door neighbour, but to people at the other end of the world. When we see the worth of complete strangers we are seeing the world as God sees it. We must continue to ask ourselves how we see the needs of others. How do we react to asylum seekers? Do we welcome them or do we see them as a threat? How do we respond to human trafficking, where people are moved around and treated as commodities? Do we see this as modern slavery or are we happy to be able to get cheap goods and services?

As Christians we have been given the gift of faith that enables us to see more clearly the hand of God in our lives. We must make that plain to the world.

Joseph McGrath

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