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Alfred Stümper {*}

Believing in God

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 19/2011, P. 209 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    In view of the spiritual changes and doubts, the belief in the God of Jesus Christ appears in many forms and is alive as life itself.

 

The fact that people believe in Jesus Christ may have different reasons. They could be divided into eight different groups. These are usually not found unadulterated but in a certain mixture.

In the first group, one believes because one has been baptised and grew up in a particular religion - just "because it is so". Here, belief is seen as something that was accepted and adopted by the family. It is maintained like a good heirloom. It is like an old piano, on which grandmother has still played, but on which one does no longer play. Perhaps for reasons of piety or because it is a valuable antique piece, one assigns still a place in the living room corner to it.

This motivation can be found among many people. One does not scrutinize much and takes the received belief for granted. Insofar everything remains as it is. It is virtually a part of the family culture.

In the second group one simply believes in the historical traditions without questioning them a lot. You rely on those people who wrote the Gospels down, the many who lived and passed on the faith, and especially on those who have taught you faith.

This attitude is found among many loyal churchgoers.

 

Models and Grace

The third group admittedly believes also in the historical traditions, but only after own investigations and critical reflections.

This form of faith is possible for a very limited number of people. They have fundamental historical knowledge, which is verifiable by books, encyclopedias and other media.

A fourth group, in turn, includes those who admittedly believe also because they grew up in their religion and received the faith from their parents or teachers. But they seriously reflect on its contents, its veracity and validity.

This attitude is found among many modern loyal churchgoers, especially among young people who in their religious inwardness are church-oriented.

In a fifth group, one believes because one became acquainted with people who are credible role models and guarantors of faith, including those who have for other reasons - reasons that can only with difficulty conceptually be made understandable - innerly enlivened and confirmed one's faith, or made faith as such accesible for oneself.

This path to a convinced faith may, in principle, open to everyone.

A sixth group believes thanks to logical thinking and scientific knowledge.

This reason is found among a limited number of people, who mentally deal with the matter in more detail. Here, one has less trouble dealing with the question of the existence of a god - even of a personal God - than dealing with Christianity, especially with the person of Christ.

For a seventh group 'to believe' basically means that one lives according to one's faith, devotes oneself to it, puts unconditionally one's trust in it, and is completely absorbed into it. Faith is proven by practicing it, as e.g. by our daily perseverance. It is revealed through a devout life.

This is certainly the most powerful, most precious form of faith. It requires the whole man, not only his mind but heart and soul, courage, risk-taking, self conquest, in short, an unlimited personal abandonment. This path is open to all. But it is the hardest, because it means to take high risks in life and requires almost blind faith and many kinds of relinquishment. Moreover, due to this attitude, the believers can be exposed to increased distrust or concealed or even open disparagement. This path is also for this reason the most difficult: it does not tolerate anything else apart from itself.

The eighth group includes people whose faith is caused by grace: in their life they were met by the Divine and simply 'overcome' by it.

Also this form of faith may be found in all people. It requires no special knowledge, no personal efforts, no onerous thought, and no serious self conquest. The certainty of faith is experienced as a gift. It is an experience and feeling of happiness that moves the faithful's heart - comparable to the shooting star effect, as it was Biblically the case with the two Emmaus disciples.

 

Why I Believe

For me the - Christian - faith was and is important to my life and experience. I was unable and did not want to simply treat this central question of human life as an inessential matter.

For lack of specialized knowledge, I was unable to judge the authenticity of the historical traditions. Moreover, the number of facts which are available as evidence for the life of Jesus are limited, ans the quality of their evidence differs probably very much. A foundation of faith grounded only on this seems to me questionable, and susceptible to doubts in several cases. Role models were important to me. They were also able to strengthen my faith. But they were not the foundation of faith.

I was and am lacking the strength to live by faith alone, and an innerly founded willingness to relinquish. I loved and enjoyed, I love and enjoy life.

Grace was and is the decisive factor for me. However, I have scrutinized the gift of my faith, a belief that I sometimes experienced as something irrational, according to rational-logical as well as scientific criteria. And I have also experienced confirmation.

 

The Rational Basis

Every scientific attempt to explain the origin of the earth will fail already in the first approach. For according to logical thinking it is impossible that something comes into being out of Nothingness. And yet this world is there. All explanations of the origin of the world - from Big Bang to the quasi-equilibrium theory - presuppose an already existing being - this applies also to the creation of the world by a Creator.

The existence of this world is and remains a wonder, indeed the miracle par excellence. By this I do not only think of the emergence of something out of nothing, i.e. the first act of creation, but also of the development into seperate essences [So-Werden], the history of creation. This means that the logical thinking is limited by absolute, insurmountable border-lines. Our logic does therefore only apply immanently, i.e. to this world.

Human beings are severely restricted in their sensual perception: in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling. There are indeed a lot of things that we can not perceive. Think of the electromagnetic radiation that is present although we do not see or feel it. By means of technical assistance it can be made visible and perceptible. The scope of entities that can only be made recognizable in this way is constantly increasing. Think, for example, of the enhancement of knowledge in the field of chemistry and biology.

The assumption is almost mandatory that there are still infinitely more things that we cannot recognize and perceive. The natural sciences currently assume that we can identify and measure only four percent of the matter.

The scope of our perception is likewise very limited. It is three dimensional. Mathematically, we can indeed advance far beyond into other dimensions, but here again we reach limits, when the scale comes near to zero or infinity.

It is impossible to make statements about the "thing-in-itself", i.e. answering the question of how the things around us objectively are. It can only be said how they appear, how we grasp them by means of our perception. A tree is differently seen by an elefant than by a mouse, and by it in turn the tree is differently seen than by a human being. A leopard cannot change its spots. Everything can be seen only in relation to each other.

Our world is and remains a mere perceptual world. Everything that exists turns out to be a relationship between object and subject; it is therefore an event between the thing perceived and the one who perceives it.

 


210

In the scientific-logical perspective, our life is an abstract world of perception, but with regard to the human and personal aspect a world of experience and relationships. The highest, most valuable and strongest relationship is love. It creates life and fulfills life. Love is the element of existence par excellence. If love is the source of all being, then it is also the interface between immanence, i.e. the visible world and transcendence, i.e. the world that is impenetrable, incomprehensible. The prologue of John's Gospel, which deals with the origin of the world, hits the central point when it says that in the beginning (en archae) of all being was the "Word," the logos, i.e. not matter, but something immaterial. The highest non-material force, testified in John's gospel is Love, of which the word "in the beginning" (en archae) bears witness.

 

The "Unbelievable" Christ

Doubts about the Christian faith are above all nurtured by an incredible unreasonable demand: a man who lived about 2000 years ago in Palestine is the son of the absolutely incomprehensible, infinitely far away and great holy God in whom we believe. This is a God whom we cannot imagine, and we should not even try to do it. For me, there are three approaches to such a faith, which can hardly be regarded as possible.

First, this Christ has lived love, and it was a thoroughly unselfish love. He suffered for us; he died for us. His life was lived love.

Second, as many Christians, I am deeply convinced that there must be some counterbalance to guilt, especially to our own sins, failures and weaknesses. In the end everything should be rectified, and become good again.

The third, innermost reason for my understanding of Christ as the Son of God, however, is a love that is located beyond all other forms, beyond the world, transcendent, incarnate - in Mary. God has fallen in love with his world in the form of a young Jewish girl; and in her He has also physically united with this world.

This love story is not only time and again a source of amazement but it also repeatedly provokes doubts. Doubt then turns out to be even a necessary element of faith. Precisely doubt does not allow that we stop thinking about the ultimate things, about God. By it we are challenged to be daily anew and fresh concerned with God.

There is only one God, asserts the Judeo-Christian tradition. And this is the God for all people. Nobody, no religion, no world-view or approach to life has an exclusive right. What applies to man's relationship to his environment, i.e. the tension between subject and object, also applies to his relationship with God. Nobody is able to make objective statements about God. God has to everyone an individual, personal relationship. A Japanese proverb says, God is like a moon which may be reflected quite differently in each puddle.

In the not least for world peace central question of the accuracy and truth of individual religions and beliefs, precisely the controlling power of love is crucial. Whoever is living from this and with this love believes "correctly."

Since the very beginning of mankind there is a belief in the Divine, in God and gods. Despite a modern, partly even religiously promoted liberation from religious paternalism, quadrillions of prayers are daily said. Faith is a primal mental condition that is located in the unconscious, similarly to the heartbeat, blood circulation, breathing, growing hair - regarding the physical condition of man.

Faith is not science, but life. It lives on all that was given to us, that happened to us, and that we encounter. Belief is not a lifeless possession that you have. It is alive, it is always a challenge, and puts questions. Faith is part of the ever-changing life - with all the ups and downs. Faith accompanies our life. That's why also the doubts, which inevitably belong to it, have their meaning. Faith has flesh and blood and is not a dead skeleton. It is life.

 

    {*} Dr. Alfred Stümper, former police president of Baden-Württemberg, is the author of numerous specialist and belletristic publications. His two major topics are the fight against organized crime and the belief in God.

 

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