Beck and I are friends. Once in a while, I’ll come by the old vicarage she lives in and she’ll apologise for all the “mess.” Growing up in a home sterile with good hygiene and impeccable tidiness, I’ve always liked other people’s mess; the plastic boxes spilling Textas, pipe-cleaners, modelling clay, sloping hardbacks in the book cases that line every wall of the house and bad paint on the walls.
“Does this make you uncomfortable?” I ask, as I place my cheap dictaphone on the table between us. It makes her laugh.
Jessica: How would you describe your faith?
Beck: Well, I suppose I’d call myself a Christian.
Why do you “suppose”?
Well, when people hear the word Christian it means different things to them. Some think Christians are “good people” or people who follow a set of rules or have a particular political agenda. For a while I tried calling myself a “Jesus Person.”
I just wanted to emphasise that I was about Jesus. I believe that Jesus is God’s Son. That he came to reconcile the world to God. My faith is about following him.
On the topic of how people see your faith and how you personally experience it: How do you balance the political and public position of faith with your personal convictions?
I’m usually more interested in the personal than the political. That’s just me. Lots of Christians are involved in speaking in the public sphere, bringing faith to bear on political issues. That’s great. Most faiths will say, “this is what God intends for people for the good of humankind.” We need to hear and consider all these points of view.
But, while I may have a point of view on different issues I don’t often put them out there, or insist that other people live as I do because of my faith. It’s not that I never take a stand but I’m often wary of making public statements. That’s because an important part of my church ministry is pastoral care.
So to engage politically would inhibit your relationship with your congregation?
Sometimes it might. To use a fairly benign example now, a lot of Christians that have been through divorce have a hard time finding their place within the church again. Because the Bible speaks about marriage as a life long union, there are times when the church hasn’t spoken of or dealt well with divorce. So someone might be hurting from divorce but not sure if they can trust the church to comfort and support them. They fear being judged.
I don’t want to be anyone’s judge. I prefer to interact with the person in front of me and help them to grasp more of God’s grace and mercy in their life.
It’s the personal and interpersonal that I’m really interested in. Seeing people’s faith become well integrated. I want that myself – for what I say publicly and what I believe in my head to be aligned with what I feel in my heart and what my impulses or my actions are. That’s how Jesus lived. It’s a struggle for us though because we believe we’re sinful and tend not to do what God wants.
So it’s paradoxical?
Yeah, but also Christians believe that we are forgiven by God and that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, so you would also expect to see a yearning and a turning to God in what we do. So sometimes I may say or even think something but behave in a way that belies it. The faith is there but the changes are ongoing. It can be frustrating.
Yeah, so a kind of cognitive dissonance.
So when you use the word “yearning”, that sticks out to me as an interesting way to express faith. What do you mean by it?
One of the reasons I’m still a Christian is because what the Bible has to say about God and people and relationships continues to ring true for me. Even in hard times, my greatest contentment comes when I’m acknowledging God and calling out to him to help me. My deepest desire … my thirst, is to know God more and the things he wants for me.
Some people say that everybody has a yearning for God. Some people would say that’s not true. It is in my experience. At times I’ve tried to run away from my faith, but when I’ve come back to it, it has been the right thing.
“I choose faith over doubt now.”
What would make you run away from your faith?
My doubts. At different times I’ve really struggled with doubts and questions. So, I can’t see God – is he real? There’s suffering in the world. Is the Bible trustworthy? Over time I’ve learned to just face the questions and not be afraid of what the answers might be. If you want to convince me that God doesn’t exist then I’m interested in hearing about that. If I don’t do the work and ignore my doubts, my faith will become superficial.
A big one for many Christians right now is the idea that the Bible is not a reliable scientific document. They’re battered by the idea that perhaps belief in God isn’t rational. But the Bible is not a scientific text in the first place. It’s better to ask in this case if the Bible is historically reliable. So did Jesus exist? Did he die on the cross and rise again?
Also, doubt isn’t just about those intellectual questions. I think there’s more to life than what we can prove, or see or touch or hear. So much of life is about trusting other people. The hardest doubts I’ve dealt with are actually more personal.
What made you doubt?
Disappointments. Seeing people I looked up to fall from grace or lose their faith, even my own failings have made me cynical at times. Loss and suffering have caused me to doubt. At one point I was asking, ‘Does God really see everything that happens? Is he loving? Is he powerful?’ Sometimes my doubt seemed paralysing. I couldn’t move forward or express my faith. Facing up to those questions by reading the Bible and through prayer and talking through things with others has made my faith richer and more honest.
Now I just admit that I will probably always have some unresolved questions. That’s ok. I choose faith over doubt now. I still will pray on an 80 per cent certainty day – and when I do God ministers to me in my doubt.