Faith is sailing by the stars. You lift your eyes from the horizon and make your way by signs of light. You have to figure on the movement of the stars, but you learn the calculations from the many who have sailed before you.
To live by faith is not to find your way by what’s in front of you. You look for signs you cannot touch, which are not immediately relevant. You learn to look for things far off, things more real, more constant and reliable than what is right in front of you.
Faith has a bad name. So much violence in the world is in the name of religion, and there is no excuse. My own faith, Christianity, is historically the most violent. The Holocaust was carried out by church-goers. The First World War was a Christian war. We have a lot to answer for. And yet it’s true that more people have been killed in the name of atheist ideologies. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Chairman Mao. But ideology imitates religion. Ideology allows you to denounce your parents and kill your neighbors. People substitute ideologies for faith. Faith is what makes us human, for better and worse. Wolves depend on trust and dogs show faithfulness, but we’re the only animals who pray.
The stars I travel by are the promises of God. The promises give me markers for morality, they guide me to act beyond my needs and appetites. The promises help me to desire what’s beyond myself and what’s more true than my own experience. I depend on my faith to sustain my hope and my love, even when all around is dark.
Daniel Meeter is pastor of the Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope.