My fourteen year old son, Sage, was definitely living up to his name when he is recently posed a question about faith that I was not sure how to answer. He asked: How do we know we are right? His question showed an openness to faith but it also left me stammering for a satisfactory response because although I know how to answer his query from a traditional paradigm, I also know that he does not live in that world. In my own spiritual journey, I started off by looking for facts that would support my faith in Christ, and there are untold books that talk about the reliability of the bible, evidence that supports the resurrection, and ways to bridge the outlooks of faith and science, and while they can be helpful, that particular approach often misses the cultural and human dimension behind the question.
Later on I know my son is going to encounter the objection that says “you are only a Christian because you grew up in a Christian family and you only believe what your parents believe.” Since there is a strong cultural script in western culture of teens defining their identity by breaking away from parental values, he will at some stage be faced with a conflict that places his faith against his desire to demonstrate his individuality. As a parent, I want to prepare him for that challenge so I have decided to answer in a riskier way by acknowledging the cultural uncertainty, and the paradox of faith and knowledge.
My answer begins like this: There is no one right religion. To me, the question of which religion is correct does not go deep enough. All religion, even Christianity, is culturally constructed, which is a fancy way of saying people make up religion based on whatever insight or knowledge about God is present in their culture. Although I believe Christianity has played a key role in delivering the message of Christ to the world, knowing a set of facts about Christ does not guarantee you have understood. Jesus Christ said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Information is not enough: we must be willing to turn towards the light so that we can begin to see.
Let me use a thought experiment to illustrate my point. Imagine being inside a simple pinhole camera, which is really nothing more than a black box that allows light into it. Inside the box is a sheet of photographic paper ready to record the image. The light itself streams through a tiny pinhole bringing the greater reality of the outside world into the flat dark cave of the box. In an analogous way, Jesus is God’s pinhole letting light into the darkness of human life and bringing a focus to what we can understand and see about God.
Now when light enters a pinhole camera it bounces around causing distortions and some parts of the film receive more light than other places, leaving shadows at the edges of the image. Religion is like the film at the back of the camera in that it only records a dim image of the real thing. Some parts of the film receive much less light leaving a faint and distant image of God, but what matters most is our heart response to what we do see. One day the picture will be perfect but “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” This is why it takes faith to understand God. There is simply no way for us comprehend God fully from within the black box of human experience. Yet if we are willing to look through the lens of Christ we will begin to see God’s image in our lives, and we will understand that it is right.