I spend a lot of time in my car listening to KFAN, the sports radio channel. One of the daily shows is hosted by Paul Allen, the radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. PA, as he’s known on-air, frequently plays a quote by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer where he says “faith is belief without proof.”
As a pastor, that’s what this time of year is all about for me, too. Easter. The Resurrection. People of faith gathered in belief of an event we heard about from 2,000 years ago.
In the limited stories that we have following the resurrection, a common theme is that witnesses to Jesus don’t immediately recognize him or believe he came back from the dead. The story of Thomas comes to mind. He’s often called “Doubting Thomas.” Despite the testimony of 10 of his friends, “faith” is not transferrable to Thomas. Until he sees with his own eyes.
John Westerhoff III, in his book “Will Our Children Have Faith,” breaks down the four stages of how we develop our faith: experienced, affiliative, searching, and owned. Have you ever seen a child mimic the behaviors or words of an adult? The experiences and affiliation are important in developing identity as a child grows up. Ownership takes a lifetime of pushing and pulling in our understanding of who God is.
Learning the rituals isn’t the finish line for faith. It should be the launching point. Usually in the teen years, young adults begin to search. They doubt. I’ve heard plenty of confirmation students say, “I don’t know if I believe.”
I encourage the questions and the doubts because my own faith has grown over time. I don’t believe the same way I did at 13 years old. In my “owned faith” development, I’ve become more certain in my beliefs through exposure and understanding of other world religions and meeting people with different lived experiences than myself.
My faith is not “transferrable” either — I can share my witness and understanding of God, but it’s unique. Each person I meet has values or beliefs that may mimic mine, but even other Christians understand God differently than me. As a spiritual leader, my role is to share the life-giving faith which points us to the needs of our neighbor and to respond when we hear cries for justice.
We are all witnesses to plenty of free expression in our world and community these days. There are protests across political lines, from various justice positions, and within various affinity groups.
What I see is a lot of searching, especially from generations younger than me.
These young adults are searching for answers and are frequently seeking a response from the church. Silence is an answer, too.
Churches cannot be afraid to ask difficult questions. We have to provide the space for conversations that may feel uncomfortable, but ultimately are spirit-led and God inspired.
Can we develop a clearer identity while asking deeper questions of God in our lives?
I don’t doubt it.
Pastor John Klawiter is the senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Forest Lake. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.