Going "All In" with God
Over the last few months, I have been exploring what it would look like to invite the act of faith in a Catholic context. I've been approaching this series very much in the spirit of exploration without an entirely clear picture of where it would go. I'm grateful for the great conversations that have emerged through this series, online and off. I'm coming to the point where I feel it's time to really start moving towards some practical conclusions on inviting the act of faith. First we need to identify something of what we mean by "the act of faith." In this context, we are speaking of a decision to follow Jesus unreservedly. It is, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "the decision to entrust [oneself] to Jesus Christ" (Catechesi Tradendae 25). It is an "all in" moment with Jesus that says, "My life is now a blank check in your hands."
As I discussed in my previous post, faith is a response to an encounter with Christ, with the God who "first loved us" (1 John 4:19). And so we need to answer the question, What kind of encounter is needed to arrive at the doorstep of this act of faith?
THE ROAD TO FAITH IS PAVED WITH RISK
For most, coming to the point of faith is not the result of a single encounter, but a series of encounters that build upon each other and invite a deeper and deeper trust.
The building of trust with God is no different from the development of trust in any relationship. In human relationships, we increase trust in others as they continue to demonstrate themselves trustworthy. And the only means of learning the trustworthiness of another is to take small risks along the way.
Think of a business relationship, a financial planner, for instance. If I entrust $1000 of my money to your stewardship and you double my money in a year, I am inclined to entrust even more to you. Or in personal relationships - if I share a part of my inner life with you, my emotions, joys, or sorrows, then the way you respond will incline me to share more or less with you the next time. Each is an example of taking a relational risk, and only with such risks can trust grow and increase.
Does God demand your trust through blind faith, or is He willing to prove Himself trustworthy to you over time? I believe the latter is more indicative of God's character. And so the process of coming to faith looks like a dynamic back-and-forth between encounter and risk. It begins with God nudging a heart, arousing in it a fresh hope and inviting it to take a risk. Early on, that risk might simply be to say a prayer to a God they're not sure exists, or reading the Bible with an open mind and heart. Later, that risk might look like attending a retreat or going to Confession. Each risk opens the door to yet another fresh encounter with Christ, another way that he can prove himself trustworthy, and each encounter carries an invitation to greater trust, greater risk with it.
A DEFINITIVE DECISION
One of the images the Bible uses to express the relationship between God and his people is that of marriage. Jesus is called the bridegroom of the Church. Isaiah 62:5 says, "For as a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you."
God wants to invite all into a life-long commitment to Him. This is the all in moment. It begins with a decision to place Christ at the center of one's life, to embark on the process of bringing the entirety of one's life into conformity with him. Just as in marriage bridegroom and bride cannot fully know what is the "better or worse" they will face but make a pledge of faithfulness, so a new believer might not (and need not) understand all the ramifications of what this commitment to Christ entails, yet they say to God, in essence, "I trust you entirely, come what may." Future decisions to remain faithful are, of course, necessary - spouses ratify their initial commitment when they remain faithful through hard times, and believers ratify their initial act of faith as God highlights new areas of their life that need to be redeemed.
THE MOST CRITICAL ENCOUNTER
Back to the original question, then, what kind of encounter is capable of leading one to this kind of definitive decision? I will confess here that I am tempted to avoid the question. Isn't this different for everyone? Isn't this so very subjective, like asking, "How did you know you wanted to marry so-and-so?"
While the particular story for each believer might be as unique as their DNA, I believe there is one common quality that each story of encounter shares - it is a story of rescue. It is an encounter with Jesus as Savior, as Messiah. It is Jesus meeting some deep need that we are entirely incapable of meeting for ourselves.
This is so critically important because it can make all the difference between a life-giving faith and a loveless marriage. At the Arlington Catholic Men's Conference last weekend (audio available here), Curtis Martin quoted a friend of his as saying, "I am convinced that many Catholics feel stuck in a loveless marriage with God." In other words, we have done a great job of laying out the demands of discipleship for Catholics who have not experienced a rescue and the result has been a laborious attempt to bring their lives into conformity with a set of rules rather than cultivating a relationship.
This is why honoring the role of encounter is so important. If we call people to "give their lives to Christ" without their having experienced his rescue, we will only be fostering in them a New Pelagianism.
THOUGHTS ON RESCUE
I hope to elaborate more on this idea of a rescue encounter and how we can foster it in my next post, but if you are interested in exploring this idea of rescue further in the meantime I would like to suggest listening to the amazing talk my wife gave to our youth group earlier this year entitled Mercy and Rescue.
I also like this scene from The Count of Monte Cristo as an illustration of a rescue encounter and the "all in" response it engenders. For context, the main character has just escaped from his unjust imprisonment and washed up on a nearby beach when he finds himself in a precarious situation. His actions will soon win for him the lifelong loyalty of Jacopo in a surprising way.
This post is the fifth in a series on “Inviting the Act of Faith.” The full series can be accessed below:
- Part One: Inviting the Act of Faith: Introduction
- Part Two: Faith, the Pledge of Salvation
- Part Three: Once Saved, Always Saved?
- Part Four: Faith and Encounter
- Part Five: Going “All In” with God
- Part Six: What Does Rescue Look Like?
- Part Seven: A Major Lacuna in Catholic Ministry
- Part Eight: Practical Ways to Invite Faith