Mature Faith

(February 24, 2001)


Following in the footsteps of the pioneers of developmental psychology such as Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, contemporary theologians and spiritual guides have begun to see that a mature faith shows characteristics that are quite distinct. Such a faith stands out clearly from the more conventional forms of faith and belief that the majority of people --even those who have undergone a religious "conversion"-- cling to throughout most of their lives.

A mature faith, to begin with, is one that no longer sees the world in black and white, either/or terms. It is able to discriminate shades of meaning, and because it does, is able to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. It no longer needs to believe that in order to be right, either everyone else must agree with you, or else everyone else must be wrong!

A mature faith is continually able to learn, and to realize that other peoples, other cultures may have better insights into certain aspects of the truth -- that the collective wisdom and experience of the whole human race (as well as the truths of science) are themselves a form of "revelation" along with the written word of God.

Thus a mature faith learns to appreciate (often after once having rejected it as childish) the depth of meaning contained in religious symbolism, ritual, and myth. It also is able to distinguish between faith (as a loving trust in God) and beliefs as expressions or formulations of the convictions by which we attempt, often so inadequately, to explain why we have such faith.

A mature faith no longer needs to base its moral standards simply on a list of written "commandments" or merely on what is "legal", or even less on simply what "feels right", but rather on the basis of a divine logic or Wisdom (Logos, Tao) that is built into the very structure of the universe.

Finally, a mature faith is one that is able to face the truth about oneself, and learns to live with, and to some extent even forgive the imperfections in one's own self. This does not mean that one ever gives up on trying to be better, but simply to realize that only God's grace can complete the task. So at best, a "mature faith" is really always in a state of maturing, remaining in a constant process of growth.

In consequence of all of this, the hallmark of a mature or maturing faith is its being "ecumenical" in the broadest sense of that term. It sees the purpose of all religion as the unification of the human spirit with God, and knows that this cannot be accomplished without striving mightily for the unity and harmony of the human race.

But it also knows that this task cannot be accomplished without commitment, without putting the whole meaning of one's life on the line. While the seemingly cool rationality of a truly mature faith may sometimes cause it to be mistaken for rationalism (and vice versa -- as typically, rationalization serves as an escape from commitment) yet nothing could be further from the truth. For while a mature faith is one that is lived in a state of constant "hope against hope", it is most of all a faith that expresses itself in a love so lavish that our life would make no sense at all unless God exists.