Faith as Poetry

In my book ‘Sing Out For Justice’ I say: ‘The prophets were poets. It is not enough to say that they teach us to practise justice. They do not “teach” in that kind of way. They long for justice, they lament the lack of justice, they keep alive the hope for justice, and they celebrate justice.’

So much religion is bound up in people’s minds with the idea of ‘teaching’, which leads into ‘doctrine’ – the idea that religion is a matter of ‘believing that’ rather than ‘believing in’. I have come to believe that faith in its best sense is not assent to a set of doctrines presented as ‘facts’ about God. It is an experience, a passion, a dream. Its best expression is not in logical proposition but in poetry, music and art.

Theologians discuss theories and beliefs: they try to understand things. Poets and artists just feel things. Religion can be a way of avoiding feelings. Beliefs about the afterlife are more comfortable than really experiencing the unbearable reality of death. Systems of morality are so much simpler than the painful uncertainty of relationships and the dilemmas life throws up for us every day. Doctrines and systems give us a feeling of understanding the world, of being in control. But if God is really God, we are not in control and never can be.

That is why the appropriate response to the sense of God in our lives is not seeking certainty but expressing our dreams and our passions. It is passionately seeking our highest desires and believing in them. Whether people call this believing in God or call it by some other name is not of ultimate importance. To me, God is the reality in which ‘we live and move and have our being’. Perhaps the best answer to the question ‘do you believe in God?’ is ‘does a raindrop believe in water?’