As much effort is expended to explain and justify the accuracy and validity of the Bible, Christianity is a religion firmly grounded on faith. Faith in the existence of God, faith in the divine sacrifice of Jesus, and faith that acceptance of that sacrifice will bring salvation through grace.
Among other things, I’m an outdoorsman; since I was small, I’ve loved exploring the hidden confines of America’s wilderness. I’ve learned to feel at home in the complex simplicity of nature, and I’ve found that sometimes the most important lessons can be found perched in a tree on top of a hill.
At night, I can see points of light burning in the darkness all around me; campfires lit by other adventurers in the forest. It occurs to me that faith is like fire. It provides light to see, warms us in the frigid night, and protects us from the unknown. Faith and fire entered the human consciousness at the same time in prehistory, when humanity first put a bright, flickering wall between itself and the nature which spawned it and provided for its needs. In those days, fire became one of humanity’s most important assets, and thus became one of his first gods.
As humanity has developed, both his faith and his fire have changed to fit his needs and circumstances. Fire has been confined, controlled, and brought forth only when necessary through the striking of a match. It has been reborn through electricity, shining out of white-hot tungsten filaments. Molecular manipulation has given us fluorescence, fire without heat, and lasers, fire which can kill from miles away. Faith has likewise been condensed, repackaged, reformulated, rediscovered, and dissected with surgical precision. There now exists an almost impossible wide array of faiths for us to espouse, virtually tailor-fit for any individual’s tastes. However, both faith and fire when uncontrolled and unchecked, can bring about grievous catastrophes.
Like fire, faith must constantly be fed to burn brightly. Its fuel is often emotion, which burns the brightest but is depleted the fastest. Apologetics seeks to replenish the spent emotion with more stout fuel, but as any outdoorsman knows, large logs do not burn without tinder. The hot coals of habit can keep faith alive for a time, but without renewed fuel, faith cools to black.
I let both my faith and my fire cool a long time ago. Striding along a ridge top, I watched the sun set and decided not to light a campfire that night. I found a comfortable niche under a limestone outcropping, and gathered pine needles under me. After the light of day receded, I laid quietly and listened to the forest around me. Nocturnal animals began to stir- without a fire to frighten them, they ventured closer to my camp site than I’d ever experienced. When the moon came out, I could see the entire valley spread out before me, more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
There were others in the forest that night, each with their campfires lit. I felt sorry for them; such a bright light allowed them to see things immediately around them, but the rest of the forest dropped into pitch black. Their world ended at the limit of their campfire’s light; mine was spread out over the whole valley, bathed in silvery moonlight. It is the same way for people who hold strongly to their faiths- while they are able to see things close to them, everything is colored in the orange glow of their faith, and everything beyond the scope of their faith is pitch black, and does not exist for them. Theirs is a bright world, but it is also a small world.
I can still enjoy the warm glow of a campfire, and nothing is better for an evening of companionship in the forest, toasting marshmallows and singing songs. But even as I sit by the fire, I know that there is a beautiful world in the darkness, and that warms me more than any fire ever could.