MOVED TO FAITH BY THE MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS IN LIFE
In support of the Central Thesis:
No one can actually believe in something blindly.
“There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.” – Father William Cummings
Chances are good that you have heard the above quote (often misattributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower), especially in light of the latest stink raised by those who would purge religious speech from anyone employed in government service. Here is an excerpt from an article giving context to Father Cummings’ famous statement.
“In one of my many discussions with Roy, he distinctly remembered a period on the “Hell Ships” – these were ships the Japanese used to bring POWs from the Philippines back to Japan. They were unmarked and thus ‘fair game’ for attacks from the allies from the air and sea.
Of the 3,000-plus POWs listed on the ships, only 180 survived the journey.
“When our own planes were attacking us,” Roy said, “I remember Father Cummings calming us down by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and offering up prayers on our behalf. For a brief moment I did not hear the yells and screams of dying men as our boat was attacked by our own men.” He went on to say, “There was a peaceful quiet during the attack that I cannot explain nor have experienced since.”
Later on during the trip to Japan, Cummings, after giving his food to others who needed it more, succumbed to his own need and died of starvation.”
In contrast to the despair of impending death, there is the mountain top experience of the Spiritual Retreat. The fact that spiritual retreats are not merely a Christian phenomenon is interesting. There appears to be some value in the practice for bringing people to faith or for strengthening the faith of those who already believe. Here are the typical features of the Christian retreats I have seen:
- Large gatherings for worship, which give a sense of belonging to something much larger than a circle of acquaintances and a sense of love from complete strangers.
- Small groups for discussion, which allows the ability to know and be known by others.
- Time alone for reflection, which allows the processing of the information and emotion gathered by the other experiences.
This often results in the attribution to God the love felt and conveyed during the retreat.
Mountains and valleys can also have the opposite effect. The despair of helpless situations has caused many to scream at God, demanding answers, “right now”. Likewise, sadly, some have gone to spiritual retreats, seen the love shared all around them and they have “felt nothing”. They have concluded that it was all an act, an exercise in socialization. Not getting answers from God, not “getting” retreats, and not getting clear reasons why others do is a big sticking point for those who don’t or feel like they can’t believe.
There is only one “magic bullet”, and it is not the mountain top, nor the valley.
Both examples – the fox hole and the retreat – have relationships as the common factor. One who comes to faith because of that relationship is NOT acting blindly. They are moved to faith by what they perceive as true and foundational, namely, “The inexplicable love I feel in this place (from Father Cummings or from complete strangers who love the Lord) is evidence that Christ loves me also.”
But let us go back to Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Reyes:
“Everyone expresses some form of faith every day, whether it is religious or secular. Some express faith by believing when they get up in the morning they will arrive at work in one piece, thankful they have been given another opportunity to enjoy the majesty of the day; or express relief the doctor’s results were negative. The real question is, “Is it important to have faith in ‘faith’ itself or is it more important to ask, ‘What is the object of my faith?'”
Faith itself may factor into one’s general health, but this is not about lowering your blood pressure, or meditating to relieve one’s stress levels. What is the object of the Christian faith?
“For I can testify about them that they [the Israelites; but also applies to others who] are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” [Meaning fulfillment of the law will bring life. But perfect living is impossible.]
But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. – Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 10, V 2 – 10 with [my comments].
In a nut shell, we are powerless to live a perfect life which is necessary to have a relationship with a perfect God. So God himself became man in Jesus and became the culmination of the law. We didn’t invent this scheme, but rather it has been revealed to us in the Bible that God has laid our punishment onto Christ, thus covering our imperfections and allowing us to have a RELATIONSHIP with the one true and perfect God. Amazing.
I know it is unlikely and confusing and probably doesn’t make sense if this little post is all you know about Christianity. So before you make a judgment, do two things:
- Read the Gospel of John and
- Really get to know a Christian who studies apologetics. If you ask a Christian acquaintance if they study apologetics, and they say “Huh?”, then respectfully move on. Those who are studying apologetics are studying how to answer your deepest questions and they SHOULD want to be your friend and treat you with Christ’s love and respect regardless of what you believe. If they don’t. If they treat you like a project and not a person, then respectfully move on. You are on a QUEST FOR TRUTH, and you shouldn’t extrapolate too far from one or two bad encounters.
- The non-helpful “option 3.” Read tons of blogs and watch tons of debates online. This will inform you some, but God seeks a RELATIONSHIP with you, and this often starts with a RELATIONSHIP with one of His believers.
WEEKLY MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS
Finally, what we see on Sunday Mornings is a retelling of the “valley of the shadow of death” typically in the form of the Confession and Absolution [in liturgical settings, but also prevalent in non-liturgical worship]. We also sing, say, or read about Christ’s victory over death on the cross. This is the ultimate mountain top experience for the Christian. We welcome and celebrate the deepest despair and the highest joy at least once a week, and you are welcome to join us.
Our faith resulting from the relationship we have with Christ, from the love in Christian circles, from the historicity of the Scriptures, and from the evidence of Christ’s death on the Mountain of Calvary and His resurrection is not a blind leap into the unknown, for unknown reasons, or against evidence to the contrary. It is a strong foundation, as strong as the very rocks that form mountains and valleys.
Since the Air Force has already removed the article once, I am posting the full article here to ensure its preservation:
“Commentary by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Reyes, JBER Chaplain
7/17/2013 – JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
The “Chaplain’s Corner” offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.
[Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.]
‘No atheists in foxholes’: Chaplains gave all in World War II.
Many have heard the familiar phrase, “There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.”
Where did this come from?
Research I verified in an interview with former World War II prisoner of war Roy Bodine (my friend) indicates the phrase has been credited to Father William Cummings.
As the story goes, Father Cummings was a civilian missionary Catholic priest in the Philippines.
The phrase was coined during the Japanese attack at Corregidor.
During the siege, Cummings had noticed non-Catholics were attending his services. Some he knew were not Catholic, some were not religious and some were even known atheists.
Life-and-death experiences prompt a reality check.
Even the strongest of beliefs can change, and, I may add, can go both ways – people can be drawn to or away from “faith.”
With the pending surrender of allied forces to the Japanese, Cummings uttered the famous phrase “There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.”
In one of my many discussions with Roy, he distinctly remembered a period on the “Hell Ships” – these were ships the Japanese used to bring POWs from the Philippines back to Japan.
They were unmarked and thus ‘fair game’ for attacks from the allies from the air and sea. Of the 3,000-plus POWs listed on the ships, only 180 survived the journey.
“When our own planes were attacking us,” Roy said, “I remember Father Cummings calming us down by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and offering up prayers on our behalf. For a brief moment I did not hear the yells and screams of dying men as our boat was attacked by our own men.”
He went on to say, “There was a peaceful quiet during the attack that I cannot explain nor have experienced since.”
Later on during the trip to Japan, Cummings, after giving his food to others who needed it more, succumbed to his own need and died of starvation. Everyone expresses some form of faith every day, whether it is religious or secular. Some express faith by believing when they get up in the morning they will arrive at work in one piece, thankful they have been given another opportunity to enjoy the majesty of the day; or express relief the doctor’s results were negative.
The real question is, “Is it important to have faith in ‘faith’ itself or is it more important to ask, ‘What is the object of my faith?'”
Roy never affirmed or expressed whether his faith was rooted in religion or not, but for a moment in time on the “Hell Ships,” he believed in Cummings’ faith.
What is the root or object of your faith?
Is it something you can count on in times of plenty or loss; peace or chaos; joy or sorrow; success or failure?
What is ‘faith’ to you?“
ROADMAP FOR THE SERIES
This series of blog posts will explore what is meant by Christians when they say they have “faith” in Christ. Roadmap for the series:
- Part 1 – Introduction to my “No Such Thing as Blind Faith” series of posts
- Part 2 – What is the Biblical concept of the word “faith”?
- How does one come to have “faith” in something?
- Part 3 – Sources they trust – parents, pastors, professors, publications, papers, posts
- Part 4 – Intuition – putting the pieces of life together (least “explainable” but still not “blind”)
- Part 5 – Reaction to stress or joy – mountain tops and valleys in life
- Part 6 – Experience – direct experience with Christ in some way
- Part 7 – Conclusion, support of the central thesis, and how we come to change our minds