Thursday, February 23, 2012

Faith and Acts

Immediately upon being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 3+ years ago, I wondered "why me?" of course. Not that I was without vices but I considered myself to have a healthy lifestyle. I exercised regularly and ate mostly vegetarian. I was days away from my 6th marathon. I kicked into a classic faith versus acts debate - asking myself why I qualified to have this disease. What had I done to my physical body in this life to start this tumor off? Or, what had I done against God to deserve this bleak fate. In the old days – B.C. – it was believed that people were stricken with maladies because of some sin of their own. My "bad" acts certainly didn't seem to merit this outcome (as if it ever does for anyone).
Similarly, there has been a controversy, in Christianity, for more than 500 years around the relationship between faith and acts. Put another way, is it strong faith that puts us in God's good graces or do we earn it by our actions. What, if anything, do we have to do to earn God's favor? Will only those who live lives of moral merit be saved (i.e., go to heaven)? Some maintain that we are we automatically in by virtue of being God's children. If it's all faith and good acts are not required, then why even bother to be good? How exclusive is this club and just how does one get in?
Different denominations find themselves on various points along the spectrum between (a) believe and you are in and (b) we will all be judged on how we've lived our lives. Regardless of religious affiliation, each of us falls somewhere along this continuum in our personal attitudes. Maybe you believe that we get what we deserve in life; that you have no one to blame but yourself for your situation. We all believe in something. Those morals, beliefs and acts define us. Faith and acts tell us who we are and it's the mix of the two that will determine who we might be.
In life, we can hope for longevity and/or we can work towards it. I took definitive acts, rather than merely counting on my strong gene pool to carry me into my 80s. Then, once my post-diagnosis reality became clear and my future foggy, my faith versus acts balance tipped a bit. Getting what I deserved became less important since I had no clue what that meant anymore. I'd thought that I had been a good enough guy (in terms of acts) to be allowed to live, but I needed more than that now. I began counting on faith as well as acts (and whatever else I could grab on to) to put me into the exclusive 6% club of five-year survivors. I wanted to will myself into seeing my kids grow up by the sheer force of prayer and optimism. Faith could save me. Just to be sure, I cleaned up my physical and mental act further – reconsidering every input into my body, meditating and sleeping more (hopefully not at the same time) and stressing less. If it's acts that can save me – I'm there. But I am not gonna let faith be my weak point either.
I am not saying that I believe that we can earn one fate over another or that I was lacking in faith before. Maybe it helps if faith precedes acts. Maybe you can't get by on just one or the other. Can good fruit spring from a bad tree; good health from a dark place? I don't remotely understand the relationship between faith and acts. I do know that deference to both is working out well for me so far. Thank God.