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photo by Mike Hawkey

photo by Mike Hawkey

Words like “journey” and “pilgrimage” to describe my faith have become very important to me over the last 10 years or so.

I know some might cringe at the thought of using such a non-theological, wishy-washy-sunshine-lollipops-and-rainbows description of faith. And I can’t fully blame people for thinking that way, because the metaphor has been co-opted by bad self-help rhetoric.

But it’s an ancient and biblical metaphor, and casual misuse doesn’t define its value.

The life of faith is indeed a journey. Proverbs–the core book of wisdom in the Old Testament–goes on and on about life as a way or path.

The early movement to follow Jesus was called the Way (Acts 9:2).

The Christian life is not about building a fortress and remaining inside no matter what, with no further places to tread, nothing left to discover.

Faith is always on the move—because life keeps happening.

Journey is not a casual metaphor. All journeys have difficult stretches.

Skies can become dark, the landscapes barren.

We may often find ourselves shoeless, without a backpack, or change of clothes. And it’s raining cats and dogs.

We come across new and challenging circumstances that we cannot preempt. We never know what is waiting around the bend.

We may need to rest on the ground from time to time to catch our breath, especially if the path is steep before us. We may need to take a break in a lodging place along the road. But to keep moving eventually is a given.

The path does not end, not as long as we are flesh and blood, anyway. There is no summit to reach where we can look down on others below.

And it’s common to wonder whether we’re on the right path at all, and whether the journey is worth it. We can’t really know. We walk by faith (better: trust), not by sight (better: certainty).

Anyway, I’ve caught on over the years how this ancient metaphor hits the nail on the head. I’m certainly still working out what it means.

photo credit, MikeHawkey.com

 

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

14 Comments

  • Thank you for capturing so well and beautifully my own experience and the experience of others. You can tell the difference between someone who sees their faith as something always in progress and someone who sees themselves as having arrived.

    In my better moments, which are not as often as I’d like, this informs the way I talk with others about where I’m at. There’s always the little footnote that says, “This is what I think right now. Five years from now, I might be embarrassed that I ever said this.”

  • Phil Ledgerwood says:

    Thank you for capturing so well and beautifully my own experience and the experience of others. You can tell the difference between someone who sees their faith as something always in progress and someone who sees themselves as having arrived.

    In my better moments, which are not as often as I’d like, this informs the way I talk with others about where I’m at. There’s always the little footnote that says, “This is what I think right now. Five years from now, I might be embarrassed that I ever said this.”

  • Was just having this exact discussion with my wife earlier in the week. I have really come to despise language that treats your relationship with God like a club you are in or out, because when thinking of it that it its so easy to come to quick conclusions measured against the supposed admission criteria (“Oh I’m definitely in,” or “well I must not be in then”) about both ourselves and others.

    But when you see your and other peoples relationship to God as a journey, it’s seems inherently more natural to respect that people are in different parts of that journey, the journey is not identical for everyone, and other important nuances to spiritual reality that in/out thinking does not well serve.

  • Luke Breuer says:

    I would be interested in redeeming the idea of having a “story” or “journey” or whatever—I too have an adverse reaction to these words, and yet am convinced that they cannot be discarded, nor demoted in prominence. Somehow I get the idea that the following does not happen in castles:

    And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

    “The Way”, anyone?

  • Luke Breuer says:

    I would be interested in redeeming the idea of having a “story” or “journey” or whatever—I too have an adverse reaction to these words, and yet am convinced that they cannot be discarded, nor demoted in prominence. Somehow I get the idea that the following does not happen in castles:

    And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

    “The Way”, anyone?

  • Wayfaring Michael says:

    As you can tell from my “nom de blog,” I am with you on this one. But even going beyond use of “the Way” in Acts, and ignoring the foundational stories of Israel for a moment, we can look to literature to see how powerful the image and the idea is. From The Iliad and The Odyssey through Pilgrim’s Progress down to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, our greatest stories have all been about great journeys.

    But there is another part of being a wayfarer, pilgrim, or traveler that is very easy to overlook in our post-Enlightenment, individualistic, capitalistic, etc., etc., etc. society, especially here in the United States, more than anywhere else in the West. We can not make our way alone, not one of us. Until just the last couple of hundred years “inns” were few and far between, and they were not available to the vast majority of people who had to go on journeys. Wayfarers mostly had to depend on, to use too trite a phrase these days, “the kindness of strangers.” Yes, sometimes such travelers came across monasteries that opened their doors to strangers, or they found churches in or under which to take shelter. But often they were lucky if they could take refuge in a barn, and quite rude structures most of them were, too. And they sometimes depended on donations of food from the people they encountered along their journeys when they could not afford to buy food.

    The myths/ideals of the “self-made man” and the “rugged individual” are not just false, they are demonic. That is, they come from the powers and principalities, not from God.

    We do indeed walk by faith, but we do not walk alone. God walks with us; there are some great old Celtic runes about that in the Carmina Gadelica. But we also journey with our brothers and sisters. We journey along with some of them for a time, others we encounter along our Way. We need help from some of them at times, but sometimes we meet them at a time when they need our help.

    And yes, an image and metaphor that has been around for at least three thousand or more years and that continues to inspire us can not be abandoned lightly.

    (BTW, IMHO, that goes for the rainbow, too….)

  • Wayfaring Michael says:

    As you can tell from my “nom de blog,” I am with you on this one. But even going beyond use of “the Way” in Acts, and ignoring the foundational stories of Israel for a moment, we can look to literature to see how powerful the image and the idea is. From The Iliad and The Odyssey through Pilgrim’s Progress down to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, our greatest stories have all been about great journeys.

    But there is another part of being a wayfarer, pilgrim, or traveler that is very easy to overlook in our post-Enlightenment, individualistic, capitalistic, etc., etc., etc. society, especially here in the United States, more than anywhere else in the West. We can not make our way alone, not one of us. Until just the last couple of hundred years “inns” were few and far between, and they were not available to the vast majority of people who had to go on journeys. Wayfarers mostly had to depend on, to use too trite a phrase these days, “the kindness of strangers.” Yes, sometimes such travelers came across monasteries that opened their doors to strangers, or they found churches in or under which to take shelter. But often they were lucky if they could take refuge in a barn, and quite rude structures most of them were, too. And they sometimes depended on donations of food from the people they encountered along their journeys when they could not afford to buy food.

    The myths/ideals of the “self-made man” and the “rugged individual” are not just false, they are demonic. That is, they come from the powers and principalities, not from God.

    We do indeed walk by faith, but we do not walk alone. God walks with us; there are some great old Celtic runes about that in the Carmina Gadelica. But we also journey with our brothers and sisters. We journey along with some of them for a time, others we encounter along our Way. We need help from some of them at times, but sometimes we meet them at a time when they need our help.

    And yes, an image and metaphor that has been around for at least three thousand or more years and that continues to inspire us can not be abandoned lightly.

    (BTW, IMHO, that goes for the rainbow, too….)

  • Johnny Number 5 says:

    I used to like the journey metaphor, but lately I’ve been wondering if it implies too much about the end. Sure, you can say that a journey never ends (in this life, at least), but a journey still tends to have an explicit or implicit telos that you’re journeying toward; you may never get there, and that end may be fuzzy, but it’s a definite goal you’re trying to steer toward. My experience is more that I used to have a particular known end destination of the journey, even if I didn’t know what it was, and even if it changed a little bit at certain parts of the journey. Now, I would say that I have much less sense of what the ultimate destination is, but I have only a sense of which direction to go right now. That’s a metaphor of constant movement, but it doesn’t seem like a journey. I’m not sure what the better metaphor is. A hobo’s life (i.e., homeless, though occasionally with extended stays in one place, but willing to pick up and move when the context calls for it)?

  • Johnny Number 5 says:

    I used to like the journey metaphor, but lately I’ve been wondering if it implies too much about the end. Sure, you can say that a journey never ends (in this life, at least), but a journey still tends to have an explicit or implicit telos that you’re journeying toward; you may never get there, and that end may be fuzzy, but it’s a definite goal you’re trying to steer toward. My experience is more that I used to have a particular known end destination of the journey, even if I didn’t know what it was, and even if it changed a little bit at certain parts of the journey. Now, I would say that I have much less sense of what the ultimate destination is, but I have only a sense of which direction to go right now. That’s a metaphor of constant movement, but it doesn’t seem like a journey. I’m not sure what the better metaphor is. A hobo’s life (i.e., homeless, though occasionally with extended stays in one place, but willing to pick up and move when the context calls for it)?

  • Sam says:

    Some of us use the term “follower of Jesus” so as not to be identified with those who call themselves “Christians”. So many “Christians” appear to be pushing one agenda or another that seems to have little to do with Jesus.

    Yes, this life is a journey, even a pilgrimage in a sense. For me personally, it is an assignment that I chose, an assignment to learn how to love my neighbor as myself. I continue to learn. Jesus has provided the best example I have found of how to love others.

    • Thanks for this post! When faith is defined as intellectually adhering to list of concrete doctrinal statements, it leaves no room for questions. When there is no room for questions, it becomes a method of control rather than a community founded on love (which appears to be the kind of community Jesus wanted to found). So faith must be a journey, but that becomes a threat to the establishments because it’s hard for religious establishments to stay in place with dissenters. I hope that Evangelicals can learn to live with questions and answers that don’t fit the concrete list of doctrinal statements, because if they don’t I believe there will continue to be a mass exodus from evangelical communities.

      http://godsfoolishness.blogspot.com

  • Sam says:

    Some of us use the term “follower of Jesus” so as not to be identified with those who call themselves “Christians”. So many “Christians” appear to be pushing one agenda or another that seems to have little to do with Jesus.

    Yes, this life is a journey, even a pilgrimage in a sense. For me personally, it is an assignment that I chose, an assignment to learn how to love my neighbor as myself. I continue to learn. Jesus has provided the best example I have found of how to love others.

  • Thanks for this post! When faith is defined as intellectually adhering to list of concrete doctrinal statements, it leaves no room for questions. When there is no room for questions, it becomes a method of control rather than a community founded on love (which appears to be the kind of community Jesus wanted to found). So faith must be a journey, but that becomes a threat to the establishments because it’s hard for religious establishments to stay in place with dissenters. I hope that Evangelicals can learn to live with questions and answers that don’t fit the concrete list of doctrinal statements, because if they don’t I believe there will continue to be a mass exodus from evangelical communities.

    http://godsfoolishness.blogspot.com

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