We only act from partial understanding

The practices of the church as the gathered people of the coming King precede the formulas and codes that would later emerge from their theoretical reflection. Before Christians had systematic theologies and worldviews they were singing hymns and psalms, saying prayers, celebrating the Eucharist, sharing their property, and becoming a people marked by a desire for God’s coming kingdom – a desire that constituted them as a peculiar people in the present.

-James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p.139

First the thought, then the act, right? Our brain is like this giant computer that comes up with an instruction and then delivers it to our limbs. We have an idea and then we act on it. This is the way scientists and economists and philosophers often talk. The problem is the (usually) underlying assumption that we understand what we are doing – that we have a carefully developed theory behind our thoughts and the actions that come of them. On the ground though, this is nonsense. We are rarely so rational as the enlightenment assumes we are. We are not often so enlightened as we make ourselves out to be in the stories we tell about ourselves. We don’t know what we are doing half the time and we may never fully know what we are doing or why. Our own motivations are hidden from us. We have a positive word for this – it’s called intuition. Faith can happen at a thoroughly thought-out level, but it usually happens at a very half-contemplated state. This does not make it’s illegitimate, as if some Modern scientific standard was required. If that is the test, then nothing will ever pass.

The truth is, theories come later. The Nicene Creed is a great document about Christianity. But it was a good 300 years after the ascension before people came up with it. But they were singing songs only a few years later. The prayers of the lectionary were written and curated over a thousand and a half years. But people were praying things like them in the first century. Followers of Jesus reenacted the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup of wine before there existed any 500-page tome on sacramental theology. Did they “know what they were doing”? Of course not. But who cares? They were sharing property before someone told them they had a constitutional right not too. They were desiring the kingdom of God before they could articulate what that even was.

Our heads get in the game along-side our bodies. We don’t know what we are doing. But then we do. And then we know. And then maybe we can talk about it. This is why the man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) had it right. He was leading with the faith he had, while acknowledging that rest of it really wasn’t there. It wasn’t there. And neither is ours sometimes. But don’t let that stop you!