I heard of a professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School ending every class with the question, "So what's the cash value?" His point was that theology, any discussion about God, any view of the nature of God and words and descriptions of God, theological ideas have real effects on the world, they must result in something practical and ethical for the good of the world. There must be "cash value" from both the ideas and the conversation. So what's the cash value of faith? How do you define faith and what difference does that faith make in living your life? In truth, how we define faith radically shapes both how we show up in the world and what kind of life experience we enjoy.
Is the Universe Friendly?
Albert Einstein once said, "The most important question you'll ever ask is, Is the universe friendly?" His point was that how a person views the universe impacts the way that person responds to the challenges of life and uses available resources for those challenges. Here's how he put it:
"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly, and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.
"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.
"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe [and cooperating with it]."
His point is that how we see the universe is ultimately an issue of faith. Faith has cash value - it radically impacts the way we react and respond and behave toward ourselves, others, and our world. It takes the form of both attitude and behavior. It impacts how we use all the resources available to us - either in love-based or fear-based ways. Everything we think, feel, and do will follow our faith correspondingly.
God Is Love
Sounds a lot like the biblical perspective emphasized in 1 John 4: "God is love, and all who live in love life in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us." (verses 16-18)
Love is the central value and force in the entire universe. Love is the very nature of God. No wonder Jesus made the same claim by saying that all of God's commandments are summarized into two: loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. All of God's totality manifested in words are summed up by love. Love is the operating force in the universe.
Fear is antithetical to love. Fear judges. Fear condemns. Fear criticizes. Fear chooses against the other. Fear coerces. Love and fear cannot operate at the same time. Human life is comprised of making the choice to think, feel, and act in love or in fear. Life works best, the way the Creator of the universe designed it, when it is lived in harmony and alignment and congruency with love. Faith is believing enough to stake your life on the centrality of love, even when it seems counter-intuitive in a situation you're encountering.
What Is Faith?
Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher and author, in her book Return To Love, describes the cash value this way: "To trust in the force that moves the universe is faith. Faith isn't blind, it's visionary. Faith is believing that the universe is on our side, and that the universe knows what it's doing. Faith is a psychological awareness of an unfolding force for good, constantly at work in all dimensions. Our attempts to direct this force only interferes with it. Our willingness to relax into it allows it to work on our behalf. Without faith, we're frantically trying to control what it is not our business to control, and fix what it is not in our power to fix. What we're trying to control is much better off without us, and what we're trying to fix can't be fixed by us anyway. Without faith, we're wasting time ... We learn to trust that the power that holds galaxies together can handle the circumstances of our relatively little lives." (p. 52, 56)
Two Ways Faith Impacts Life
So what's the cash value? Here are several implications I'm learning. One, relax. Have you noticed how much of life is lived with anxiety, uncertainty, chaos, conflict, power struggles? We invest an inordinate amount of personal energy in those negative energy fields. Think of the "fights" you have with your significant other, for example? How much energy is used up in those fights? Over what? Universe-altering issues? Global-impacting concerns? Do or die principles where life will literally come to an end if the situation doesn't resolve according to your idea? So this implication is hugely significant. Relax.
But what does faith have to do with my ability to relax? If I believe that God is working for my greatest good, and I'm willing to surrender the results to God in every situation, allowing only my self to learn what I need to learn as opposed to having to teach everyone else what I think they need to learn, I can relax. I can have a greater inner peace about stuff. Why? Because I'm not obsessing, anxiously trying to control and fix everyone and everything else around me according to what I think everyone needs. I'm not desperately trying to hang on to a specific outcome. I can relax in a trust that the Power holding the galaxies together, the Power behind even our own laws of gravity and photosynthesis and thermodynamics in our world, for example, can and is handling the convoluted and chaotic circumstances of my own inner and outer life. I can relax because I am choosing faith, love, and surrender.
Two, cooperate. My ability to relax is directly related to my willingness to cooperate with the universe's law of love. If I believe that the fundamental nature of the universe is love rather than fear (as both Einstein and 1 John 4:16-18 suggested), then when I make the deliberate decision to love rather than to fear in any specific situation I am intentionally placing myself in harmony with God's universe. I am choosing to come into alignment with God's fundamental nature and operation. And here's what happens:
"When we love, we are automatically placing ourselves within an attitudinal and behavioral context that leads to an unfoldment of events at the highest level of good for everyone involved. We don't always know what that unfoldment would look like, but we don't need to. God will do God's part if we do ours. Our only job in every situation is to merely let go of our resistance to love. What happens then is up to God. We've surrendered control. We're letting God lead. We have faith that God knows how." (Ibid., p. 57)
Here's how this works. Surrender, cooperation, means giving up attachment to results. I realize that most of my personal angst in both my relationships and my life experiences are often because of I grab a hold of a specific outcome (result) and refuse to let it go at any cost. So when it begins to appear that others aren't working for MY results, I get threatened and insecure. I often fight back to try to ensure I get my way. And painful conflict results instead.
But when I surrender to God (cooperate with God), I let go of my attachment to how I think things are suppose to happen on the outside and I become more concerned with what happens on the inside of me.
"The more important it is to us, the more important it is to surrender. That which is surrendered is taken care of best. To place something in the hands of God is to give it over, mentally, to the protection and care of the beneficence of the universe. To keep it ourselves means to constantly grab and clutch and manipulate. We keep opening the oven to see if the bread is baking, which only ensures that it never gets a chance to." (Ibid., p. 58)
What's the Cash Value?
So imagine being able to live life with a more relaxed attitude toward everyone and everything. Imagine seeing all of life, including yours, in the hands of a benevolent, loving God who loves and provides equally for us and everyone else. Imagine experiencing a profound peace from being able to surrender everything in your life to Love and no longer having to control or manipulate or coerce or connive life to conform to your expectations. Imagine the transformation possible from only having to look at your self and aligning your self with God and letting God take are of the rest. Imagine a world where others are doing the same thing, where Love is the reigning, guiding force in all relationships and life experiences. Wouldn't that be Heaven? Not bad for cash value.