Shakespeare was right: all the world IS a stage! Think about all the things in our world that utilize stages. Rockets come in stages. Butterflies come in stages. Even the common cold comes in stages. There are stages in the consumer buying process, in how to buy a home and in how injured toenails grow back. There are stages in how we form our relationships and in how we break-up. There are stages of life, stages of sleep, stages of depression, and stages of labor and delivery. Almost every disease progresses through stages. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave us the five stages of grief. Jean Piaget gave us the four stages of cognitive development. Erik Erikson gave us the eight stages of psychosocial development. And Lawrence Kohlberg gave us the six stages of moral development. And I didn’t even mention Prochaska and DiClemente’s six-stage theory of change (but I think I changed my mind and did mention it after all). Almost everything comes in stages. And let’s not forget the Tour de France with its 21 stages! And there you have it; all the world is a stage! So, what about faith? Are there stages of faith?
Now, it might seem like there is an obvious answer. Of course, there are! Some people clearly have a weak faith where they are barely hanging on, while others can go through the most difficult test and their faith only grows stronger. If there weren’t different stages of faith, why would we have as one of our core values at River’s Edge that we are called to grow in our faith? Growth implies stages. And if that wasn’t enough proof of stages, Jesus ends the debate when he encourages us to have a faith that moves mountains (I wonder if he said that because most of us don’t have enough faith even to move us to pray). So there! There is weak faith and there is deep faith and there is a type of faith at every stage in between those two points. But that is not what I mean. By stages, we are talking about predictable patterns or characteristics that are common to every person that one must go through as one progresses on their faith journey.
Think of it this way (I am speaking as a sociologist here, not as a theologian). Visualize a six-story building. This is the faith journey. Before you begin the process of faith, you are in the basement along with everyone else who professes not to have any faith. Some are very old; some are very young; some are very in between. But you decide to have faith, and so you go to the staircase and walk up to the first floor. Now, you might have noticed that there is no express elevator or escalator or dumbwaiter that skips a floor or two. Everyone has to take the same staircase and come to the first floor. A couple of things become immediately evident to you as you walk down the hallway on this first floor. Not only is this a very family-centered floor, but the ambiance also seems very childlike. Plus, every window has the same view (you might say, everybody sees things in the same way). If you are looking for a great conversation about Bonhoeffer or Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, you are not going to find it here. And while this first floor is great, there comes a point when it’s time to move to the second floor. So, you climb the up staircase and proceed to the second floor. The ambiance is different here, as is the view; but everyone on this floor also sees the same things and each room looks identical. And so it goes. In order to reach the next floor, you have to take the same staircase. You can never skip a floor, but you can decide that you are content where you are and choose not to proceed up any more staircases. You like the view of the world that you have from this floor and will live out your days on this floor. You might not even realize that there are any more floors left to explore. There are many people who will argue that this is what the journey of faith looks like. We move from stage one to stage two. The presenting “worldview” is the same from each floor. The lower floors are often related to one’s family and may seem quite juvenile, but all floors are necessary and good. And we all move from one predictable stage to another.
I would like to suggest to you that we understand faith in like manner. I would like to argue that, like floors in our building illustration, there are stages of faith that are predictable, identifiable, and common to every person on a faith journey. And if that is true, then once all the stages are spread out before you, you will not only be able to see the floors you have already visited, but also see the floors that lie ahead and what is required to get there. You might also see if you are stuck on a particular floor or what is blocking your path to the next stage.
In the coming weeks, we will look at the six stages of faith. But in the meantime, here’s something you can do to prepare for this series. Take out a piece of paper and make a chart of your spiritual life. If your chart looks like mine, it is filled with ups and downs, twists and turns with long periods of flatness where not much seems to be happening. I’ve had some great highs and some deep lows. I have had periods where my faith is positively exploding, and I have had periods where doubt and struggle have negated almost every advance I’ve made. Your chart should include all of that, the highs and the lows and the periods where you just continued on. Then briefly, jot down what might have caused the ups and the downs (for example, “being in that Bible study in college pushed me to new heights” or “when I lost my I also struggled to hold on to my faith.”). Our goal here is not only to find out what was going on that resulted in periods of spiritual growth and spiritual decline, but also to see if we can find any discernible stages in your life story. And yes, you get ten extra heaven points for actually charting your spiritual life.
That’s all for this week. Now, I realize I am leaving you hanging and you might even doubt my premise that there are stages of faith. But come back next week, and we will talk more about it. In the meantime, ponder these words from Arthur C. Clarke: “Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It’s completely impossible. 2- It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along.” How true! I leave you with this: Remember, “All the world is a stage!”