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By Faith

I’ve been reflecting this week on some of the discussions on this blog over the last little while, along with some of the content I am teaching at church this month (a kind of “Big Questions” series), and life and faith in general. This morning, Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 5:7 are resounding in my head: “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

There is so much that we don’t see. So much that we do not, maybe even cannot understand. How do we make sense of apparent inconsistencies in Scripture, difficult texts that we wish had never been written? How do we welcome and honour the other and what is good and true and right in their views in a pluralistic context without abandoning our convictions? How do we think about questions of evil and suffering in the face of a belief—or, at very least, a hope—that God is good? How do we make ordinary decisions in life that stretch us out beyond what can be measured and predicted? In each case, I suppose, we do the best with what evidence we have and proceed accordingly. But when it comes to the things that matter most, the things that affect us most deeply, the domain of hopes and fears and longing and desire, we never see as much as we would like.

So how do we walk and think and have conversations and act and live and love when there is so much that we don’t see? Paul’s “by faith” sure sounds like the right answer, but it also sounds too easy. It sounds like a false and unearned refuge from squarely facing what evidence we have, attempting to understand our limitations and what they might mean, and only then engaging the questions. “By faith” can sometimes seem like a head-in-the-sand, fingers-in-my-ears approach to faith and life that refuses to face things honestly and seems destined, at some point, to founder on the rocks of reality.

But on a deeper level, I think “by faith” is indeed the best answer we can ever give because it points to a trust that there is a goodness, truth, beauty, and grace that far transcends our finite abilities to think and decide and walk correctly. “By faith” expresses the hope and the conviction that the answers to the most difficult and important questions in life—whether at the cosmic level or the level of individual lives—are not dependent upon our vision, but upon the only one who sees truly and completely.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Indeed, it does.

    February 17, 2011
  2. Like Jesus’ disciples – “do you still not understand?” (Mk. 8:21) – we’re prone to confusion when it comes to wrapping our minds around what God is up to in the world. I take comfort knowing we’re not the first ones to have difficulty living “by faith.”

    Oh, and I may have to quote you on Sunday when I speak on Mk. 8…

    February 17, 2011
    • Yes, there is some comfort in being a part of a long line of wonderers…

      February 17, 2011
  3. Paul Johnston #

    A charismatic relationship helps a lot. Exegesis is like knowing about women and children. Being with the Spirit is like having a wife and kids. I think St. Paul was just stinkin’ with charisms.

    February 17, 2011
  4. Larry S #

    Ryan wrote: ”By faith” can sometimes seem like a head-in-the-sand, fingers-in-my-ears approach to faith and life that refuses to face things honestly and seems destined, at some point, to founder on the rocks of reality

    That reminds me of what I saw Archie Bunker say years/years ago = faith means believing something you know isn’t true. For years i thot that sentence came from the writers of the TV show, later learned it came from Samuael Clemens.

    I agree – faith – points to trusting that there is a living God who transcends our ability to comprehend. Contra Archie + Sam, faith isn’t based on ostrich-like behaviour/thinking. It is based on the empty tomb and the rich narrative upon which that reality rests.

    February 18, 2011
    • It is based on the empty tomb and the rich narrative upon which that reality rests.

      Well said, Larry. I couldn’t agree more.

      February 18, 2011
  5. Paul Johnston #

    I think we need more of a “psalmist” disposition with regards to our faith relationship. Whether it be joyful praise or mournful lament, God’s reality and His dominion are never questioned, never doubted. The inescapable truth of our heritage is that God is perfect and true. With Him only love, grace and life abound. What we suffer we suffer for His glory, a glory that we will soon share with Him, or as a consequence of our collective sin. A sin he always endures in His person, the eternal salvic grace of Calvary, and is always seeking to mediate and remedy within our hearts, should we seek forgiveness.

    In spite of sufferings provocation, it is a great evil for us to question either Gods’ reality or His intentions. That is damnation.

    February 20, 2011
    • And yet… Job questioned God’s intentions and was (alone) said to have spoken rightly about God, while his “comforters,” who spoke loudly and confidently about God’s reality and intentions, were rebuked.

      (Of course, a “psalmist” disposition is a good and admirable thing.)

      February 20, 2011
      • Paul Johnston #

        Well, I think Job disowns all he has said and repents in dust and ash before he is reckoned to have spoken wisely. Perhaps the same might have been true for Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had they done the same…”Who can know the mind of God?”

        I do tend to speak, “loudly” and probably with more confidence than I should but I tend to think that Job agrees with me. He confesses to God his intellectual impotence and simply revels in the relationship.

        February 20, 2011
      • I think we are more or less referring to the same reality here—what Ken has described as having a “wide latitude to explore the negative side of our relationship with God.” I was certainly not advocating disbelief or lack of faith or anything like that in the post or in my reference to Job (although I am open to Job’s “speaking rightly” incorporating more than just his repentance).

        February 21, 2011
    • Ken #

      It is unclear what the passage means to which Ryan referred here.

      Job repented, even while not getting an answer any of us can understand. In addition, it is implied that Job cursed God in his heart, just not with his lips, although he almost did that too, or virtually did, when he cursed the day he was born. Nevertheless, God heard his complaint and he was rewarded doubly.

      The lamentations in the Psalms and other books show us that we have wide latitude to explore the negative side of our relationship with God. As Paul notes, there is no hint of disbelief or lack of faith in a lament, and none in Job. A lament, like praise, comes from the gut or not at all. It is an expression of faith.

      February 20, 2011
      • Paul Johnston #

        It would be better if I say” judge God’s intentions”. Anything else sounds offensive to the modern ear. But what do we say of Abraham? God asks his only son from him as a holocaust. Father must slaughter his only son as sacrifice. Abraham remains unquestioningly obedient. Only God’s intervention prevents the killing. Abraham is blessed abundantly, perhaps unlike no other…”and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing-all this because you obeyed my command.”

        February 21, 2011
  6. Paul Johnston #

    And then there is the story about the, “handmaid of the Lord”.

    February 21, 2011
  7. Paul Johnston #

    Yes, I think you are right Ryan there is more agreement than disagreement in our positions. Nor do I now or ever mean to challenge your faith commitment, or even less your understanding..your “some smart” guy… though I do get excited at times and it can sure seem like I do.

    Perhaps in the future we could explore together the supernatural imperative of our belief. Sometimes I get discouraged, to put it mildly :), with Christian apologetic. We seem to avoid references to the supernatural so as not to be considered as you might put it, an irrational, “fingers in the ears” community of people. Or worse yet delusional, lunatics capable of the worst sorts of pathologies. At times modern exegete’s deeply offend my understanding because they seem to wish to contain and explain our God within the bounds of human history, within the bounds of human reason.

    At least with our friend, Ken’s approach and the appropriation of myth, liberal theology offers some kind of consistency, some kind of answer. But what do we say to those of us like me, like you, like many, many others who literally believe that God spoke to Abraham, that God spoke to Moses, that an angel appeared to Mary, the Blessed Virgin. That Jesus did die and was resurrected.

    Does the promised advocate, the Holy Spirit, exist? Is this supposed Holy Spirit actively participating in our true destiny? What do we say?

    Sometimes I think we are our own worst enemy.

    February 21, 2011
    • Does the promised advocate, the Holy Spirit, exist? Is this supposed Holy Spirit actively participating in our true destiny? What do we say?

      I say, “yes.”

      I would be happy to “explore together the supernatural imperative of our belief,” but I’m not entirely clear what you mean by this.

      February 21, 2011
      • Paul Johnston #

        I think, in part, you have answered your own question. Saying yes to the existence of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s active participation in our true destiny, is affirming the supernatural imperative. Put another way, apart from the Holy Spirit there is nothing we can learn, sufficient in of itself, to bring us to our purpose. There is no science, there is no philosophy, there is no human understanding that fulfills us. It is only our understanding of the Holy Spirit that will do so. If this is so, then our overriding concern is to identify and co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

        The question then becomes, how do we do so? Is the Holy Spirit something we can point to tangibly? Is it something we can observe through empirical study? How do we come to know it?

        February 21, 2011
      • Ken #

        In my own experience, as I can tell it is in Paul’s, the presence of God in the Roman Catholic Church is palpable. Coming from a liberal background, my tendency is to blur the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, which is to say to not admit the existence of the supernatural and yet hold that there is something about what it is natural for which the word “God” is relevant. But in the Roman Catholic Church the presence of God is known in such a palpable way, in a way so extraordinary that it is hard to find a better word for it than “supernatural,” unless the word is “immanence.” I imagine this is what Paul is thinking about.

        February 21, 2011
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Maybe I can put it forward in a less dramatic fashion. I think if we don’t better embrace and articulate the supernatural, then we risk making the discussion the exclusive domain of atheists and fundamentalists.

    February 21, 2011
    • I think if we don’t better embrace and articulate the supernatural, then we risk making the discussion the exclusive domain of atheists and fundamentalists.

      1). Who is “we?” Do you think that this is common risk in conversations on this blog?

      2). In your view, what does “embracing and articulating the supernatural” look like?

      February 21, 2011
      • Paul Johnston #

        1(a). We as Christians. (b) I am not sure what you are saying here. If it is “common risk” for Christians then it ought to be worthy of conversation anywhere Christians might speak.

        2. Conversion. The turning away from….from the ways of the world to be guided by the ways of the Holy Spirit. Through prayer, meditation, contemplation, fasting, disciplined lifestyles and any other medium you can think of.

        February 21, 2011
  9. This is all well and good, Paul, but I can’t help but wonder why (or if) you are recommending conversion to a lifelong follower of Jesus. I also find it strange that you seem to consider it necessary to convince me that there is a “supernatural” dimension to the Christian life.

    Maybe I’m misreading you here. Maybe you’re just saying all of us, as Christians, need to be continually reminded of these things, or to consider how we might continue to learn and grow into these realities. If so, we are in complete agreement.

    February 21, 2011
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Your suspicions are unfounded. 🙂 You simply asked me what embracing the supernatural might look like. I would say though that conversion is a lifelong process for most. I cannot speak for you but mine is certainly in need of deepening, of drawing closer to the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Of better reconciliation between thought, action and experience.

    I would also add that with regard to reasoned understandings of our faith you, Ken, James and others have been a great source of enlightenment for me. You have strengthened my faith. To the extent I am able, I try to offer a more secure and established culture for you to either draw from or participate in. Much of Protestant Christianity is fragmenting and fading. The Catholic experience is a valuable tool from which to learn. Further I think I have spiritual intuitions/gifts of the spirit that you and others might benefit from. From my point of view if we do not dialogue to affirm what we know of Christ, to strengthen one another in faith, we are settling for too little.

    February 22, 2011
    • Thanks for the clarification, Paul. I could not agree more enthusiastically with your last sentence.

      February 22, 2011

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