Pleasing Faith

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

The prophetic word spoken by Jesus to a thirty-four-year old widow, Marjory Kempe, in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1667 remains ever ancient, ever new: “More pleasing to me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”

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Relying on Something to Be True

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

“So what do you think ‘faith’ is?”

“It’s very simple.  It’s trusting the truth of something or someone based on the evidence available.  You have ‘faith’ that your wife loves you.  That’s not a leap in the dark.  You have good reason to believe it, because of the evidence – how she treats you, what she says to you, the fact that she is still here, and so on.  That’s ‘faith.’  I guess you could replace it with the word ‘trust’; it’s ‘relying on something to be true.’”

Religion Exists in the World

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

This categorization of faith and religion in one box, and facts and truth in another, has a long history which we have already touched upon.  It is a distinction, however, that ultimately doesn’t hold up, because the claims of religion and ethical systems cannot be partitioned off from the real world.  They exist in the world.  They make claims, and assert certain things to be true about the world – and indeed, about the God (or gods) who made the world, and may have some present influence over the world.  These claims are either valid or not; that is, they are true or they are not.  Either there really is an all-just, all-merciful Allah, who rules all events in this world, or there is not.  We may disagree and argue about whether it is true, but it is either true or not.  It’s nonsensical to say that Allah is God of all the world in one breath, and then to allow that he is not in the next.

On what basis, then, can we assess whether a religious system, or any system of thought, is true?  There are endless philosophical debates about questions such as this, but put simply, there are two basic tests that we can apply.

Firstly, we can assess whether a system of belief or philosophy is internally consistent; that is, we can check to see if there are contradictions or internal conflicts bound up within the system itself that render it unlikely to be true…

This brings us to the second test.  The most basic way in which humans have always established or tested the truth of a claim is to compare it (and its consequences) with the world outside the system – that is, to ‘check it against the world and see.’  To the extent that a religion or system of thought makes claims about the world, and events in the world, we can try to see if these claims are externally verifiable, if they can be attested by other sources, and if they give a good account of human experience…

Things are true or they’re not.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they are or not – that is, it’s hard to get enough evidence to tell one way or the other – but at least you can try, and in principle get there.

Not Only to Others

[24] Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

[26] Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

– John 20:24-28

Even after many of the disciples have seen the risen Jesus, they are hiding. They are afraid to be arrested and killed the way Jesus was. Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”

Then he singles out Thomas. Is Jesus yelling at Thomas for his lack of faith? Is He shaming him by repeating his request? I doubt it. Nearly all the other disciples did not believe before they saw the resurrected Christ either.

Jesus is reaching out to his disciple who has been crushed, who is on the brink of despair. He tells him, “Thomas I hear you. I know you. Your faith wavers, but I am the Good Shepherd, and I  leave none of my sheep behind. My grace is for you.”

Next, Jesus tells Thomas, “Do not disbelieve but believe.” Jesus is not asking for general belief. This is not about whether Thomas believes that God exists or that He created the world. Plenty of people believe that. This is not about belief in self or even the strength of  one’s faith. Jesus knows Thomas’s faith is not strong enough. Jesus wants Thomas to believe that He is the Son of God and that he can have eternal life in His name.

Faith is not general. It is specific and personal. The Heidelberg Catechism defines faith as follows:

True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word. At the same time it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.

Do you know that the grace of God is for you? You who are sinful and weak, you who go astray – Jesus died and rose for you! The peace of God is for you!

We go to sleep, and God begins his work.

Working the Angles
Eugene Peterson

Sometimes, still in a stupor, I blunder into the middle of something that is nearly done, and go to work thinking that I am starting it.  But when I do I interfere with what is already far along on its way to completion.  My sincere intentions and cheerful whistle while I work make it no less a blunder and an aggravation.  The sensible thing is to ask, “Where do I fit?  Where do you need an extra hand?  What still needs to be done?”

The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace.  We go to sleep, and God begins his work.  As we sleep he develops his covenant.  We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action.  We respond in faith, in work.  But always grace is previous.  Grace is primary.  We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.  Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day.  Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated.

As this biblical genesis rhythm works in me, I also discover something else: when I quit my day’s work, nothing essential stops.  I prepare for sleep not with a feeling of exhausted frustration because there is so much yet undone and unfinished, but with expectancy.  The day is about to begin!  God’s genesis words are about to be spoken again.

I go to sleep to get out of the way for awhile.

Genesis 22

[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [2] He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” [3] So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. [4] On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. [5] Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” [8] Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 

– Genesis 22:1-8

The Lord instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac was miraculously born to Abraham when he was 100 years old. He is very much the son whom Abraham loves. Yet Abraham obediently takes his son to Mount Moriah and prepares to sacrifice him there.

juan_de_valdes_leal_-_the_sacrifice_of_isaac_-_wga24224But why?  Is Abraham just resigned to the fact that he has to obey God since He’s God? Abraham is aware that Isaac is a gift directly from the Lord. Perhaps, he reminds himself of Job’s words: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b).

I believe Abraham is not driven by resignation, but by hope. Prior to Isaac’s birth, the following exchange between Abraham and God took place in Genesis 17:18-19:

[18] And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” [19] God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

Abraham remembers the promise of God. He knows that God can be trusted. Abraham does not know how God can establish a covenant with Isaac if he is dead.  Abraham does not know how God can establish an everlasting covenant with Isaac’s offspring if Isaac passes away before he even has any offspring.  But Abraham knows that God is not a liar and He will do what He says.  Perhaps God will raise Isaac from the dead.  Perhaps God will provide a sacrificial lamb.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how God does it, but He is certain to fulfill every word.

Faith and Science

Lectures on Calvinism
Abraham Kuyper

Notice that I do not speak of a conflict between faith and science. Such a conflict does not exist. Every science in a certain degree starts from faith, and, on the contrary, faith, which does not lead to science, is mistaken faith or superstition, but real, genuine faith it is not. Every science presupposes faith in self, in our self-7554743_origconsciousness; presupposes faith in the accurate working of our senses; presupposes faith in the correctness of the laws of thought; presupposes faith in something universal hidden behind the special phenomena; presupposes faith in life; and especially presupposes faith in the principles, from which we proceed; which signifies that all these indispensable axioms, needed in a productive scientific investigation, do not come to us by proof, but are established in our judgment by our inner conception and given with our self-consciousness.

Hence it follows that the conflict is not between faith and science, but between the assertion that the cosmos, as it exists today, is either in a normal or abnormal condition. If it is normal, then it moves by means of an eternal evolution from its potencies to its ideal. But if the cosmos in its present condition is abnormal, then a disturbance has taken place in the past, and only a regenerating power can warrant it the final attainment of its goal.

The High Masts of Suffering

Michael Horton

For those who are tied to the high masts of suffering, there is often a fear that is greater than the fear of death. It is the fear of life. It is the fear of the next morning, and the morning after that. In the face of deep despair, the temptation is great to either turn away from God because the suffering is somehow credited to his wrath toward personal sins, or to turn toward him because one knows that he or she is at peace with God.

The Long Road to Forgiveness

Kim Phuc
from NPR’s This I Believe

On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.

ap_nick_ut_pulitzer_prize_image_1972_vietnam_thg_120606_wblog

I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.

Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.

It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.