My faith still holds…

I was a church this morning and as one of the singers was singing, the words of the song made me think. I don’t remember the exact words but the gist of the song was that even when the Lord didn’t move the mountains the singer wishes were moved or calm the sea they wish were calmed, they would still trust in God. In the absence of affirming evidence and what seems like evidence to the contrary, the singer would have “faith”.

Even after all these years of walking with my Lord  I asked myself the obvious question (because that’s  the way He made me). Clearly it is a convenient  coincidence that Christianity requires this kind of deference to “God’s will”. If He answers a particular prayer or if He chooses not to answer a particular prayer in the way we would like or expect, from a doctrinal perspective the result is the same – we must trust in Him.

So can I know I am not deceived,  that what I believe makes sense?

I think I can know and I think it does make sense, and this is why.

From a purely secular perspective, hope is better than despair and love is better than hate. We all know hope and love make our experience of life better. We are healthier and more likely to see and exploit opportunity. If we understand we are not totally self sufficient, it is easier to learn (since we realize we don’t already know it all). Even our disappointments and defeats can ultimately improve our lives if we will let them. Nobody wants to be around someone who has always gotten their way or never had to overcome hardship. We call those people spoiled. So the attributes of life I desire (found in Galatians 5:22-23) are what we generally think of as “good”.

So how would my behavior be different if I chose not to believe? Would it be better or worse?

Ideally my behavior would not change for the reasons mentioned above, only the justification changes. I may choose a different religion or none at all. Since a different religion would just be a different deception let us leave that aside for the moment. Therefore the question boils down to whether I should have faith in something external to myself or should my choices be based in myself, my discernment, my ability to judge.

Since the question of my behavior is focused on my interactions with other beings (even God), basing that behavior on myself seems logically inconsistent. That is, it does not make sense, it seems to me this is the deception.

So faith in God is consistent with the life I desire, a good life. It should also be obvious that requiring trust in the absence of experience to the contrary is part and parcel of how faith is made real.

I therefore confidently sing with the psalmist…

“I gladly place my trust in things I can not see
My faith still holds on to the Christ of Calvary.”

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My Redeemer

“If God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen?”

The Lord Jesus Christ is my redeemer. What that means is that He is my rescuer, my savior. There is a sense of recovery in that meaning so we may think of Christ as buying back, or fixing what we have broken.

We are created with the capacity to choose and our choices are often bad, leading to bad behavior, a bad environment and bad health.

When we find ourselves in this situation we may expect the same thing the Jews expected 2000 years ago. A powerful king who will ride in and prevent the evil of the world from occurring. Who will prevent us from hurting and killing one another, who will prevent us from getting sick or injured.

Oddly enough we don’t usually expect that same powerful  king to require our fealty, our submission and obedience, that is we are unwilling to relinquish our right to choose.

Fortunately what we get is a Redeemer, who buys back the result of our bad choices. The choices are made, but the game is changed. Death is swallowed up in victory. When Christ rose from the dead and redeemed eternity He provided hope for the pain, faith for the loss and confidence in the result. This savior who gave His life for us elicits our fealty precisely because He did not require it.

Now, life after death cannot be proven, anymore than it can be refuted. So, coincidentally(?) it boils down to a choice. We can choose to let our choices be redeemed or we can choose not to, but it is just a choice, like any of the other choices we are required to make. And we are required to choose because the choice is to stay as we are or change.

If we would make an informed choice we can look at the likely outcomes. If we choose to believe, we choose hope, we choose faith, we choose purpose and meaning, we choose love. In a word we choose life.

If we will not believe we ultimately choose to reject those things. If there is no life after death, then this world and life are all there is. If this life is all there is then god does NOT have ultimate power. When innocent people die by the hand of the wicked it makes Christ a liar when He says, not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul.

In that case the best we can hope for is a godless universe, because a god that cannot redeem is just someone else who can kill us. Hope in a godless universe is false, faith is meaningless, love is precluded, death is assured, we are choosing death.

As Pascal observed if we choose death in a universe where there is a living Redeemer we have lost everything. If we choose life in a godless universe we have lost nothing.

The living God admonishes us: Choose life.

Posted in Christian, Christian walk, death, Faith, Meaning of Life | 2 Comments

Does Love require Faith?

I started this post a few years ago but am finishing it now because of the post Walking by Faith which I shared with my pastor. The question I started working on here was “does Love require Faith” (and by extension Hope)?

After my pastor read the post he sent me a link to another in the same vein by someone with far better credentials. In that post the writer goes on to speak of the preeminence of love as declared in the second part of I Corinthians 13:13. The author states, “Paul can imagine faith without love but not love without faith”. I believe this is based on verse 2 of the same chapter: “…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” and verse 7 which states both faith and hope are inherent attributes of love. The Greek words for “believes” and “hopes” in this verse are the same words used in verse 13 to describe the eternal things, “Faith” and “Hope” .

So Verses 2 and 7 combine to validate the statement about what the Apostle Paul can imagine and in so doing answers the question of this post (Yes, Love requires Faith).

Some may say this reasoning is circular (it is not – we are not proving the Bible with the Bible we are using the Bible to answer a question). So let us consider this a different way.

Many years ago my wife and I were traveling in Germany. We were asked by a cab driver how we liked Germany and we naturally said we “loved it”. His reply, “You Americans ‘love’ everything. You don’t love it, you love each other, you merely like Germany”, was a lesson to both of us.

So lets be sure we agree about what love means, what we expect it to mean.

I think we should be able to agree that love is not need or selfish desire. I may need and desire food, but I can’t really love it.  Things I consume on myself like power or money may thrill me, but I do not love them. Love, as I believe most people understand it, involves interaction with others, and in fact is focused outwardly from our ourselves. (1)

Another key point is that love, by virtue of this outward focus, may not be a transaction i.e. purchased. That means I cannot love you because of what you do for me. I may like and enjoy your company but this can only be a by-product, an effect, never a cause. We understand this with parents and children(2). Another way to think about this is to recognize we universally agree love cannot be bought or sold. This means love may be reciprocated but it cannot depend on that reciprocation.

Another aspect of what we expect of love is found in time, or rather in endurance. Simply stated, “Love lasts”. I love my child or my sibling or my spouse because of who they are, not what they do. I don’t fall in and out of love with them, I love them because I have chosen to love them (3). If I subsequently choose to not love them that calls into question the reality of the original choice.

The thing most likely to trip us up is the fact that real desire is a fundamental part of love. Love desires goodness toward the loved. The world does generally agree what is meant by “goodness“, so we may say love wants to participate in providing peace, fulfillment  and well being to the loved. Said another way, “Love cares”.

Having identified what it is we are referring to when we say “love” there are at least two immediate reasons we can identify that demonstrate why love requires faith.

First, we have to believe it exists. It seems that the idea of a selfless enduring commitment is the stuff of fairy tails to many people. If we don’t believe love exists we will not be capable of it, nor will we be able to recognize it if we were to receive it.

Second, we must believe it matters. Essentially there can be no such thing as love without caring and we cannot care if we don’t believe it makes any difference (from here we may see Hope waiting in the wings). I think this follows from the idea of “goodness” which makes a value distinction between things. Because love requires effort (caring), the conviction of its value and impact on the loved needs to be there to activate/motivate/stimulate love. At the nub of it we must believe the one being loved is worth it.

This is where it can get confusing. We have already established that love cannot be a transaction (it is not earned) but we are claiming love is linked to the worth of the one being loved because of value. The answer is in the nature of love, the value we recognize cannot be self centered, that is the value of the loved is not merely their value to me (which may be prodigious), their value must be apart from me. Otherwise what we feel is not love if we have accurately described it.

The question then becomes what gives anyone value apart from their value to another person? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question: “What is the meaning of life”?

Two things should be clear at this point. We must believe there is a meaning to life and we must believe there is value in that meaning if we are to give real love.

It seems obvious to me that in order to receive the kind of love worth having (or give that kind of love) requires the lover have the self sacrificial love that can only come from faith. Anything else is dust and delusion.

 

  1. While it is true we must able love ourselves to love another, loving ourselves is never the point.
  2. To be clear I may be attracted to you because I like you but the transition to love is and must be more than that. The argument that I love my children because they mean the continuation of my genes (transaction) misrepresents what love is – it is an argument that denies the existence of love. The sad truth is not every parent loves their children. This is a higher order function. It is acceptable to sell puppies it is not acceptable to sell babies.
  3. The importance of choice to love is hard to overstate. Love must be given (chosen), it cannot be coerced or compelled. This is another reason why selfish desire (compulsion) must not be confused with love.
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Walking by Faith

In church recently we sang the famous hymn “It is Well With My Soul”  by Horatio Spafford, circa 1873. As we got to the last chorus, the words “And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight…” started me thinking.

It seems to me there is a common misunderstanding that once we “get to Heaven” we won’t need Faith any more because then we will “see” what we have been believing in.

I don’t think it works that way – and this is why…

One of my most favorite passages from the Bible is: I Corinthians 13:13 ” And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -NIV. The word “μένει” (translated “remain”) here conveys a sense of permanence. This word is translated in the NLT as “last forever”. This is consistent with the context of the preceding passages which talk about the things that will “pass away” making clear the idea that these three will not “pass away”.

The implication is that Faith will continue for eternity (in Heaven). This is also consistent with more of the preceding verses which specifically speak of “seeing face to face” and “knowing fully” as we are known, i.e when we “see” Christ.

As we think about it, it should be clear that Faith, Hope and Love must continue in eternity to keep Heaven from becoming Hell. Eternity without Hope seems like the very definition of Hell, and it is hard to imagine a substantive Hope without Faith.

If it is true then that Faith will continue even after we “see” Him, then we may need to reconsider what it is we mean by Faith, and what “seeing” Him means.

C.S. Lewis wrote “Seeing is not believing” very early in his book “Miracles”. He went on to explain (far better than I, but in a nutshell) we interpret what we “see” through what we believe.  This is where it gets tricky. We believe things based on our experience with our senses i.e. what we “see”. To break the logic loop we may conclude that what we believe is both subjective and objective. That is, the subjectivity of our senses combined with the objectivity of shared experience. My experience is that the sun comes up every morning and this is mostly true for everyone. I believe this new day to be a gift from God, but not everyone “sees” it like that.

To bring this back around we need to be subjectively open to the perception of Christ (which requires Faith) to be objectively able to  receive the external corroboration of the experience [So great a cloud of witnesses…]. There is no context to share the experience of sunrise with someone who has not “seen” it. Christ Himself says, before raising Lazarus, “…if you believe, you will see…” (not as the chief priests and scribes said “…that we may see and believe.”). Our own experience teaches us this relationship is true just as Mr. Lewis argues (and so the reasoning is not cyclical).

So Faith is not just “believing”, it is a fundamental change in perspective that permits us to “see” things differently (for extra credit consider Job 42:5) . While there is a progression of Faith, we do not suddenly (or ever) stop “walking by faith” because we may now “walk by sight”. On the contrary, when we experience the truth of what we believe, our Faith is made stronger. The exercise of a walk of faith becomes the perception that guides our feet. Faith is not replaced by sight, sight is subsumed by Faith.

So “faith shall be sight” does not mean we no longer need faith, I think the better reading is we no longer need sight.

 

 

 

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Hell and Grace

The idea of judgement (eternal or otherwise) is rooted in the belief that God is Just, that Justice exists (right and wrong are real). The living may repent (learn) the dead may not. The downside is the wicked suffer in Hell forever (assuming we are eternal, which I believe follows from right and wrong being real. The logic of this is left as an exercise for the reader).

When you stop and think however, it seems that Eternal Damnation is an awfully steep price to pay. I mean, how many people does someone have to kill and how horribly do they have to suffer in the process to justify that killer suffering forever in Hell?  If you think about how long eternity is you must begin to wonder how anyone can really be bad enough for Hell? If it’s a matter of equity (justice) shouldn’t it take eternity to earn eternal damnation?

The flip side of this is that it should also take eternity to earn eternal blessedness (Heaven). Since we don’t have eternity to earn the eternal reward (and it seems most of us are better at earning in the other direction anyway) it should quickly become clear that we can’t earn it. If we can’t be bad enough for Hell we can’t be good enough for Heaven.

This is precisely what the Bible teaches. Men are not consigned to Hell or graced with Heaven because of how good or bad they are. Jesus Christ has earned Heaven for us all if we will believe it and accept it. The only line drawn between Heaven and Hell is the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ of God.

This is entirely consistent with a God of Love, as the One True God must be. The Righteous God of Love has made a way (The Way) for us, to do what we could not do on our own (in our limited lifetimes). But, like God, love cannot be forced it must be received, which implies it may be rejected.

If we will not accept (receive the gift) that God, as the only one who could, has earned us an eternity at the source of Faith, Hope and Love, then how can we get there? And if we can’t get there where else can we go? More to the point, how would that place be different from Hell?

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Placebo

Faith works, but that may lead to a conundrum.

The fact that faith works is pretty well known. Medical practitioners have used this knowledge for centuries. Clinical studies of medications have routinely had to account for the impact of faith in their research. Some people see results even from a placebo. This is not necessarily bad and ideas and research concerning the beneficial impact of a positive attitude abound.

So we know our faith can have a positive impact in our lives, help us to overcome catastrophes, make us healthier and happier even better human beings, but can we have any assurance those benefits are not merely the side effects of a placebo?

I believe the answer to this question (like so many others) may be found in the Bible, and that answer is yes.

The Bible is among other things a book of histories. It tells the stories of people and places and the intrusion of the divine into the lives of men. These histories were written (even by conservative estimates) over the course of a millennium over two millennia ago. We are instructed in those accounts to remember. From Moses instructing the Jews to commemorate the day of Passover to Christ instructing his disciples at the Last Supper. We are to remember events that occurred in time and space when God intruded in human affairs. Our faith is based on the most significant of those events, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It does require faith to trust that because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are loved and accepted by the Holy Creator of the universe. That God did for us what we could not do ourselves.

But that faith is not a belief in ideas, it is a belief in events. We believe the accounts of things that happened as recorded by men inspired by His spirit.

It is one thing to discount the witness of a single person or even a relatively small sample of the population. It is quite another to discount a history of people expressing a common message over thousands of years.

A placebo has no power but belief, but Christian faith is based on the demonstrated power of God in history.

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Why Faith?

Have you ever wondered why God requires faith?

It seems awfully convenient for someone to say we just need faith when we really need help and don’t see any coming from on high. When all we can do is echo the Psalmist’s cry, “Why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Is it because there is no god there? If we accept that answer it means none of the things we anguish over the questions behind the question really matter.

Either man has a purpose (i.e. he is a created being) or he does not. If he has a purpose there is a creator. If he does not have a purpose the universe is just a machine. There is no good or evil in a machine, but neither is there hope or love. As long as we believe there are such things as hope, love, good and evil we must face the fact that the universe is not just a machine, man has a purpose (i.e. he is a created being) and there is a creator (God) who has defined that purpose.

A point of clarification may help. Faith is not just belief, faith is belief with trust. That’s the hard part. Consider the difference between conviction (i.e. something I am convinced of enough to inspire action) and faith (i.e. belief with trust). I am still in control with conviction, but I must yield control with faith.

It goes back to purpose and creation.

If God is good (and He must be), any purpose for His creation must also be good. Obviously mankind does not always behave in a manner consistent with a good purpose. This disconnect is referred to as “the fall” (though I prefer to think of it as “the rebellion”), and the events are described in the book of Genesis in chapter 3.

It says there the serpent told Eve, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” That was not a lie, it was a half truth. We did become like God knowing good and evil, but we did not become like God knowing the end from the beginning.

As a result we are capable of judging (compelled to do so), but we are not competent for the task because we don’t have all the information.

It was the knowledge of good and evil that killed us all, but the rebellion is the root of the problem. The rebellion is what drives the compulsion to take the place of God and judge because we have the conviction we know what’s best (not to be confused with exercising our judgement to discern what God thinks is best – He gave us minds and we are supposed to use them).

When I raise my own understanding above the knowledge of God, I continue the rebellion and set myself as god and judge. Faith (belief with trust) is required to end the rebellion and it’s hard because it means I have to give up a confidence based on my own judgement/understanding and trust God for my assurance.

If we think about it there really isn’t any other way. Without faith I am rendered incapable to end the rebellion and relinquish my claim to the throne.

Rightly judging myself inferior to God still leaves me the judge.

It isn’t that God doesn’t care or is capricious with our cares. The righteous live by faith because they have too. It turns out we can’t submit to God, as God, without faith. If we can’t submit to God we can’t fulfill our purpose – to love Him and our neighbor as ourself.

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