“Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.” Soren Kierkegaard
Last night I had taken to the idea of charity in the broadest sense and how that related to the virtue of fortitude (or in modern terms…. love and its relationship to courage.) But as I read through Tillich, a friend’s blog, Pope Benedict, Erich Fromm, and a book that gave a nutshell approach to the West’s great thinkers, I was brought to think of the Apostle Paul’s “abiding things.”
Fromm states the problem with the 19th century was God is dead and the problem with the 20th century is man is dead. It is important to know that he is talking in a symbolic way. He is saying nothing other than when we negated our spirituality, we set ourselves down the course of negating ourselves.
That is really the malaise of our time. The 20th century sickness has not abated. Why we thought we could at once cleave our spirituality free from our lives and keep our lives, I do not know. But the result is now obvious.
Paul did say three things abide. Love, despite how confused we may be about it, is the one we still believe in and it is here we should start. For it is in the willingness to believe in love that we find faith. In fact the Christian proclamation depends on a faith born in this love and this is no esoteric thing, for the universal always reveals itself in the particular.
God could have willed His salvation in a generic and universal way, but such a thing could not produce faith, for we are too finite to know the Infinite. We are too much about becoming to know Being itself and faith is about turning the finite and the becoming toward the Infinite Being. Salvation, therefore, had to start in a real place rooted in a real time.
We know this love story, but do we ponder on its tremendousness? Many reduce it to a not uncommon Roman execution, but that horrible accounting is not the love part of the story. It is true we must have our faith placed in that scandal, but that which motivates the faith is the great sacrifice of the man Jesus. That sacrifice was not simply the execution itself, but everything that becomes the salific act on the cross. It was His willingness to give up life in its totality and to forgive those whom he should have no reason to forgive (and these are us) that brings us to the life of faith. It was these acts which make for us the man Jesus, the Savior Christ. Here in the palpable actions that the finite can understand, we are turned to the Infinite and have our faith in the Risen Christ.
It is faith in this Infinite love revealed in the scandal of the cross to which the Christian clings. And when we find that faith impossible, we are given yet another of God’s good gifts that it may be found. (“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Hebrews11:1)
We give hope a short shrift, but when thought of, we cannot deny its giftedness. Thought about, do we have any reason to believe that hope is merely a thing born in ourselves? No it cannot be for it is too far removed from that which is hoped for to originate in ourselves. We use the word in the little ways….I hope to be promoted, I hope he asks me out, I hope to do well on the exam, I hope the audit goes well, I hope the market bounces back. But these things are all things seen and can originate in ourselves. The finite being can have the small hope for finite things, but in the greater sense, the hope for union with the Infinite revealed in the Risen Christ cannot come from ourselves. It is a hope that is given by the Wholly Other and that comes to us as revelation in particular ways. As we are not the originators of this hope, we have reason to believe in it, for how else would the thing even be born in us? And when we are open to that hope, that which does not originate within us but is given to us, then faith is born.
Image: Unity Cross, Gwen Meharg