September 26, 2003
The gift of faith
Tom cogently responds, here and here, to David's objections to "the faith thing" in the comments to this post. I should add, though, that what really bothers me about this, and I suspect bothers David also, is the moralism carried along with the faith thing. If faith is a "gift of God," it sounds like: if God gifted you with faith you'll get to heaven, but if you're not so lucky you'll burn in hell and there ain't squat you can do about it.
Different Christian sects have dealt with this issue in different ways. Some say, well, everybody deserves hell anyway, so don't complain about it (a viewpoint I personally despise). Some assert that God actually does make himself known to everybody somehow, and if they say otherwise they're in denial about it (which strikes me as arrogant). Some go for universalism, some for annihilationism (the unsaved will simply crumble to dust, as atheists generally expect they'll do anyway). Some just trust God to do the right thing, whatever it is.
In the case of Catholicism I gather this led to the theory of limbo. As Telford put it when we were talking about this: "Actually, if you read about limbo in Catholic literature, it's really a nice place. I mean, it's not heaven, but it's better than L.A.!"
Posted by Camassia at September 26, 2003 09:54 AM
Regardless of the doctrine of whatever church you care to discuss, I believe that the gospels make it clear that salvation, while it is ultimately a gift from God, is something that needs to be worked at and prepared for, if it is going to happen for any given individual.
Jesus said that we must rid ourselves of attachments to the world and strive to be perfect: we must pick up our cross and live in imitation of him.
Grace is that without which there would be no hope of our succeeding in this: it offers an opportunity that is not a guarantee.
As far as I know, Limbo was just a theologian opinion, never a doctrine.
Quote Germaine Grisez on faith:
Faith is more than a human act; it requires a divine gift, infused at baptism...Vatican II teaches that "the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist" faith, while the same Spirit by his gifts "constantly brings faith to completion". Thus faith is both a human act and a divine gift.
This will sound like a cop-out, but I believe an infinitely fair God will do what is infinitely fair. Trust isn't my forte, but if there is anyone worthy of trust I figure it is God.
The Lutheran understanding of the distinction between Law and Gospel is very helpful here. The question as to why some don't believe is answered by the Law and points to that person's own responsibility. The question as to why some believe is answered by the Gospel and points to God's election.
Faith is left as pure gift and with its sure, unshakable source in the will of God. Meanwhile, there's no need to hold to the disconcerting and unscriptural Calvinist election to damnation.
The problems result when we try to turn the two questions into one. That "confuses" Law and Gospel.
I don't think most Christians realize how they sound to outsiders when it comes to the hubris inherent in the way they talk about being saved. I mean, as an extremely agnostic person (by which I mean that although upon death I would not be shocked to find out that there is a God up there, I also wouldn't be shocked to find the Greek gods in charge, or Mother Nature personified, or just nil) there is nothing I talk about to other people which I speak about with such intrinsic judgment of the other.
What I mean is, it seems impossible for a religious person to talk about being saved without implying that they are better than you. However you see it, they are saying that there is something about them (whether it's just that God has gifted them, or that they have worked and struggled and striven for it) that is worthy of something they consider overridingly vital - and you don't have it. Even if they are "kind" and consider you simply not to have reached that point yet, they are still assuming that they've got something that you haven't.
This is the kernel of what drives me crazy about Christianity: this implication that my life is not being lived to the full, or lacks value in some way, because I have not come to the same conclusion about the way the universe works that you have. Or my goodness is not as good as your goodness. Personally, I think some people are just hard-wired for faith and some are not; that like being musical, some have a knack for it and some don't. But that doesn't mean we should all strive to be musical; we all have different gifts. I think faith is a wonderful thing for people who have it, but my life feels complete to me being focused merely on things like caring for those I love, being generous to those I don't, stretching myself mentally, and trying to live within the center of my moral compass.
And here I'm sure that some of the saved are shaking their heads and saying, "Ah, you think you're complete, but if you were saved then you'd really know what completeness was." Well, maybe that's true for them. And maybe I'm wrong and they're right. But I think an awful lot of Christians confuse recognition of the word of God with knowing the truth themselves. Maybe God's word is the truth and is infallible; but they're not, frankly, and I don't think they're in a position to judge their fellow man, including me, about religious convictions or lack thereof. Surely it is for God to judge whether I've lived a worthy life, and whether my belief in Jesus or lack thereof matters - not anyone else.
Jesus admonishes his followers never to make a public display of their piety. He tells them that they should go into their room and shut the door to pray, and not to toot their own horn in front of the synagogue like the hypocrites. Jesus also preached against pride, which would include spiritual pride, I think.
It is, in fact, difficult for me to even reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the concept of "church", as it has come down to us. He said something like "Where ever two or three of you come together, I am with you." This is what I believe that Jesus meant by "church".
So, I hear you.
On the other hand, though, why should ostentacious Christians cause you any degree of resentment? I try to just ignore people who claim to have something that I don't want: they always go away.
Thanks for your comments, Rob. And indeed, why am I posting to the blog when the whole thing is, in a sense, not my business? I had no problem ignoring "ostentatious Christians" (hee hee!) in California - there were so few of them. It's a lot harder in North Carolina. I think my post was the result of two years of keeping my mouth shut!
Everybody who hasn't just given up is looking for something, I think. I have found most of the people who are posting to this site to be well worth talking to and listening to. We don't always agree with each other, but there seems to prevail a tacit agreement that exchange is growth. I'm just a guest here, like you--but I'm glad that you dropped by.
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