Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Faith is about real, concrete reality. . .

One of the great lies and deceptions of the modern quest for spirituality and even the shape of modern Christianity is the attention given to spiritual matters.  It is as if faith is merely about spiritual things and not about real things, the concrete reality whose urgency seems so clear in the world around us.  We get the false idea that life is about real things and faith about things which are, well, less real or, at least, less concrete.

Faith, specifically, the Christian faith is about real things, reality that matters.  If it about life and death.  It is about hope and despair.  It is about truth and falsehood.  There is nothing more real than these things.  A few weeks ago I spent hours with a family whose five year old had died suddenly.  There is no more real death than the unexpected death of a child -- a life stolen from those who expect their children to survive them and, indeed, bury them.  Though our minds are filled with questions in such a devastating loss, answers provide little comfort.  Neither does some vague hope that maybe death is not the end.  What this family wanted was hope as concrete and real as an empty tomb that promises life stronger than death, the presence of the God who bears with them the pain of their loss, and the courage necessary to love their two other boys and restore their lives in some way.  They did not want to hear spiritual talk but begged to know the concrete foundation of our faith in the real events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection -- AND the real, concrete consequences of His work of redemption for them in this terrible hour.

We talk as if hope were merely a spiritual matter.  The sad truth is that the most prescribed medications in America are for problems of depression and despair.  Watch the TV and you see commercials for medicines that may give help to those who feel in the bodies the hopelessness of their hearts and minds, who are paralyzed by this despair, and who have surrendered their lives to the power of depression.  Hope is not a spiritual matter, a little extra we can live without.  Hope is a concrete need and we need a concrete hope to satisfy it.  It is no secret that Scripture attests to the more than 500 who witnessed the risen Lord.  Witnesses to encourage us in a hope which is real.

At Christmas I reminded the assembled congregation (largely folks who seldom attend) that the facts of Jesus' birth are facts that do not change because we believe them nor do they change because we do not believe them.  Christianity is faith not in fiction or dreams but in the consequences of facts and true events.  Like gravity, we can choose to disbelieve but if we walk off a tall building it is the fact that will determine our faith and not whether or not we believe it.  We do not believe in the stable, manger, and Child of Mary to make them true.  We believe in them so that their truth may accrue blessing and benefit to us.  We believe for the consequences for us of what happened and not to make these events true.

The great temptation is to try to neatly divide our lives between the spiritual and real (largely secular) arenas of live.  The lines we draw are made up lines.  We do not believe the spiritual to make them true and we do not live in the domain of the real with occasional holidays in the spiritual.  It is the spiritual reality that shapes and defines us for every aspect of our lives but the spiritual is just as true and factual as the real stuff of jobs and families and illnesses and money and bills.

In the end we have made it seem that life can be lived quite nicely absent faith and that faith merely adds a spiritual dimension to the concrete and ordinary routines of our material lives.  Well, who wants or needs that kind of added extra.  It is as if faith were merely the maraschino cherry added on to an already lush dessert of ice cream, fudge, nuts, and caramel sitting on a double chocolate brownie.  If that is all faith is, a spiritual bonus, then you can keep it.  I do not need a little added extra.  I need something concrete and real to answer the sickness and death that is hidden in that dessert.  I need truth that has consequences and faith than has power.  The Gospel is not something we could live without but shouldn't -- it is the real and concrete life that steps out of the shadows of fear and death to begin here and now the blessed divine life that Jesus came for.  It is the promise of the future already known and lived right now -- in anticipation of its coming.

No, I am weary of those who make faith about spiritual things while life is about real things.  Such a faith is mostly worthless to me.  I need a Christ who knows my real struggles, real sorrows, and real pain.  I need a Savior whose flesh is mortal and whose victory is immortality.  I need a faith rooted in life changing facts true whether I believe them or not but whose consequences make all the difference because I believe in them.  Faith is about real things.  Don't settle for anything less than a real Gospel built upon real facts to make a real difference in real life.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, edifying, uplifting posting. Above all, it is incisive. This is something I have had vague feelings about, but could never define as well as you have. People leaving the church service rarely want to talk about the readings, the sermon, or the Eucharist, because that is part of their spiritual life through which they “suffer” every Sunday. But then it is back to real life with a sigh of relief.

I suspect it also says something about our beliefs with regard to preaching the Law and then the Gospel. In this posting there was not a single passage from Scripture, and I did not sense adherence to the strict Law/Gospel rule. Nevertheless, I am convinced you presented the Word of God. It shows that what may have been the sins of the early Church are not necessarily the sins of the Church today. Certainly our forbearers, even as recently as the Reformation, looked at their life in Christ as the ultimate reality. Our society, on the other hand, has, as you pointed out, divided our spiritual and our secular lives. The Church needs to address this problem with the Law and the Gospel, but we will have to show some ingenuity in searching the Scriptures to find the relevant words, because this is not about killing, or adultery, or coveting.

Thank you.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Obviously not everyone is as excited about this as I am. Here is one way in which the Law of God deals with this problem:

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11:18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates….

It occurs to me that, at the very least, we Christians might consider putting the equivalent of a mezuzah on our door posts. Not for strangers, but to remind our own children of our faith. I am also reminded of a custom I experienced many times in my youth in my Russian Orthodox family: the blessing of the house. Although it is an historic Lutheran practice, we see little of it today.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Here here on the house blessing...

Perhaps if we taught the catechism to our children with the Scriptures and sang the great hymns of the faith with them, a mezuzah has been put on the inside of our doorposts...