Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Mere intellectual consent. . .

Though I grew up in an age when faith was often described as an intellectual consent to a series of truth propositions, I am more and more convinced that faith suffers even as much when we make it merely an intellectual activity as it does when we consign it merely to the realm of feelings or emotion.  I do not believe it is possible to reason someone into the Kingdom of God anymore than it is possible to feel your way into the Kingdom.

We live in a world in which we think reason has come to dominate.  At one point that might have been true.  For now, emotion is giving reason a good run for its money.  Though we want faith to fit neatly into a reasoned box that appeals to our intellect and solves all the riddles, we are left with a faith that requires trust from hearts incapable of rendering such trust.  Thus the Spirit must intervene through the agency (primarily) of the Word.  On the other hand, we might want faith to tie up all the loose ends of our feelings in such a way that it solves for us the problem of happiness.  The problem here is that our feelings are not a secure ground for anything -- not even self-love much less the love for another and not even close for love of God.  Faith does not appeal to either reason or to the feelings of the heart.  It goes further than any human wants to go and it is formed, led, and brought to maturity by the Spirit alone (working through the means of grace).

Our creation in the image of God has alternately been described as the endowment of reason and feeling.  There may be something to this but even more than these is the bestowal of the eternal, the transcendent, as the pivotal factor of human existence.  We look around us at the world in which we live and we look in the mirror to see ourselves and what we look for is not simply what is there, but that to which it points.  It is the common condition of humanity that we search for meaning in what we see and what we feel.  Not simply explanation or understanding, but the transcendent meaning is the ultimate pursuit of our nobility, distorted by sin but not completely erased.  

I recall a line from an old movie in which a cyclops was enlisted to help in the cause of saving the world.  He had only one eye, the movie script said, because in a bargain with the evil spirits he traded away one eye in order to see the future.  It was a terrible deal.  The only future he could see was his own death.  That is exactly what happened in Eden.  Man traded away the eternal for the future assigned to him by his act of rebellion and the consequence of that terrible eating.  Our reason searches for the eternal and our feelings long to rest in the promise of the everlasting but to no avail.  We see only our death and with it we are left with despair and crippling fear and anxiety.  That is, until the Holy Spirit builds within us faith to see without eyes and feel without hearts the wondrous mystery of what God has done to deliver us from our own choice.

Awe, wonder, reverence, and mystery are all the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit and without the Spirit we are left with puzzles to be solved, questions that seek answers, a homey atmosphere to let it all hang out, and a reasoned path to happiness.  The Lord has given to the Church the means of grace that all are transcendent -- they are the efficacious symbols that deliver what they sign but they also point beyond themselves (even as they fulfill the markers of the past).  What God gives us in faith is what we lost in Eden -- true transcendence.  It comes in the transcendent One who is God in flesh -- as the Athanasian Creed puts it, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into
  What is true of the Lord is also true of those whom the Lord gives the new birth of water and the Spirit.  Christ is not simply the One who knows the transcendent but who makes the transcendent known to us.  The end of us is not the God who fills and fixes the earthly but the mortal who put on immortality and the new heaven and the new earth that has no end.  

It is not simply truth that is our pursuit but the truth that saves, that delivers the mortal to immortality, and that gives to those living in the shadow of death the life death cannot overcome.  It is the transcendent that we lost and the transcendent that Christ restores and with it a vision bigger than Eden and greater than any flesh and blood could hope or dream except the Spirit imagine it for us.

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