Friday, June 28, 2013

The Opposite of Faith is...

I'm really starting to get sick of this postmodern world we live in.

Really.

I mean, it has become perfectly acceptable to redefine years of history and tradition and meaning in regards to particular words, phrases and beliefs simply by using rhetorical sleight of hand.

I've pointed out one such dastardly redefining in regards to those who proclaim "The opposite of love is not hate but apathy."  No.  The opposite of love is hate.  Period--no matter how one tries to argue to the contrary.

The latest: The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.

There's a (ahem!) wonderful article seeking to argue just this trite little snippet in this month's Lutheran Magazine.  I'm not sure what's worse--the article, or the fact that the magazine chose to print it.  Now, the author does indeed provide an argument which sounds nice and sweet and sappy: the idea that seeking certainty in doctrine and practice has caused division and strife, and if we would just set all that aside and focus on loving one another, all that stuff would just go away.

Well, what does this guy base this assertion on?

He bases it on the certainty that loving one another will cure such ills--but that is actually beside the point.  There's a deeper theological issue at stake--the author's interpretation of Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Pertinent quotes:

That seems to allow some leeway on the finality on many of our opinions.  I add to this God's words in Job 38 and following.  "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?...Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?"  Then God's comment is one we need to take to heart, "Surely you know."

It ranks with Jesus' "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times...but I say to you..."  (Matthew 5:33-34).  The ancient prophet states it this way: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord."  (Isaiah 55:8)

Is this not a call to humility?  Don't these approaches to our rigidity encourage us to lighten up in our certainties?  A theologian has boldly stated, "The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty."  When we speak as if in ultimate certainty, we are proudly declaring, "I'm right, you are wrong."  We then should remember God's words to Isaiah and to Job and Jesus' words to the Pharisees.
Aside from the horrendous removal of context of these words from Scripture to prove an ideological point, let's first deal with the assumption that Hebrews 11 allows us "some leeway on the finality on many of our opinions."

First off, I don't read opinion in the statement from the writer of Hebrews.  Not at all.  In fact, I see vastly different words:  assurance and conviction.  Assurances and convictions are much more than opinions.  If I have an opinion that God exists, then such a statement is simply a matter of choice.  Believe or not believe--there is little difference between one who does and who does not.

But this is not the case--at all.  A conviction is something much more than an opinion.  It is something much deeper which resides within one's heart and soul.  It is something that links to the core of one's identity and being.  It is not easily renounced or given up.

In Hebrews 11, Christians are encouraged to live with the assurance and conviction that God exists, that Christ is risen from the dead even though they have no visible proof or evidence of such matters.  They are to live their lives following Christ with conviction and hopeful assurance that though the surrounding culture acts one particular way, they are called to a different way of life--a way of life that may face ridicule and even persecution.  This is no simple matter of opinion--it is a matter of living with the certainty of belief in Jesus Christ--a belief and faith which has consequences in life.

Perhaps the quintessential text in showing this is Jesus' meeting with doubting Thomas found in John 20.  In this resurrection story, Thomas doubts that Jesus is raised from the dead.  Jesus eventually reveals Himself to Thomas and saysto him, "Do not doubt but believe."  Now, knowing just a smidge of Greek is important in this matter.  The Greek for faith is pistis.  Funny thing about Greek is that when it wants to show the opposite of something, it simply adds an "a" in front.  So, the opposite of faith in the Greek is apistis.  So, let's do a little bit of word play with this particular saying of Jesus--please remember the context of the statement in John 20.

Jesus says to Thomas, "Do not have certainty, but believe."

Does that even make the slightest bit of sense given the context?  I didn't think so, but there are more than a few who will buy this "wonderful" argument regarding certainty as the opposite of faith.

It's not surprising given the world we live in which seeks relativism instead of Truth.

Oh, but the whole right/wrong thing.  Yeah.  That's really what the author is trying to get at.  The idea that certainty leads to self-righteousness.  Well, let me put just a slight bug in this guy's ear.

If he were really certain that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the resurrected Lord, the second person of the Trinity, then all he need do is point to just a few of Jesus' statements:

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4)

All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.  (Matthew 23:12)

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ (Luke 18:14)

Or this little snippet or two from Paul:

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12:16)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Dealing with right/wrong does not necessarily lead to self-righteousness.  Certainty does not necessarily lead to self-righteousness, especially when actually following Christ's commands and the teachings revealed in Scripture.  In fact, when implemented, they actually lead to humility.

Yet, despite this, there are those who wish to push for redefinition and further movement from orthodox Christian faith.

I am beginning to detest this postmodern world.


22 comments:

Unknown said...

We disagree on this one rev. And I suspect that no amount of back and forth will convince you and I know that I am not likely to change my point of view.

L'chaim

Carl

joda kelly said...

All the to do over something simple. God IS...leave it at that and just get along. It doesn't need to be analyzed..it doesn't need long winded articles of justification. HE is either in one's heart or he's in one's heart and they haven't stopped long enough to see it yet. Simple.

Unknown said...

Oh mercy,
I think I read in a book once, BELIEVE, BE BAPTIZED, AND BE SAVED. Any Thing beyond that is Hyperbole! Personally I don't give a drunken Hophead's tankard about any distinction between Justification and Salvation. Reverend, I suspect there might be more pressing theological issues in TEXAS these days. Oh yeah and the Book I read the aforementioned RX in also admonished people to welcome strangers. Even those who don't look like or talk like, or necessarily Believe the same way we do.

Lord have mercy! It is funny in a peculiar sort of way, I don't seem to recall where hatred, division and fear of the other were
espoused by the protagonists in that book.

Can you help me out here Pastor?

manitou


Kevin Haug said...

Man, wrote this a long time ago. I would really rework this piece today. Same sentiment toward postmodernism applies, but the argument would be totally different.

Kevin Haug said...

There are a couple of things I would like to say to this now given the passing of time:

1. If indeed certainty is the enemy, then the logical conclusion follows that we cannot even be certain that God is love. Not only does one have to hold open the possibility that God is not love; one has to openly declare that God could be full of wrath and anger instead of love. One must also then question every single ethical stance from loving neighbor to love of enemies. After all, what can we hang our hat on? Christianity is necessarily divisive (at least if you take Jesus' words seriously) because it does not back down on truth claims in the least: love your enemy; bless those who persecute you; "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me."

2. The definition of faith must also receive some consideration. Pistis in the Greek can indeed be translated "belief"; however, a much better translation would be "trust." While similar, the two definitions connote two different ideas. I believe that Donald Trump exists. I do not trust him. I can easily believe that God exists. I have a much harder time trusting him. The statement "believe, be baptized, and be saved," is actually better translated "trust, be baptized, and be saved." During the enlightenment, Christianity allowed intellectual assent to the existence of the deity (belief) to supersede trusting in God. You do not trust something that does not exist. Hence, Jesus' admonition in John 20 to Thomas should read, "Do not distrust, but trust." The main question that Christians should be asking these days is, "Who or what do you put your ultimate trust in?"

Unknown said...

Hmmm I think I will stick with the folks of the Oxford Annotated Bible. Just my thoughts on the subject. OK so "Trust" as opposed to "Belief," Gosh Rev. It almost sounds to me like you are trying to pick a fight or "Pick a nit"!

Unknown said...

Remember back in the day when priests were selling indulgences? Remember When Priests lied to their parishioners, leading them to believe that the penitent couldn't go to heaven without appeasing the priest? I would hope that both you and I are way past that fallacy....

Some people still try to play GOD.

Carl

Kevin Haug said...

Oxford is very good at defining. They don't corner the market in translating. The translation should read trust instead of faith or belief. Any good commentary will note this. This is not my opinion or personal thought, but is verified by N.T. Wright, Douglas J. Moo, James D.G. Dunn, Colin Kruse, Everett F. Harrison, James Edwards, Gerhard Kittel, and plenty of others.

Unknown said...

Golly, there you go again Kevin, So Consensus creates Reality? Said the created finite and sinful creatures evaluating their creator...

I feel like a gameshow host, on Who Wants To be a Millionaire
IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER?

Wait just a cotton pickin' minute.
I KNOW that
"Old Man River he don't plant Taters,
He don't Plant cotton, and those that picks em
are soon forgotten....

Maybe you are right, I just repeated what someone told me once.
I Know he was real smart. Maybe you two should compare degrees of smartness, He rode a Harley and taught in The Classics Department at a major University... But he is dead now and can't defend himself. Oh Well, I guess we will never know.

But, trust me Rev, I promise, I won't lose too much sleep over it either way.
Good night, sweet Dreams, and "Jesus watch over, and Keep you!"


L'Chaim!

Kevin Haug said...

Sleep well.

Unknown said...

Gosh darn it, rev, I guess you need to start your own Publishing company that others might more clearly see the err of The Oxford Bibles. Boy oh Boy....There I was, I spent more than a half century under the FALSE assumption that If only I believed nd was baptized I would become a new creation. I think maybe the song they sing in Lutheran churches ought to be updated too. Wow You DO have a really big brain under that STETSON!>

Dog gone it Kevin, You do have a massive task in front of you, Pointing out the err of your very own synod. What was it that Luther said about calling his own mother a Whore?

I forget the exact English Translation of the German quote, but I seem to recall learning something like that in confirmation class.

Best of Luck to ya...

Carl

BTW I slept Very well last night!

Kevin Haug said...

When you take a course in Koine Greek and learn what happens in translating and the fact that there are multiple times when translators can and do interpret things wrong, when you do your own translating and actually consult the commentaries who work with the original Greek, then I will consider your commentary credible.

Unknown said...

Hey Kevin,
This is why you need your own Publishing company!
I MEAN, REALLY! The rest of The world is out there Reading WRONG TRANSLATIONS. This most certainly CAN NOT be a good sign when one looks at the ETERNAL DEPOSITION of one's SOUL! Or are there only 144,000 of you who have PROPERLY read the Greek, OH But I Am Confused, didn't JESUS SPEAK HEBREW? Oh well I am sure you are right again, of course, as usual.
By golly Kev, You know such study would probably cause my brain to seize up... Studying and Learning OT Hebrew, or NT Greek just seems like such a waste of my synapses. I mean really.... I have been blessed with different gifts. In my own particular way, I humbly trust in G*D and seek to be used by HIM, to Magnify and sanctify his HOLY NAME, WORD, and PURPOSE. AMEN!

Kevin Haug said...

Jesus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and probably Greek. If you actually studied anything about the language and culture instead of trying to pontificate on matters to which you have given little thought or study, you would know this. :-)

And I wish you every blessing in being used by God. It is all any of us can ask.

Unknown said...

Oh darn it, just a Point of clarification SIR. You are quite presumptuous my friend.

No fooling Sherlock though I never actually heard him speak, I had been informed that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Hebrew. and you presume to assert that he PROBABLY spoke Greek. Well See I didn't know that. NOW I DO! Thank you for that!
I have been known to pose interrogatives! I really try to leave preaching to the Clergy class. My interrogatives are usually with the intent of clarification on points I wonder about or may have a hard time understanding. Was there perhaps a bit of projection in your assertion?

At any rate see I do trust Jesus, in addition to Believing and having been baptized.

I have always been told that asking questions was a good way to get clarification of things that I didn't understand. This policy has served me well in the past, and at my advancing age I see no need nor do I feel any particular compulsion to change my M.O.

It has been my experience over the past half century or more, that thoughtful and competent people who possess the knowledge that I seek are generally gracious and happy to share their knowledge, and do not take umbrage. Well many of them anyway..

L'chaim!

Unknown said...

Oh yeah, He was into guns too.
But he didn't wear a 10 gallon hat.

Kevin Haug said...

Perhaps those who do not take umbrage towards your questioning are those to whom you actually treat and ask with respect instead of with the above manner of a pompous ass.

Unknown said...

Let The readers note who called whom a pompous ass.
Perhaps those who are worthy of respect are treated with respect...
Just a hunch!

Have a Wonderful weekend Kevin!

L'chaim

the manitou

Kevin Haug said...

Let the readers note who answered very respectfully up until a certain troll kept pushing it and deserved everything that he got. And the poor widdle manitou got his fweeings hurt.

Unknown said...

Oh my poor white brother...
Kevin why must you always resort to ad hominem attacks?
I was asking theological questions. You resort to Personal attacks.

Hey Kevin, do you remember this one:
"I am rubber, you are glue
what ever you say
bounces off me and sticks to you"

I know it is none of my business, but don't people in Texas believe in counseling? It might help to take that angry edge off. A very wise business owner and friend of mine told me once, ATTITUDES ARE CONTAGEOUS, IS YOURS WORTH CATCHING?

or this one?
"Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can be happy, if you let yourself be..."

Peace be unto you my brother!

Have a Blessed Sabbath!


Carl

Kevin Haug said...

"I am just asking theological questions."

I may insinuate that you are in the sphere of those priests who were selling indulgences, but...

"I am just asking theological questions."

I may just insinuate that you are evaluating your creator, but...

"I am just asking theological questions."

I may be insinuating that you are big headed with that big brain underneath your Stetson, but...

"I am just asking theological questions."

I may insinuate that you are neither thoughtful and competent since the people who possess the knowledge that I seek are generally gracious and happy to share their knowledge, and you are not, but...

"I am just asking theological questions."

Oh, but when I am called to task on such matters, it is not I who am making ad hominem attacks. It is you.

Please.

Next time, try to be funny or something.

Unknown said...

oh dear!!
just like I said to a mortician friend once, "PLEASE, DO NOT MISUNDERTAKE ME"
Your pompous arrogance seems to have gotten the better of you, again!
No, but really Kevin. I was surprised to hear from you today, you know what with this being Sunday and all.
Hey did you ever consider getting counseling to deal with any of your issues? Your anger or your tendency to nit pick? I have in the past, and will not hesitate in the future to seek counsel from trained professionals, though the counsel that I have received from the clergy class has proven to be substandard and impractical. For instance I was advised to not contest my wife's petition for divorce while she was a member of the church pastor's harem. The funny thing was that because she had money the congregational leadership sided with her, when she threw a party to celebrate her divorce.

I have generally gotten more helpful advice from professionals outside of the church.

You know the really funny, in a baffling, though not humorous way, I took your point about trusting rather than simply "Believing" early on in this discussion, but NO, you wouldn't let consensus get in the way of a good fight. Was that your Stetson,your six gun, or Jose Cuervo talking there Rev? I have in the past, and will not hesitate to seek wise and professional counsel in the future.
Maybe more frequent chats/counsel with your Bishop, might help to soften your abrasive angry edge. I have heard that that is part of their duty.
Golly Pastor, those people might start coming back to your church, you never know... ...and Jesus Christ might once again be worshipped and glorified there in Cat's Meow Texas.

Hey Kevin, take a day off, breathe deep and smell the cacti blossoms! but don't get too close.

manitou