Sunday, 28 October 2012
Sunday, 21 October 2012
Isa 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
I've spoken in recent weeks about a couple aspects of what it means to believe. I'd like, today, to conclude that for a while by speaking of another aspect of what is involved in believing, namely, the need to CHOOSE to believe. Cardinal Newman spoke about this when he said that we need to choose to believe, and in order to choose to believe we need to first recognise that there is something DESIRABLE about believing, some reason why we should WANT believe:
reason can show us the reasonableness of believing, can show us why we should believe, but we still need to CHOOSE to believe.
St. Thomas Aquinas likewise spoke about how we need to recognise that it is GOOD to believe. This means, among other things, that we need to recognise the goodness of the One in whom we are called to believe, namely, to recognise the goodness of God. After all, why would someone choose to believe in an EVIL god?
Now, let me pause on that thought for a moment, because when people give reasons for why they DON'T believe the most common reason people give is a reason that basically boils down to saying that if there is a god he is an evil god, namely, people point to the reality of suffering, and people say this is why they don't believe in God. So, how can WE say it makes sense to believe in God in a world of suffering? How can it be GOOD to believe, given the reality of suffering?
These are tough questions, but, they are also questions that ONLY Christianity is able to squarely face. I don't means so much that we have the doctrine of Original Sin to explain that suffering was not created by God but only entered this world with sin, and, I don't mean so much that we have the doctrine of Providence to say that even through suffering God works to bring a good about for us that is even greater than the suffering He permits for us.
Rather, what I mean, is the truth that all three of our scripture readings today make reference to in different ways: that God has entered our world of pain and suffering and become one with us in it.
Our first reading spoke of the prophecy of the Suffering Servant who took our faults upon Himself (Isa 53:11). Similarly, our Gospel text referred to how Jesus gave Himself up, in suffering, to be the ransom for our sins; how He let Himself become a servant for our sakes. And, perhaps most directly, we have the passage in our second reading about Jesus as the supreme High Priest. Our second reading is part of a series of second readings from Hebrews that began 2 Sundays ago and goes on for another 4 weeks. But, from the perspective of what I Have been talking about, namely, God's entering our world of suffering and thus showing Himself to be a kind and loving God, it is today's text that is possibly the focal point: "it is not as if we had a High Priest who was incapable of feeling our weakness with us" (Heb 4:15) - we want a God who is with us in our problems, and this is exactly what He has made Himself.
So, to return to my opening question, about the desirability of believing in Him, about how He has shown Himself to be a good God, and about how it is good to believe in Him:
Evil seems, at one level, to be the ultimate reason to not believe in a loving God.
But, in the face of the incarnation, in the light of seeing that He has entered our world of suffering and pain, in the face of seeing Him upon the Cross,
we see that He has transformed what seems to show Him unloving, and made it into the greatest sign of His love.
He has, in this, shown us that it is good to believe in Him, and to thus by faith share in a communion of love with Him in the midst of a world where suffering otherwise can leave us alone.
So, given this, and given, as in other weeks I've been touching upon, and as our series of talks on faith are articulating, given that reason shows that there are reasons to believe in Him, then, the Cross also shows that it is GOOD to do so as well.
And so we can CHOOSE to believe in Him: He is a good and loving God, and this is what He has SHOWN Himself to be.
Sunday, 14 October 2012
There are many opinions we have that we only partly commit to. For example, I think that bottled water is not really healthier than tap water. This is opinion I have held for many years. It is an opinion that corresponds to what I read in the newspapers. But it is, nonetheless, not an opinion I am particularly committed to. And my life would not be radically changed if I reversed that opinion.
The point I want to make to you today is that faith is NOT like that, at least not what we mean when we talk about CHRISTIAN faith. Christian faith is something that you have to commit yourself to.
I say this in part because we’re now in the Year of Faith and I want to give a few sermons on what is involved in believing. But I say this also because our first reading speaks about the importance of seeking wisdom, and of seeking it from God rather than other things. The author of the book of Wisdom speaks of it as a “priceless stone” to be valued above worldly riches
However, to value the pursuit of Divine wisdom above other riches means we have to make a serious commitment to accept God’s revelation as true, and not just as a vague nice thought. And, for many of us, we can have made a partial acceptance of the truths of the Faith, but not have done so with that true commitment that means we’ve made an act of faith. So, we might “suppose” that it is true, or “think” that it is true, but not commit ourselves. The problem, however, comes when we meet some test.
To use a comparison from C.S.Lewis: you may say you think a rope is strong if you are only using it to tie up a parcel, but if you find yourself hanging off a cliff on that same rope then you know whether or not you really think it is strong.
And my faith in God: I may say I believe Him, and believe in Him, but some trial can come my way and I suddenly realise I wasn’t that committed to Him after all.
When I was young I thought I had firm faith. I was emphatic that there was a God and happily argued the toss with many an atheist. But when a certain period of suffering came my way I found that my faith crumbled, because it wasn't really faith at all -it was just emphatic opinion.
Let me put it another way: opinion rests upon ourselves, upon our own conviction.
Faith, in contrast, rests upon God and a TRUST in Him.
For myself, in my opinionated youth I thought God was a good and loving God. But the trial of suffering tested that opinion. Could He be good and allow this suffering? It was in the weight of the test that I shifted from thinking He was good because it tidily fit into my own experience of life, and I came to instead accept that God is good and loving because He has said so, and He has proved Himself true in other things so I believe Him about this thing too.
To come back to the question of the commitment of faith, to be committed to what God has revealed to us in Christ, to say, “I believe You” to Him, that commitment involves a mental commitment to prioritise what He has told us above other things. He has said He has the true riches that last in heaven, and living towards THAT goal involves a commitment in how I live in this world. And, to return to my own example, He has said He is a loving God, and to live based on that revealed truth involves accepting suffering and trials in my own life that I cannot understand.
To say, “I believe” is to make a commitment, a commitment that brings the greatest riches, but a commitment nonetheless. To accept what God has said BECAUSE He has said, not just to accept it as supposition.