Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Faith and its expression

At great risk of displaying my foolishness, I am stimulated by two posts from people I have never met in person to form a statement of faith that expresses something. Each post asks "Where should a statement of faith begin?" The first that I read is here and the second is linked to it. Each post is reasonably good in its own way.  It is a bit of a word challenge - what do you do with Jesus, Christ, and God in terms of their character, and their role from our point of view.

For fun, I will start at the beginning. The source of my words is (of course) in the Bible. All versions of the canon of Scripture in the tradition in which I am taught, start with the second letter of the Hebrew alef-bet. It is said that Alef was willing to let Bet go first, even though Alex was first according to the list of letters. So faith as a statement is must be willing to let faith which is expressed in action go first. When we look at that first partial sentence in Genesis, the first action is creating. In our lives, as we become aware, we are faced with that which is created (from our point of view) and we have no known subject for this act. The subject is therefore God.

We too, created in the image of God, are to be (first), creative. We do not begin with explanation.

When we have been creative, we may then attempt to express in words what it was that made us so, a prevailing strength, hard work, daily practice, an inner force of determination, an inner change of heart, and so on. These are aspects of what may be called the human spirit, and of what may be determined as an anointing, or Christ-like behaviour. (Note I did not say Jesus-like, but Christ-like.) This Anointing Spirit who broods over the disorder of the formless deep is likewise an unknown actor, presupposed by us who act in a creative way and seek to explain such action.

As the chosen people said (somewhere) - we will do and we will understand. The doing is first. The Alef gives up its desire to be first. (But it is also noted that the first letter of the Decalogue is Alef.)

Where is the doing of God best illustrated? It is a long story and tortuous, a history filled with violence and passion, and with tenderness, with vulnerability and exploitation, with self-seeking and self-protective behaviour and with self-giving. I have noted before the five-fold repeated description of 'the LORD' in Book 5 of the Psalter - Yhwh who makes heaven and earth. This God is named by the name that was revealed to Moses - a name by which this God is to be remembered for all time. The actions of this God are to make heaven and earth - the phrase is expressed as an active ongoing participle. (We may think that created is in the past, but it is really ongoing as the Psalms make clear - and as one could translate Genesis 1:1 also: see e.g. here. I am willing to believe Holmstedt on Grammar. He's done his homework.) These actions are summarized with the fifth mention of this phrase in Psalm 146. This is a God who keeps truth forever, who does judgment for the oppressed, who gives bread to the hungry, releases prisoners, gives sight to the blind, consoles the disturbed, loves the righteous, shelters the guest, restores orphan and widow, and subverts the way of the wicked.

This is a 'go and do likewise' moment.

Who is the obedient but the one who does what was desired from the beginning at the same cost that was invested in the beginning, even before the foundation of the world?  Dare I say that the power to become such children is given by the same Spirit that broods like a Mother over the formless waste and the waters of destruction that so easily temporarily get the better of us?

There is plenty of unity in these statements. They circle back on each other. There is plenty of trinity in these statements also but there is no salvation in belief without obedience. And the hearing and obeying is a costly act of creation paid in one's own kind, flesh and blood.

We may jump to conclusions, creeds and confessions, but salvation and deliverance come through an inexpressible Anointing, aka Christ, an anointing that results in hearing and doing. Words there are indeed that are Spirit and Life. The poor and the hapless do not remain downtrodden when the Spirit moves. In truth, the Bible may begin with the second letter of the alef-bet, but the second letter takes creative power from the first and the Spirit is a brooding and redeeming warrior through her brood. Wisdom is justified in her children. If Jesus had not been mortal, temporal, like us, we would not know this hope so clearly. The same hope exactly is expressed in the psalms. We are called into the same hearing, the same drama, the same courtroom, the same life.

It is pretty clear that most religions agree that we must care for the poor and the hapless - but do we really go the whole nine yards? Do we subvert the way of the wicked or do we rather admire the way in which people get ahead in this world? Do we even protect and allow and encourage such self-service in the cafeteria before us?  It must also be clear that we mortals have a very difficult problem. We are beset with conflict in ourselves. Should we not eat, drink, and be merry? The oracle Psalm 36 has it right - on the transgression of the wicked within my heart... there is no dread of God before its eyes. The following acrostic (Psalm 37) on the wicked shows, as does Psalm 1, how important the wicked are. They are the ones who have the opportunity to work out their deliverance in fear and trembling, if indeed we will. Note it is the way of the wicked that is subverted so that the wicked one might come to its corporate and individual senses and not be insensitive or senseless or foolish (and say in its heart - God is of no account, Psalms 14, 53).

The obedience is spelled out in the Psalms - and from these texts Jesus reads the whole conversation with the one who created the heavens and the earth and who teaches humanity knowledge (a phrase I learned with delight from Kimhi).  We may read and be taught (Torah) with Jesus. Such is the Gospel.