Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why Faith?

I had a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine last night whilst we were painting my room. I was standing in the wardrobe – yes in the wardrobe! (I have built in mirrored wardrobes – and we were painting the walls at the back of them!) and she posed a question which got us wondering. Who knows, maybe it was the fumes of the paint (especially in an enclosed space!!!), but it seems like we should have known the answer to this question, and yet neither of us could quite put our finger on it. I think we may be missing a large piece of the jigsaw, which is there somewhere, but for some reason has been temporarily misplaced. Losing the metaphors, I don’t quite get it. I thought I did, but after that question I have realised I obviously don’t. I think there is an answer to this one, and an answer I will probably respond to with an, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it is!’ type response, so if anyone can offer it, that would be great!!!!

Sorry, no more waffling, here it is the question of the day:

Why is faith required for Salvation?

In my head, the brief (very) history of the redemption plan is this:
  • God made a perfect world, humans were in perfect relationship with Him.
  • Humans messed up and ruined it – we were separated from God.
  • The huge gap between God’s holiness and glory and our sinfulness meant that we could no longer see God fully or be actually with Him in the fullness of His presence because we would simply die. (This is true – right?)
  • God still wanted to be in relationship with His people so He chose a nation and set some guidelines for them on how they might be able to still be in relationship with Him - sacrifice, the holy of holies, the tabernacle, the ten commandments and covenant relationship etc etc. Namely the law.
  • Skipping a whole load of "stuff" - the law was powerless to remove the sins of the people: "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." Hebrews 10:1-4
  • Jesus came to earth, became a man, lived a perfect life, and died for our sins, becoming the perfect sacrifice and therefore the fulfilment of the law.
  • Now we are in a transient state. We have forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and can 'gain access' to the Kingdom of Heaven through faith in the son. But what we see now is only partial because the Son has not yet returned in all His glory. So we are still imperfect, and still do not experience the complete fulness of His glory (nor can we till we have been made perfect).

That is my understanding. My question is this:

If God is omnipotent - can do anything - why was he bound by the 'law' in the first place? Why did sin seperate us from Him? Why couldn't he just turn round and say sin can exist with holiness? (or more metaphorically - I choose that darkness and light can now exist together)?

Secondly, even if that is explainable, when Jesus died for our sins, why was that not the end of the story? Jesus sacrifice has enabled us to have a relationship with God again, why now make faith a requirement? Surely Jesus came to do away with requirements?

Basically, why make it so difficult? Not that He is not justified in doing so. I am not angry or frustrated that we have to have this faith, It is totally justifiable. He is God, and besides look at how much he has done for us! How can we even think about questioning some tiny little requirement He has of us? In a sense, I am not questioning it, more questioning why it is necessary.

We are told that God is able to do anything. This is a fundamental belief which I understand and agree with. We are also told that God really deeply desires a close relationship with us. (Something I struggle with a bit more as you know from my previous entries). If both of these are true, then why make it hard? why not make it easy? Why put an obstacle in the way?

John Ortbergs 'God is closer than you think' series talks a lot about how much God desires a relationship with us. How much He loves us. He uses the illustration of the picture in the Sistene chapel of God reaching out His arm, stretching out with His whole body trying to reach us, and all it requires is a little lift of our finger to meet His outstretched arm. Beautiful! BUT He is not bound by anything, He is God, He is not stretching out to His full capacity because that is infinite. He doesn't 'need' us to lift our finger, He could reach us anyway, and if that is what He so desires, then why doesn't He?

I know I have left out free will, but that little lift of our finger is not simply an exercise in free will - 'yes God I do want a relationship with you' - I exercise my free will and say 'yes please'. The 'little lift' often requires huge sacrifice, huge cost. Basically 'huge faith' (Huge is relative - i know its nothing in comparison to what we owe!)

Once again, I am not bitter about the need to have faith, I know it may sound like that but I am not. I am simply trying to work it all through in this logical brain of mine!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Theory vs Practice - Truth vs Grace

Last Friday I attended a churches together event, (which was great – I am always challenged about tunnelled vision at events like that – but that is worthy of another post one day!). The speaker for the evening was Joel Edwards – the head of the evangelical alliance. He spoke really well about the need for a balance between grace and truth, particularly in reference to evangelism. I will give the basics of what he said.

The two concepts, grace and truth, are both massively important elements of the Christian faith, and both should be emphasised and adopted in the living out of our faith. However, it is so easy for us to let these get out of balance. Many Christians would often find themselves very passionate about presenting ‘truth’ to the world, and when truth is being questioned or ignored would take that as an invitation to fight. Others would recognise that people need love and care, and would keep their focus on the people and their feelings rather than on imposing rules and regulations.

What is the right way? To grab people by the throat forcing them to listen to the gospel until they accept Jesus as their personal Saviour, or to accept that they have a right to choose their own lifestyle and belief system and never challenge that, possibly at the risk of them never hearing the truth? Truth vs. grace.

As a Salvationist I have to say that in theory, my inclination is towards truth. I am very passionate about my beliefs, and about presenting the truth to a world that seems to me to be spinning out of control. I often find myself in church, or in my quiet times, or even just in general living, wanting to beg and plead with people to listen to the gospel and am so desperate (inside) for people to grasp how vital and important this is. I also feel very passionate about our Christian responsibility to fight for social justice, to heal the broken hearted, to feed the hungry, help the poor, care for the alcoholic and the drug addict, love the prostitute and visit the imprisoned. I am also anxious that none of that is worth anything unless we are also praying for their souls and pleading with them to accept Jesus as their Saviour. As I write this, I can feel the burden inside me welling up. I want this so badly, sometimes it makes me want to cry.

And yet what a hypocrite I am. What do I do in my life that displays any of this passion or commitment to fighting for the truth? It plainly and simply isn’t there for public display, meaning that I am not actually doing any of that stuff. Can I even want it as badly as I think I do if I am not showing any of that desire in the way that I live?

When I questioned why these two, (theory and practice), do not tally I came to the conclusion that it is because 1) I am too scared, and 2) I live in a society where acceptance is the key. Everyone is fine with everyone else’s choice of belief system as long as nobody pushes anyone else to believe the same thing. People don’t tend to react well these days to forms of attack on their lifestyle choices, and so we have to work within these boundaries. I hate confrontation, and I hate anyone thinking badly of me, so I tend to err on the side of keeping my beliefs and lifestyle choices as my own, and never questioning others about theirs.

In a sense, both of these characteristics are good in themselves in some way, but Joel Edwards pointed out that there has to be a balance. Truth and grace come as a pair, we cannot separate them. If we do, the impact they will have is massively reduced. So how do we do it? How do we balance truth and grace?

Joel emphasised the fact that Jesus was the perfect role model in terms of keeping this balance right. He was passionate about the truth, and showed it, whilst also being gentle and kind and loving. He didn’t let people get away with living badly, (don’t the Pharisees know it), but he also loved them into changing. Joel used the example of the woman caught in adultery by saying that Jesus challenged the woman’s behaviour, but in a way that was not accusatory or caused her to be defensive. On the contrary, his dealings with her caused her to change her lifestyle.

So how can we follow his lead? This is where I get stuck. We were encouraged to live ‘curious’ lives. To live in such a way that causes people to ask questions. Great! But how do we do that? What does that mean practically for the way I live? I am so desperate for people to understand how much more to life there is than what is in front of them, but how can I help them to see that without pushing the gospel down their throats and causing them to run a mile in the opposite direction? How can I be gentle and caring with people without missing an opportunity to speak truth into their hearts? I don’t know how to be curious! Plus, how can we know when we have the balance right? Do we only have it right when we see results, because if so, then I have it so badly wrong!

Friday, November 03, 2006


Ok guys - the introvert lets go for a moment and opens up to the world. Here goes...

I have recently become very concerned about how easy it is as a Christian, surrounded by other Christians, to never think about what my faith looks like to a non-believer. I do not mean, "how good a Christian am I?" or, "do my actions show that my faith is genuine?" I mean it more in terms of actually what do people think of me when they hear that I believe in God, and that I have "given my life to following Him"?

I realise that what other people think of me is not important, and in all honesty, I don't really care if they think I am strange because I believe. I am going to believe anyway, stuff them. It is more that I hate the idea that they would pity me. I hate the thought that some people might look at me and think, "poor girl, she has been taken in. Why can't she see that she is believing in something so illogical". I guess it stems from the fact that I have been educated in very scientific and exact subjects. There is always an answer, and the world makes logical sense. Everything has a pattern and an order and just fits in place. And for me, I need to know that I have the right answer. I need to know that what I do is "right"; that the formula I used is the most logical one, and that it gives me as accurate an answer as possible. To be honest faith is not like that. Believing in God doesn't always make logical sense.

I guess there are some who would fight against that point, and in some ways I would too. I mean, when you look at the vastness of the world - the moon and stars; when you hear a storm, or experience extreme weather in some way; when you see a newborn baby, or the beauty of nature; when you look at how the human baody was formed so perfectly to allow us to live and move and breathe and communicate; how can you not think that the world had a creator; someone who thought all this through. Surely this is a much more logical explanation than...there was a big bang and it was all suddenly there!.

But, it is more the experiencial side of faith that concerns me. The trouble is, nobody can prove or disprove anothers experience. Expereince can be explained away very easily, and is often doubted and met with scepticism. For instance, if I met someone who told me they had just had a conversation with an alien I would look at them as if it was them who was from another planet! I simply would not believe them. I think some of my previous posts look at this idea in greater detail, (Chance or Not?) but what if some of the things that we Christans say we have experienced are actually just in our heads as some non-believers would suggest. What if answers to prayer are in fact products of coincidence.

I have this problem mainly when it comes to the idea of hearing God's voice. Its easy to talk about calling. Its easy to say, God has told me to do this, that or the other, but what convinces us that is actually God? Are we positive we are not deluding ourselves? What if it is all in our heads, just like it is with the people who see UFO's etc? The trouble is, these people who believe they have seen all these weird and wonderful things like UFO's, totally believe that they have. They don't doubt it at all. What if we are just falling into the same trap?

A friend of emailed me a link to this article:


Have a read, if you get a chance. It describes my questions much more eloquently, (but much more like fact than questions). The article is quite long so if you don't want to read it, here's a flavour:

Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is conspiring against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people’s heads. We humour them but don’t take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them.

Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous. Sam Harris was not being overly cynical when he wrote, in The End of Faith: “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them ‘religious’; otherwise, they are likely to be called ‘mad’, ‘psychotic’ or ‘ delusional’... Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.”

I want to just stop scaring you all for a moment. I do not doubt the existence of God. I still absolutely believe in, and love God with all my heart. I guess I am just questioning why I do, mainly from the perspective of how I can convince others that I am not delusional. How can I convince them that there is universal truth and God is it? Also, from a personal perspective, how can I know when I am hearing God's voice and know it is not just my mind playing tricks on me.

This response I found very useful, and totally agreed with:

"There is more than enough evidence around to prove whether God exists or not in creation. But what about feelings such as love? Or, how does the human brain store so such vast quantities of knowledge? Gods ways turn human logic upside down. It is impossible to understand him without the spirit within. And to get that, you need to invite Jesus into your life and Christians cannot do that for you. Obviously you can only do that if you believe He exists in the first place, otherwise you won't recognise the answer when it comes. Skepticism will see to that. We all know the scripture "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" etc, so don't just take our word for it, ask Him yourself. Answer the door. You will be pleasantly surprised and wonder why you wrote such a diatribe against the one person who loves you more than any human could ever do." David Hunt, Bristol, England

I know I am not deluded for believing. I know I believe in a God that exists and is present and active in our world. I cannot be moved from that. I know that both because I choose to and because my eperience tells me so. I guess I just need to learn to trust my own experience and not listen to others when they question that and tell me that I am mad or delusional. Sometimes, or rather always, I am just so thankful that I am on God's side of these arguments. I don't understand or know how to answer all these questions. But he knows all things and one day "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:10-11

Just before I sign off for today, I would like to mention two things.
1) Glyn's latest blog entry is very related to this one - thanks Glyn for the inspiration!
2) Look at how consistent my blogging is - three per month! Couldn't have planned it better if I had tried!

Thanks for reading. I will revert back to introvert-ism soon I promise!