Faith is to Be Happy

“…Faith in the trust that forms friendship, hope in the vision of a future where God will finally prevail, and love in the forgiveness that is a human possibility only because it is first a divine reality. Working together to complete and perfect the classical virtues, these new virtues enable us to ‘become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4). When St. Paul declares that ‘[h]e who through faith is righteous shall live’ (Rom. 1:17) and that ‘by grace you have been saved by faith’ (Eph. 2:8), he is not speaking of an abstract doctrine that we are called to affirm as a bare intellectual proposition. To have faith is not to credit a set of ideas that await either proof or disproof. Certainly it is true that faith has real cognitive content – namely, the articles of belief set forth in the various creeds and confessions. Summarily stated, these statements of faith affirm that the triune God has acted in Israel and Christ to create his unique people called the church and, through it, to redeem the world.

Even so, faith is not the same thing as knowledge. Nor is faith something that we are required morally to do – to perform meritorious acts, for example, that win the favor of God. Surely Christian faith issues in a distinctive way of life; indeed, it is a set of habits and practices – of worship and devotion, of preaching and the sacraments. Faith is always made active and complete in good works, says the Epistle of James; in fact, ‘faith apart from works is dead’ (Jas. 2:22,26). Yet faith is not first of all to be understood as exemplary action. At its root and core, faith is always an act of trust if it is to possess true knowledge and to produce true works. People having simple minds and accomplishing small deeds can have profound faith. Whether old or young, bright or dim, mighty or weak, we are all called to be childlike before God. Faith is the total entrustment of ourselves to the God who has trustworthily revealed himself in Israel and Christ. It is the confidence that this true God will dispose of our lives graciously, whereas we ourselves would make wretchedly ill use of them. This means that faith entails a radical risk, for God both commands and grants faith without offering material threat of punishment or earthly promise of reward. To be sure, the life of disobedience incurs divine wrath, just as the life of faith springs from divine mercy. The right relation between God’s anger and pity is defined in the fine phrase of Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth-century Anglican divine: ‘God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.’ To have faith is to have the life of true felicity already within us, as we learn gladly to participate in God’s own Trinitarian life of trusting self-surrender. Because God’s communal life centers upon the perfect and unconditional self-giving of each person of the Trinity to the other, so does the life of faith entail the complete offering of ourselves to God and our neighbors. Such an astounding act could never be a human achievement: it is a miraculous divine gift. There is nothing within our human abilities that could produce faith. On the contrary, it is our free and trusting response to the desire for God that God himself has planted within us.

LordofRingsGod is utterly unlike Melkor and Sauron because he never coerces. We are never forced but always drawn to faith, as God grants us freedom from sin’s compulsion. We are invited and persuaded to this act of total entrustment through the witness to the Gospel made by the church. Even when faith is an act of knee-bent confession alone in one’s own room, it is not a solitary and individual and private thing: faith is both enabled and sustained by the body of Christ called the church, the community of God’s own people.” (Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp 117-119)

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