Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Has Faith To Do With Life?

A final element of the story of Abraham is important for understanding his faith. God’s word, while bringing newness and surprise, is not at all alien to Abraham’s experience. In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being. God ties his promise to that aspect of human life which has always appeared most "full of promise", namely, parenthood, the begetting of new life: "Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac" (Gen 17:19).

The God who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals himself to be the source of all life. Faith is thus linked to God’s fatherhood, which gives rise to all creation; the God who calls Abraham is the Creator, the one who "calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom 4:17), the one who "chose us before the foundation of the world… and destined us for adoption as his children" (Eph 1:4-5). For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love. The mysterious God who called him is no alien deity, but the God who is the origin and mainstay of all that is.

The great test of Abraham’s faith, the sacrifice of his son Isaac, would show the extent to which this primordial love is capable of ensuring life even beyond death. The word which could raise up a son to one who was "as good as dead", in "the barrenness" of Sarah’s womb (cf. Rom 4:19), can also stand by his promise of a future beyond all threat or danger (cf. Heb 11:19; Rom 4:21).
Lumen Fidei 11

Reflection – ‘What does religious faith have to do with real life?’ This is a real question, a serious question. Is our religion just a pie in the sky affair, some vague promise of a happy future after we die? Is our religion some kind of psychological mechanism of comfort or reassurance, a cosmic (if wholly fictitious) security blanket that some neurotic and not-terribly bright people need to cling to? Or, if our religion is supposed to relate to real life, is it simply in the mode of moral system and behavior code. In that case, why not just jettison the theology and keep the commandments? Or, if we believe there’s more to the religion-life connection than just that, what is it? God doesn’t seem to be intervening continually in our lives to make everything just fine all the time. What’s the relelvance of God and faith to daily life?

These are real questions, hard questions, and very deep questions. These are questions that not only require some kind of general answer suitable for theology, but personal existential answers for each individual. And it seems to me that Lumen Fidei 11 strives to point the direction to that answer, especially in the existential personal realm.

God does come to Abraham in the most urgent and necessary question of his life, namely his posterity, his barrenness, and his call to be a father which has been denied him. God promises, God delivers, and then God tests him, asking for a totality of trust in the sacrifice of Isaac on the mountain. And it seems to me that in all of our lives, there is this dynamic: the deepest desires and dreams of our hearts, the promise of God, the realization of God, the testing of God.

God comes to us, right where we are in fact living in the deepest heart of our life, and this dynamic of promise-realization-testing plays out in every life in as many ways as there are people, it seems to me. At times it is very mysterious indeed, and extraordinarily painful. But what emerges from this dynamic of promise-realization-test, if we give ourselves to it in the act of faith, is two things.

God says to us ‘Trust me’, and as time and years go by, we grow in trust. We come to know that He is God, He is real, He is loving, and even though life remains a deep mystery much of the time, we can continue in it with at least a measure of peace. Second, we come to know that the God who takes Isaac from us gives Isaac back to us (symbolically speaking), but that this taking and this giving both carry us right to the threshold of this world and this life and over it into the great beyond, the Great Mystery of death and what comes after it.

In other words, faith has everything in the world to do with our real lives, our deepest longings and desires, our hopes, dreams, plans, adventures, joys, and sorrows. Faith, or rather God, meets us right in the midst of all that, and grounds it all in hope based on our having a loving Father who desires our happiness, and this empowers us to a love which is stronger than death and carries us over the threshold of death into a life everlasting.

And that’s quite enough for our Tuesday with Francis for this week.

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