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Gnosticsm & the Proclamation of Christianity with special reference to John's Gospel (Cont)

Faith in a Christian Redeemer
Job 19: 25 (AV); John 6: 28, 29 (RSV)

First we must know what faith is. It can be defined as:

  1. Loyalty to a person.
  2. Belief and trust in and loyalty to God.
  3. Firm belief, complete confidence in something for which there is no proof.
  4. Something which is believed with complete conviction. [20]

There is so much misconception about faith and so much more to say about it in order to clarify this problem that I will limit myself here to four views from the experts:

1. Augustine on the subject of 'Faith, Belief and Understanding': "Faith opens the door to understanding. If thou hast not understood, believe, for understanding is the reward of believing. Then seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand." (Homilies in Joan, 29:6.)

2. Pascal also deals with this problem towards the end of 'the Wager' [21]. "If you want to believe, but after a hard struggle find you cannot, but still want to, you should start behaving just as if you did believe." Since he was a Catholic he advised going to church, having masses said, taking holy water and so on. "... That will make you believe quite naturally, and will make you more docile." "But that is what is what I am afraid of", you reply!

Pascal: "But what have you to lose? You will be faithful."

"It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart but not by the reason." The search for intellectual truth is very fine and essential but it is not enough. "The heart knows its reasons of which the reason knows nothing". It is important to remember that Pascal the discoverer of the vacuum, who said this, was a first rate scientist.

"Pascal uses every device to demonstrate that man is in a state of desperate insecurity. At the same time he never ceases to insist that a remedy is available if man will seek it outside himself and his feeble reason." [22] If only man would turn to the remedy that God has provided in Christ, who said, "I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). It is very worthwhile having a look at Krailsheimer's book on 'Pascal'. [22].

3. Hammond and Wright: "Faith in man is the complement of grace in God. God's approach to man is in 'grace' and man's response to God is by 'faith'. God in grace gives man a revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ , and the only adequate response man can offer is confident trust i.e. faith. Faith is the instrument by which the divine revelation and all the blessings inherent in Him are grasped." [23]

4. Kierkegaard [24]: Faith is the highest good for the Christian, the most beautiful, the most precious, the richest of all blessings, not to be compared with anything else, not replaceable by anything else. But faith cannot be had by wishing for it. It can only be had by willing it. Faith is not something external that one can wish. No! It is something internal, which one can only will. For faith is the gift of God to each one of us. It is inherent and everyone can exercise it if they will to do so. If it is not exercised it tends to wither. Looked at in another way, faith is the unfailing good, which can only be had by being constantly acquired, and only be acquired by being constantly developed. If a man does not have faith, it means that he did not will it.

Faith possesses the only power that can triumph over the future. The future remains inscrutable, and always in some sense, threatening. We frequently see those who in life conquered in every battle, but when it was a future enemy they had to deal with they became powerless, their arms paralysed. Previously they would challenge the whole world to battle, but now they had met an enemy, a vague figure, who was able to terrify them. The fight with the present at which they had excelled seemed now to them as a childish game in comparison with this dreadful fight with the future, which no man saw. When a man strives with the future, then he learns that however strong he is compared with the rest, there is one enemy who is stronger, that is himself; one enemy that he cannot conquer by himself, that is, himself.

How should we then go to meet the future?

When a sailor is out at sea, when everything is changing about him, when the waves are constantly born and die, then he does not stare down into the depths for this is constantly changing. No! He looks up at the stars: and why? Because they are faithful; as they stand now they stood similarly for the patriarchs and will stand for the future so that we are able to plot our course by them. By what means does the sailor conquer the changing conditions? Through the eternal. Through the eternal can one conquer the future because the eternal is the foundation of the future.

What then is the eternal power in man? It is faith.

What is the expectation of faith ? Victory, or as we are taught in the Scriptures it is 'that all things must work together for good to them who love God'. (Romans 8: 28)

The expectation of the future which expects victory has indeed conquered the future. So the believer is already done with the future before he begins on the present [25].

Faith will triumph over the future whatever the future will bring, for the expectation of faith is victory. How different is this from the stifled shriek of anguish in your heart as you contemplate the future loss; the shriek stifled, so that it may not be disturbing to others. How much better to say: "There is an expectation which all the world cannot take from me; it is the expectation of faith, and this is victory. I am not deceived; for what the world seemed to promise me, that promise I did not believe it would keep; my expectation was not in the world but in God. This expectation is not deceived, for even now I feel its victory more joyfully still triumphing over all the pain of loss and the stifled shriek. If I lost this expectation, then would everything be lost. But now I have still conquered through my expectation, for my expectation through faith and trust in God is victory.

(I am sorry for the length of this section on Kierkegaard which may be due to my poor understanding of his work. None the less, much that I do understand has universal significance and may stimulate your further reading of this great author.)

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  1. But remember: "Faith that is sure of itself is not faith. Faith that is sure of God is the only faith there is. Such faith continually keeps at the source - Jesus Christ." "Thus it is possible to know all about the great doctrines of the Christian faith, and at the same time not know Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour, Redeemer and friend." (Oswald Chambers in "My Utmost for His Highest", p.353. Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 1927 with many printings since then.)
  2. Pascal, B.: (1623-1662) "Pensees" number 418. Penguin Classics, 1981.
  3. Pascal in his 'Pensees': numbers 424, 189, 191, 417 and Krailsheimer, A.J. in: 'Pascal', p.66. Oxford University Press and Past Masters, 1980 - a great book and worth getting hold of.
  4. Hammond, T.C.: "In Understanding be Men - A Handbook of Christian Doctrine" edited and revised by David F. Wright, p.18. Inter-Varsity Press, 6th Edition, 1968.
  5. Adapted from "Edifying Discourses a selection" by S.J. Kierkegaard. Collins fontana books, London and Glasgow, 1958.
  6. 'To have conquered the future before one begins on the present - is this not of importance? It should be, because it is not until a man has finished with (conquered) his anxieties about the future that he can be entirely and undividedly in the present.' (From Kierkegaard S.J. see [24] above.)

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