It strikes me that our religious/spiritual problems and anxieties stem from the fact that we are largely fixated (hung up) on when and how God’s eternal blessing flows upon mankind. Determining that when and how is an endless exercise in trying to decipher a book and its story. The book is in fact an anthology, or collection of stories. So the challenge of understanding is complicated by the need to establish a consistent message or Truth within those various stories by numerous authors. True religion has thus become largely an intellectual search for correct interpretation of the sacred book(s) and the corresponding proper response to the knowledge gained. God’s blessing, in this scenario, is always contingent upon man’s effort and achievement. Did he understand? Did he achieve salvation through the right process?
The problems inherent in this type of religious experience should be obvious. It is full of uncertainties as reflected in the questions above. The existence of the church and its leadership does nothing to alleviate these issues. No one agrees on the answers. Reference to ancient creeds and traditional statements of faith are meaningless because they are the product of fallible men and derive from processes which were highly subjective.
The basic problem is this idea of contingency. God is good if… God is gracious if…. God is merciful if…. God loves you if…. If what? Nobody can say for sure because if we could we wouldn’t be dividing over and endlessly debating the “what”.
The idea of contingency is an assault on God’s character and sovereignty. If the fulfillment of any part of God’s ultimate plan and purpose for man depends on man, then God loses or forfeits control in the matter. An ultimate outcome for human history which perfectly aligns with God’s Will is the very definition of His sovereignty. If men must act to achieve God’s plan, then His Will is not paramount because it can be trumped by man. If some contend that God’s willfully excludes some people making His purpose limited to a chosen few, then God’s choice must be based solely on God and not man. If man chooses who is excluded or chosen, then again God is reduced to a subordinate role, having relinquished ultimate control to man. If God arbitrarily chooses who is eternally blessed and who is not, then any concept of justice is lost, demeaning God’s character.
Reliance on God’s nature, promise, and sovereignty are the essentials of faith. The moment my reliance turns from God to my ability to discern right doctrine and achieve righteousness by obedience or proper response, faith in God is forfeited. Faith then becomes faith in me.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. I see my frailties. I see the church in all its various manifestations. I struggle to comprehend the Book. Faith cannot be in these. Faith relies on the unseen One whose promise and ability are never in question.