Faith and Truth

Today’s Gospel from Mark (6: 1-6) tells us the familiar tale of Jesus’ attempt to teach in his hometown of Nazareth. He is met with lukewarm response.

While his neighbors acknowledge his wisdom, they are stymied by his ordinary background. After all, he is but “the carpenter, son of Mary”.

This gives pause to those who are listening.

Should it?

If you are inclined to think them parochial for their lack of faith, think of your own neighborhood, and imagine what you might think of the neighbor’s son or daughter up the block suddenly holding court on their front porch, preaching about God and explaining the bible in a new and extraordinary way. You might too be skeptical.

Which brings us to the dilemma–when can we be sure that we are receiving the “word of God”?

Being Roman Catholic, it is easy to answer simplistically–simply adhere to whatever the Magisterium announces as “truth” and one can safely go about one’s business.

One could make similar arguments regarding any number of Christian denominations no doubt–adhere to whatever are the general teachings of your church–be they Presbyterian, Methodist, Jehovah’s Witness and on and on through the 30,000 plus divisions among us.

As you can readily see, we don’t agree about what scripture means. Catholics and Protestants don’t even agree on what books should belong to the canon of sacred text. That’s a pretty big difference of opinion I’d say, since the “word of God” arguably resides within that canon and no where else, by some definitions at least.

And once we transcend that mountain, we get into the inter-denominational disputes of what scripture means. Catholics write books by the tens of hundreds every year about various books of the bible, offering their expertise of analysis. Years of study in universities across the world give them  the tools to view text in a way that the ordinary person lacks.

Protestants are no different in that regard. There is an ongoing dispute about what Paul’s remarks in Romans regarding faith mean. Gays and straights  argue what a line or two from Leviticus, and a few lines in pseudo-Pauline books might mean as regards homosexuality. We dispute, both within our own faith traditions and among those traditions, exactly what are the rules of marriage and so forth.

We can, as I said, take the easy way–simply accept the “rules” of our tradition.

But I do not think that is acceptable. While I hazard to speak for God, I submit, that we are each responsible in the final analysis to think for ourselves. Why else this marvelous brain, and this seemingly inborn sense of conscious?

I think Mark (and the parallel versions in Luke and Matthew) should point us to the question–how do we decide?

And the answer is obvious in a sense: faith.

If we continue in the passage, we discover that those who relied on faith opened themselves up to the answer: healing.

Jesus could work no wonders of healing among the unbelievers, or those who doubted. Healing is a two-fold process we learn requiring the offering of the healing and the acceptance in faith by the recipient.

We must approach our questions of “truth” in faith that with an honest heart, and a willing mind to see truth, God will guide us aright. What that means practically to me at least is this: When I am in conflict over what my heart tells me “should” be, and my Church tells me “is”, then I have a responsibility to do the following:

  • Thoroughly understand the position of the Church. This requires some serious work to determine when, why and how the Church has come to the conclusion it now claims is truth. No small deference must be given to thousands of years of development involving learned individuals, who would ask for and receive the  benefit of the Holy Spirit–whether interpreted correctly or not.
  • A conscious “listening” to the “small still voice” within that nags at the self, advising that this proposition or that is “just right” or “just wrong”.
  • A long-going period of taking the issue to prayer–asking always not to be “found right” but to be led to truth. One must also, so it seems to me, recognize that truth grows over time. We are given only that which we can absorb. As we grow more knowledgeable and adept, greater and more full truth may come. Prayer thus becomes a constant in our lives.
  • Stand up and proclaim the truth as you honestly see it after this process, even when it is at odds with most or many. Maintain the willingness to listen to opposition, reflect, re-examine, and pray for further guidance.

If we do these things, I trust that a loving God forgives us our honest errors. We live in faith.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 13:59:19

    Sherry, the wisdom here is beyond measure. And timely too, as I’m knee-deep in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, which does a magisterial job of explaining the evolution of the canon, as well as the unattributed works that influenced the writing of our sacred texts and the decision-making about which of them qualify as “sacred”. As I’m sure you know, this process was hardly foolproof and knowing how the canon came to be invites us to respond to God’s Word in the exact manner you describe.

    The saving grace of trying to sort all of this out is provided by the Spirit, Which speaks to us through the Word, despite the imperfect manner by which it came to be assembled. That’s why I so love the Matthew and Luke renditions of this episode, as it quotes Jesus quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This is the same Spirit that Jesus promises “will guide you into all truth.” Without the Spirit’s guidance, the Word cannot speak to us as God wills. We must believe that, and to believe we must have faith.

    So splendidly put! I’ve copied your four bullets to have handy for repeated reflection. They are a godsend indeed!

    Many thanks and blessings untold,


    • Sherry
      Jul 08, 2012 @ 15:38:45

      Oh I must get that book. I tried to get it for review but all the review copies were already gone! Since I am accused of heresy on a regular basis, I have formulated what I understand to be essentially the Catechism’s instructions on following one’s own heartfelt beliefs. I believe them to be accurate, or at least helpful to me. Bless you Tim.


      • Tim
        Jul 09, 2012 @ 09:04:12

        It’s essential reading for the likes of us, Sherry–particularly in its temerity to do what so many Christian histories I’ve read tend to downplay: the influence of Greco-Roman philosophy on later OT writings, the overall NT, and the evolving theologies that impacted the canonical decisions. Despite its heft and attention to detail, it’s a remarkably fast read. But be warned: once you pick it up, you’ll have to pry yourself away from it. More than once Walt’s found me in the back of the house, glued to it, and said, “So you’re off with that book again!”

        In both my Fundamentalist upbringing and the Reformed tradition I’ve come to love, the Scripture is viewed on par with prayer and meditation as our way of “coming to God.” Hence heartfelt beliefs play the pivotal role and to read the Word without them is a barren endeavor. Without that added element, we reduce the texts to “literature”–not an unworthy approach, yet also not one that lends itself to spiritual growth. Although I’m not adequately schooled to comment on the Catechism, I can’t imagine it would be much different in encouraging us to achieve the same objective of discovering God’s ways, our relationship to God, and God’s will for us.

      • Sherry
        Jul 09, 2012 @ 10:04:20

        Hey a good blog post is one that garners 2 great books to get!

  2. Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 15:51:11

    I appreciated your reflections, Sherry. I also liked Tim’s suggestion above. My “knee deep” reading has lately been from Roger Haight’s “Jesus Symbol of God.” It took takes that scholarly, historical, contextual approach you recommend. It especially tries to bridge the gap between our inherited past and the post-modern era we live in. I have found the book absolutely inspiring. Keep up the good work. — Mike


    • Tim
      Jul 09, 2012 @ 09:04:59

      Thanks for the recommendation, Mike. It’s going on the list pronto!


    • Sherry
      Jul 09, 2012 @ 09:51:29

      Oh boy, this goes on my list too! Let me write it down! It’s simply amazing how one’s sense of the bible changes when you understand it from it’s own time. Some of the parables and such mean things quite a bit different than they appear to on a reading given our time. It’s like a whole new bible opens up to you, and frankly, the more I appreciate the gift that Jesus really is.


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