Sunday, 14 October 2012
On the Commitment of Faith, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
There are many opinions we have that we only partly commit to. For example, I think that bottled water is not really healthier than tap water. This is opinion I have held for many years. It is an opinion that corresponds to what I read in the newspapers. But it is, nonetheless, not an opinion I am particularly committed to. And my life would not be radically changed if I reversed that opinion.
The point I want to make to you today is that faith is NOT like that, at least not what we mean when we talk about CHRISTIAN faith. Christian faith is something that you have to commit yourself to.
I say this in part because we’re now in the Year of Faith and I want to give a few sermons on what is involved in believing. But I say this also because our first reading speaks about the importance of seeking wisdom, and of seeking it from God rather than other things. The author of the book of Wisdom speaks of it as a “priceless stone” to be valued above worldly riches
However, to value the pursuit of Divine wisdom above other riches means we have to make a serious commitment to accept God’s revelation as true, and not just as a vague nice thought. And, for many of us, we can have made a partial acceptance of the truths of the Faith, but not have done so with that true commitment that means we’ve made an act of faith. So, we might “suppose” that it is true, or “think” that it is true, but not commit ourselves. The problem, however, comes when we meet some test.
To use a comparison from C.S.Lewis: you may say you think a rope is strong if you are only using it to tie up a parcel, but if you find yourself hanging off a cliff on that same rope then you know whether or not you really think it is strong.
And my faith in God: I may say I believe Him, and believe in Him, but some trial can come my way and I suddenly realise I wasn’t that committed to Him after all.
When I was young I thought I had firm faith. I was emphatic that there was a God and happily argued the toss with many an atheist. But when a certain period of suffering came my way I found that my faith crumbled, because it wasn't really faith at all -it was just emphatic opinion.
Let me put it another way: opinion rests upon ourselves, upon our own conviction.
Faith, in contrast, rests upon God and a TRUST in Him.
For myself, in my opinionated youth I thought God was a good and loving God. But the trial of suffering tested that opinion. Could He be good and allow this suffering? It was in the weight of the test that I shifted from thinking He was good because it tidily fit into my own experience of life, and I came to instead accept that God is good and loving because He has said so, and He has proved Himself true in other things so I believe Him about this thing too.
To come back to the question of the commitment of faith, to be committed to what God has revealed to us in Christ, to say, “I believe You” to Him, that commitment involves a mental commitment to prioritise what He has told us above other things. He has said He has the true riches that last in heaven, and living towards THAT goal involves a commitment in how I live in this world. And, to return to my own example, He has said He is a loving God, and to live based on that revealed truth involves accepting suffering and trials in my own life that I cannot understand.
To say, “I believe” is to make a commitment, a commitment that brings the greatest riches, but a commitment nonetheless. To accept what God has said BECAUSE He has said, not just to accept it as supposition.