Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent and unbelief

Within the narrative we read in Scripture concerning Jesus' birth and its aftermath, and the circumstances surrounding that, we can see numerous instances where people by and large probably lost out in the blessing they could have received by simple faith. Within this group we could include the friends and relatives of Joseph and Mary in the community of Nazareth. Sure, it was highly unusual, what God was doing, as well as his word at that time. But evidently, the people were not open enough to be able to hear and receive by faith the word of God that had been communicated both to Mary and Joseph. And maybe it was not in God's will at the time to make this known openly, either. Just as Jesus was careful about revealing who he was, knowing the people were not ready for it, and would simply want to use it for their own reasons.

Then there are the likes of Herod, as well as the Herodians- and others, whose personal kingdoms could be threatened by what they had learned from the Magi travelling to see the one who had been born, "king of the Jews". Unbelief is not only limiting God, but it is refusing God to be God, not wanting his will to be done if it conflicts with one's own will and agenda.

Are we open to God's word in our lives, no matter what circumstances and difficulties we may be facing? Are we open like Mary to God's ways, which may not be anything we know at the time? And are we choosing God's will over our own, whatever that means? Not just saying that, but living that out as well, according to God's revelation given to us in Scripture.

I am so easily caught up in anxiety, though such attacks seem rare anymore. But just very recently I've been hit again. I want to respond to this in a way in which I can grow, as whatever might be holding me back from faith is exposed so it can be repented of. As well as wanting to trust God no matter what, and believe in God's goodness in it all. I want to be taken up with Jesus and his coming into the world, and living in that.

Let us be among those who could gather around the manger in true worship, adoration and contemplation, along with pondering all this in our hearts- not missing the meaning and wonder of Advent because of unbelief.


Anonymous said...

yes, dear brother. amen. :-)

thank you for this post.

i went to the memorial of nopi, an old woman still with her greek accent. a strong woman that i met in the woman's bible fellowship. when asked "how are you, nopi?", she would answer in a strong voice (short,but sturdy woman) she would answer..."i'm OK, praise God!" and when she broke her hip and in all the declining days after that, it was still the same, " i'm OK, praise God!". when a woman told us of her visit to nopi in the nursing home the night before she died, she heard nopi say very very softly..."i'm OK". and this i heard at her memorial last week. and it is now just getting through to my heart, that no matter what life brought for her, she always said these words.

and this is something that i wanted to pass along to you...because today it has help me.
i hope and pray that it helps us both.

i'm OK,
praise God!

Anonymous said...

it is interesting to know that i am not alone in this battle.

why do we battle where it hurts the most? why do we have to struggle for the one thing that means the most to us? our faith that feeds us, connects us, saves us...i am always have hope that Jesus will hold onto me and pull me through, and not hold it against me when i tire of the battle and when i am wounded and my belief of Him is being attacked. i sometimes have the thoughts that maybe he was...well, i do not want to come right out and say it...that He was something else and trying to fool us...anyway, i just quickly put that out of my mind as soon as possible and ask for forgiveness and move on. for i do not know what else to do when that happens. it is usually when i am reading the word. the things that are going on in the battle, i would like to hide from it, but it comes after me anyway. i can not avoid the fight. and so i continue to the name of Jesus, in the Savior that i believe in, even when my mind battles it, my heart believes. and i have hope that my Savior can know my heart, and that i believe in Him with my heart, even when my mind has the utmost awful doubts. i still turn to Jesus to save me and to forgive me.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

They remind me of Paul's words about his life, that he had fought the good fight and had kept the faith. Also his words to Timothy to fight the good fight of faith.

To expect temptations to unbelief is part of what is needed in the battle. We need to know what we're up against. Nothing new; as old as the garden of Eden.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I should add this too, I appreciate, Nancy, Nopi's testimony. "I'm okay, praise God."

We need more of that. It doesn't depend on our circumstances, or even how we feel. But on the God in whom we put our trust. And doing this together with others who do the same.

Lynet said...

If you'll forgive the question, why do you feel like you've done something wrong just because you haven't managed to completely close yourself off to the possibility that your views are incorrect? Surely openness to both sides would be the most virtuous route?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Of course your good question should go all the way around; everyone has to consider it.

I acknowledge offhand that I think and live from a faith commitment, which in my case is of the historic orthodox Christian faith.

I do believe that everyone else operates from faith commitments, though what precisely is in those packages varies. Don't we all have lenses through which we see the world? There is no such thing as objectivity. Everything is subject to one's own perspective, though the more communal that perspective can become, I think the better, with qualifications and limits (example: the majority is not always right on everything- such as the old belief that the world is flat).

So your too is a faith commitment. All such faith commitments have their limitations, though people in your commitment believe, surely, that they're being taken for a ride wherever reason and reality- as based on science- might take them.

We as Christians value reason and experience as well, but we believe in a Creator through whom we find our true meaning as relational beings. All virtue in regard to "right" and "wrong" is related directly to this revelation we believe in which is radically relational to the core (as in loving God and loving our neighbor- including enemies- as ourselves.

I do have a terrible tendency to go off on tangents in answering something off the cuff like in my comment recently on your blog, in which you so graciously corrected me, and helped me get on track.

Hopefully I didn't err too bad this time, though I wouldn't put it past me. Hopefully that is a skill I can do better at and thus become a better blogger. I do the same thing on otehr blogs.

What might be your response to this? And, I may not be able to get to your response soon as I get submerged oftentimes in work with short breaks and limited access to computers.

Lynet said...

Ted, you shame me with your meekness! I'm grateful for your courtesy here, and I can only hope I don't come off sounding too sharp, for my part.

I know there's a part of me that refuses to disbelieve in morality, no matter what I do. I've been having a discussion on another blog with an Objectivist (note the capital O) -- a really hard-core libertarian who subscribes to the idea that you should act self-interestedly but should never interfere with other people's life and property, and considers taxation for the purpose of funding education or healthcare morally reprehensible interference with other people's money; stealing, essentially. And I admit, when asked to consider adopting this view myself I feel sort of like I'm going to throw up and can't help proclaiming that I'd rather die.

Would you call that 'faith'? It's a different sort of 'belief'; I don't actually believe in some outside source of morality, I merely allow myself to subscribe to certain values, I guess, and to join with others in trying to promote those things.

There are certain things I accept, at least in practice. Sensory perceptions and inductive (scientific) inferences, especially when backed up by consilience between each other, form one set. But it's not as if I have to feel guilty about the possibility of disbelieving in that; philosophical quibbles aside, I really don't see how I could do otherwise. Challenges to it can make me feel queasy (arguing with postmodernists, for example), but not guilty, nor nauseous in the same way as major challenges to my morality would do.

I can end up feeling guilty if I know I'm refusing to consider an alternative properly as a result of that queasiness, but that's different. It's the opposite situation to feeling guilty for having doubts.

What I was questioning here was not your faith precisely but your attitude to it; the way you feel guilty about questioning.

I suppose the fact that you connect it to your morality might be part of that. Backing that queasiness up with moral nausea -- I can sort of see that, though the combination doesn't stop me from questioning my moral basis. I wouldn't feel guilty for doubting my moral basis. I'd feel proud of having withstood the queasy nausea (and then, as long as I hadn't found a moral imperative to the contrary, I'd go on thinking the way I had. Finding a moral imperative to the contrary is always possible, though).

I guess I think -- I think Christianity tries to trick you into continuing to believe by making you feel guilty when you don't. I think it makes a false virtue of faith so you'll keep believing. I think that's how it survives.

I think you're feeling something I wouldn't because you've been told to feel it, over and over again.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your most kind words and kind comment- as always.

I'm limited on time here, but my response offhand and off the cuff is that I really don't live or depend much on my feelings. Feelings come and go and guilt can be misplaced or out of place, though I think guilt is often right for all us humans, as I think you would concur. Maybe that's just a part of our species, though I believe something underlies that.

I do believe one has to deal not only with sensory perception and reason- but one has to deal with human culture. The fact that human culture is so largely religious can be explained away, but what if there is a dimension from which this faith is derived?

Orthodox Christianity along with its Scripture- and particularly the story therein of Jesus- can be dismissed. But to do so would seem to me to not be honestly grappling with all that is present. Though indeed, it seems like you folks do, to some extent, grapple with it.

Can you explain the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), or the entire story of Jesus as laid out in Matthew through John- and explained to be lived out in the community of faith, through the rest of the "New Testament"?

If it wasn't for this, C.S. Lewis would not have reasoned himself out of atheism and reluctantly become a Christian.

I do think that humans do go off here and there in different directions- the libertarian seems dominated by the primacy of the individual and indidividual rights. Others are more into community- which I believe is more in line with the true Christian view- grounded in God as communal being in Father, Son and Spirit.

All the more reason why we need centered and brought together to find a true centering towards a fulfilled humanity. Otherwise, while holding in common some things- we'll be divided over what we believe are essential things.

Not feeling that great this morning (ha- there's feelings!)- so hope this is not too scattered or incoherent and a decent response to your thoughts. Thanks for them, and always feel free to respond always.

Ted M. Gossard said...

My comment on C.S. Lewis is my own conjecturing.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

For Lynet - I think for most of us (those of the evangelical presuasion) the notion is best expressed by Mark 9:24'Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief"'

It is not guilt or shame for having questions or doubts - it's coming to terms in the end with what we do believe - it brings us full circle much as King David did in the Psalms. He spends quite a few verses (my paraphrase surely) railing against God, and then suddenly remembers who he is and who God is and shift back to his original mindset - "I do believe". Davids complaints, which were quite legitimate, were followed by what he knew to be true about the character of God - which then made him reanalyze his circumstances and come up with a different conclusion.

Do not mistake guild for the honest working out of faith as a living part of our lives, not a static set of rules.