Jhoanna T. Isla
Philosophy 10 (Philosophy of Eastern Religions)
30 March 2007
How does one keep his/her faith in God? At the risk of being labeled overly spiritual, I could answer “by grace,” but doing so would not suffice if my understanding of grace differs from the next person’s. Besides, that would leave me thousands of words short of the required length of this paper.
What is grace? It is the unmerited favor of God, freely given to man. When I say I have kept my faith in God by grace, what I mean is I have only done so through His enabling. And while we’re on the track of defining terms, why don’t we look at faith also?
What is faith? Some would equate it to believing. But it says in the Bible that even the demons believed and trembled. What sets apart the believers from the demons then? I think what differentiates faith from belief is the commitment it entails. Belief alone does not save, but by grace, faith does. The two essential elements of faith are trust and obedience. The quotes that follow relate these elements to the truth.
“Truth that is trusted transforms.”
“Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed.”
The first quote comes from a seminar on leadership I attended. It was entitled Forming the High Trust Culture and the second one is from one of my favorite authors, A. W. Tozer. What they are saying is that trusting and obeying truth affects change. It influences. It transforms. But we cannot trust what we do not know, how much more obey it!
I remember reading two instances in the Bible where people worshiped what they did know. The first was about Jesus telling the Samaritan woman at the well that they, the Samaritans, worshiped what they did not know, unlike the Jews. The second was about Paul’s conversation with the philosophers in Athens. He pointed out that he noticed that they had lots of objects of worship with one dedicated to the unknown God. The next thing that happened in both instances was the proclamation that God has made Himself known to all. Jesus revealed Himself to be the Messiah while Paul preached Jesus.
I believe keeping the faith requires us to know what we believe in. My church’s senior pastor, Dr. Isabelo F. Magalit, wrote, “To commit ourselves to Jesus blindly without being persuaded that He is the truth is not faith but superstition.” This means that we must first be convinced that Jesus is the truth to have faith, much more keep it. In his book entitled First Steps Bible studies for new Christians he stated, “Does the believer use his reason? Certainly, but as the equipment for understanding God’s Word, not as the judge over its teaching.”
As believers, how do we know what to believe in? We have the Bible to guide us. But is it reliable? Having a dad who asks this very question urged me to search for the answer myself. The release of the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown caused friction within the family. Even though it is fiction, we had trouble convincing him that its claims were not facts and I learned that disproving them was not enough to prove that the Bible is true. This led me to buy a book entitled Can We Trust the Bible? by David Dean. It addressed questions such as:
1. Is the Bible historically reliable?
2. Has the Bible been accurately transmitted and translated?
3. Does the Bible show evidence of divine authorship?
4. Is the Bible internally consistent and logically coherent?
5. Is the Bible scientifically accurate?
6. Does the Bible pass the test of fulfilled prophecy?
7. Does the Bible demonstrate the life-changing capability it claims?
As much as I want my dad and everyone else to come to know the reliability of the Bible, I also want him to know the Bible itself. I don’t know why so many people question the authenticity of the Bible without ever picking it up. One of my friends shared that when we settle for others’ interpretation of what it teaches without reading it ourselves, it is like accepting someone’s offer of a hamburger which that person has chewed and spit out for you to swallow. The last time I was home, I challenged my dad not just to know about the Bible, but to know what it says. He countered that he would like to witness not just my knowledge of the Bible but how I live it. Maybe even bleed it.
I realized the importance of being rooted in God’s Word only upon entering college. It kept my faith grounded in spite of having atheist professors who baptized the classes they handled with their beliefs and religious strangers who would feed you with wrong doctrine if you let them.
In my freshman year in college, I took up Philosophy 1. My professor would drown us with questions class meeting after class meeting. Of these, one stood out. He asked, “How do you reconcile that God is all merciful and that God is just at the same time?” It never occurred to me to ask that until he popped the question. I find it funny that it took me years to learn that the whole Bible points to the cross. I mentioned this because the answer to a rather difficult question is actually quite simple. It’s the cross. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, God poured out His wrath on Jesus, hence, carrying out justice by punishing sin once and for all. At the same time, everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts Him as his personal Lord and Savior is offered forgiveness of sins, thus carrying out His mercy.
Why do we live in an imperfect world? Why didn’t God just start over when man sinned? I believe it was because of His mercy and His justice also. His justice required man to experience the consequences of his sin, which included living in a fallen world, and His mercy allowed Him to redeem us because we couldn’t redeem ourselves. His own hand brought us salvation. All that is required of us is to commit our lives into His hands.
God’s justice and mercy is just one of the many apparent contradictions or inconsistencies that exist. Apparent means seeming or giving the impression of. Investigating the Bible ourselves would show us the centrality of its theme in spite of its at least 40 different human authors over a span of about 1500 years. Someone said that there are no errors in the Bible, only difficult passages.
One other apparent contradiction that I often encounter is that of free will and sovereignty. Free will and sovereignty are like two sides of the same coin. How would we know that God is sovereign if we do not possess free will? Why would He allow us to possess it if He is not sovereign? I believe we have a God who isn’t insecure about His sovereignty. He is that confident of His sovereignty that He allowed man to have free will.
Yet another apparent contradiction is that of suffering and of His goodness and faithfulness. Why is there suffering in this world? Why do we go through hardships? They say that the answer to these questions is similar to that of the existence of free will. God in His sovereignty allowed us to go through suffering. God is more concerned about our becoming more like Christ than our comfort.
I admit to being guilty of doubting the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness sometimes. My latest struggle, which I am currently going through, is about the possibility of not graduating this semester. It reminds of the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness. God provided manna from heaven but they kept on complaining in their ingratitude. Sometimes, I whine about everything that’s going wrong in my life instead of being thankful for the multitude of blessings I receive. What’s worse is that I even blame Him and question His plans for me. But what’s really amazing is the way He responds to my tantrums. His steadfast love pursues me to return to Him. He floods me with reminders of who He is and what He has done for me. I have come this far in my academic life, will He not sustain me? If we read the Bible, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is the picture used time and again to point them and us to God’s faithfulness. In the same way that Israel was freed from slavery, believers are freed from slavery from sin, being empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome trials and temptations. The thing is, I had forgotten a crucial part of the story of their deliverance. They reached the promised land and conquered the nations in their path. Maybe I will not yet graduate this semester. I am still uncertain about two of my subjects. I am still awaiting the results of my exams. But will I only worship the Lord when He blesses me? Will I place my hope in my circumstances or in who He is? I have learned that instead of asking why, we could try asking, “Who are You, Lord, in this?”
He did not spare even His own Son from experiencing the worst kind of death man has ever invented. Christ took up His cross and we are to take up our own crosses and follow Him. People often look at the cross and think only of suffering, but the past year taught me that the cross was Jesus’ calling to save mankind. In His obedience to the point of death, God was glorified. In the same way, believers are called to fulfill God’s will even if it means undergoing suffering. But the assurance we have is this: We have a compassionate God who knows suffering not just because He is omniscient, but because He Himself experienced it for our sake. He is able to understand us and share our pain. And like a flower that is crushed, our fragrance rises to heaven and glorifies the Lord.
One other thing I found necessary in keeping my faith in God is having intimacy with Him. I have come to ask, “What separates Christianity from all the other religions?” I used to think it was because Christianity is a way of life, but it turns out that most if not all the other religions also are. Each religion is a system of beliefs. But what sets Christianity apart is that it is not just a religion, it is a relationship with God. It has a unique way of dealing with sin. God, in His holiness, cannot tolerate sin. Man, sinful being that he is, cannot approach God. No matter how many his good deeds are, the fact remains that he has sinned whether with his actions, his words, or his mind and heart. A man could be guilty of adultery just by looking at a woman with lust or be guilty of murder just by hating his brother. Why is this so? Because God looks at the heart. It is futility to attempt to gain salvation on our own because we can never be perfect, we cannot change ourselves. Even New Year’s resolutions are so difficult to keep, how much more the Ten Commandments, knowing that if we fail in one, we fail in all. Besides, why pay for something that is free?
A verse in the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we sin, we deserve to die. The death referred to is not just physical death, but also spiritual death, which is separation from God. Contrast this with eternal life, or salvation, which is a gift. When someone gives you a gift, what do you do? The answer is to accept it. How do we receive the free gift of salvation? By accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Another verse in the Bible goes, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven through which we must be saved.”
I made that decision to accept Christ almost a decade ago. I asked for a change of heart. All the religious rituals in the world are useless if our hearts are not right with God. My motivation in doing good deeds changed from trying to earn my salvation to seeking to please God. Many times I have strayed, like the prodigal son, but I have always returned home to the Father’s open arms.
One thing that assures me of my faith is the changed lives of those around me who share it. I have been so amazed just witnessing how the Holy Spirit has been working in us, changing us to be more like Christ, and using us in building each other up.
Going back to keeping my faith in God, I cannot trust Him unless I know Him, not just know about Him. And the one thing I can truly fathom about Him is that He is unfathomable. Two rules in my study of (Artificial) Intelligent Systems this semester about intelligence are:
1. Knowledge compensates for searching.
2. Searching compensates for knowledge.
Being a believer doesn’t mean throwing away my reason. Rather, it demands that I use it in acquiring knowledge. Logically speaking, if God is infinite, His attributes and everything about Him is infinite. If I am to know Him fully and if His promise of eternity is true, I have all the time I need to be with Him and experience Him.
“Faith,” as A. W. Tozer defines it, “is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience… Love and faith are at home in the Godhead. Let reason kneel outside in reverence.” It takes humility to accept God’s infinitude and everything He reveals about Himself through His Word. If we could contain Him with our ideas of who He is, He wouldn’t really be God. And if we were to wait until He proves Himself to us before we put our faith in Him, He really isn’t God since He has to answer to us.
One of my favorite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, is about the vanity, transience, or meaninglessness of life apart from God. It states that God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Even though we can appreciate things in their time, we long for more because these things pass away. We seek something that is eternal. He is the only one who could fill that void in our hearts, but we have the choice whether to let Him in or not.
And so I will end in the same way that Ecclesiastes did:
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
If God is truly God, we are all answerable to Him.