Faith and Belief
Faith as Participation
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Many scholars have pointed out that what is usually translated in Paul’s letters as “faith in Christ” would be more accurately translated as “the faith of Christ.” It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating—with varying degrees of resistance and consent—in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked. We are forever carried inside of the “Corporate Personality” that Jesus Christ always is for Paul (citations too numerous to count!). That’s a very different understanding of faith than most Christians enjoy.
Most people think having faith means “to believe in Jesus.” But, “to share in the faith of Jesus” is a much richer concept. It is not so much an invitation as it is a cosmic declaration about the very shape of reality. By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. All we can do now is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us.
Remember, it’s God in you that loves God. You, on your own, don’t really know how to love God. It’s Christ in you that recognizes Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit, whose temple you are (see 1 Corinthians 3:16), that responds to the Holy Spirit. Like recognizes like. That’s why all true cognition is really recognition (“re-cognition” or knowing something again). Only so far as you have surrendered to Christ and allowed the Christ in you to come to fullness can you love Christ. It’s Christ in you that recognizes and loves Christ.
“Faith” is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox (although those things might well be good). Such intellectual assent does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith.
Both Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of faith is much better translated as foundational confidence or trust that God cares about what is happening right now. This is clearly the quality that Jesus fully represents and then praises in other people.
God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love; God can only be experienced in communion. This is why Jesus “commands” us to move toward love and fully abide there. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and which we can allow to pass through us. I am afraid you can believe doctrines (e.g., virgin birth, biblical inerrancy, Real Presence in bread and wine, etc.) to be true and not enjoy such a radical confidence in love or God at all.
Gateway to Silence:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. —Proverbs 3:5
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 9 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.