During worship this past First Day at the monthly meeting, an older Friend rose and shared with us that he is struggling with the idea of faith.
"Has faith become a meaningless virtue?" he asked. "Because if George W. Bush and I both are labeled as people of faith, as 'believers,' then what does 'faith' or 'being a believer' mean?"Later during worship, when the meeting moved into its customary worship-sharing mode for those items that were still weighing on Friends' hearts but had not risen to the level of vocal ministry, a number of other Friends spoke about their own wrestling with what 'having faith' means.
I was surprised at my own inward stirrings. What I was hearing from these Friends was running counter to my own experience of how God was covering me just then, that we are required to love and not just have faith.
I found myself unexpectantly reflecting on these two texts, the first of which I readily understood the connection; the second left me perplexed:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.I am still caught off guard when parts of Scripture rise for me in worship. I am so new to the Bible; I've never read either the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian texts straight through.
--1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
--Matthew 19:16-24 (NIV)
Sometimes I fear I only look at those parts of the text that reflect back to me my own thoughts, feelings, and concerns. This particular morning, though, I began to worry that our meetings could be doing a better job nurturing Friends whose faith is languishing or whose faith seems to be rooted in shallow or sandy soil.
This particular morning, my heart turned toward the questions,
What IS faith without love?And:
If faith without love is so unpleasant and undesirable, then is it more important to have love; to have love without faith...?I know myself to have experienced and to have expressed "faith without love." It is an aggressive, righteous expression of faith, a statement that says "I'm right and you're wrong." I have not liked myself when I have known myself to have come from that loveless-but-faithful place.
But what about experiencing and expressing love even when one doesn't have faith...? I have known those times as well. And somehow that seems... closer... to what God intended. It reminds me of the story of the Good Samaritan.
As for the "eye of the needle" quote, I am reminded of how hard it is to give up my material wealth and my wealth based on what I want, in order that I keep my "eye on the prize," to keep God at the center of my life. ...Faith in a life filled with earthly riches certainly confuses my priorities!
Oooh, I sense a movement within me that feels very, very big. And I recognize I am not ready to look at it yet. So I will stop here and see how these questions and the Spirit might exercise me.
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