Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Prism of Faith

If salvation is by faith, what do we make of Matthew 12:50: "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother"? And 1 John 2:4: "The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected"? And James 2:19: "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?"

Does it mean that salvation is by faith and works? No, it simply means that faith which doesn't produce good works is not real faith. Good works is evidence of faith, and we will ultimately be judged by our works (1 Peter 1:17). Galatians 5:6 says: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." And John 14:15 says: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."

Faith is like a prism that separates white light into a spectrum of colors. Just like the colors of a rainbow are evidence of light shining through a prism, good works are evidence of the Holy Spirit working through faith.

That means that trying to earn our salvation by good works is like drawing a rainbow with crayons. That's not what God is looking for because it is not evidence of his Light in our lives. And it leaves us feeling either self-righteous or discouraged because it has no power to change our hearts.

The absence of good works likewise means that our lives are devoid of his Light. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). And dead faith is no faith at all.

God invites us to come to him and receive what he has to give. He wants to give us his love, so that doing his will comes naturally. He wants to give us his peace, so we are no longer at war with ourselves. And he wants to give us his joy, to empower us to live fully.

And he will give us the prism of faith if we ask him for it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

God's Nature

One of the most terrible examples of God's judgment of sin is the story of Noah's ark. Even though it has inspired the decor of many a nursery with pictures of a bald, bearded man squeezed into the ark with cartoon-eyed animals, it is anything but sweet. When the earth had become too violent and corrupt, God decided to destroy all flesh, except those in the ark. 

The water came from the "fountains of the great deep" as well as "the floodgates of the sky" (Genesis 7:11). What is this "great deep"? Other Bible passages indicate that it is the ocean. Wikipedia confirms this event: 

Burckle Crater is an undersea crater likely to have been formed by a very large scale and relatively recent (c. 2800-3000 BC) comet or meteorite impact event. It is estimated to be about 30 km (18 mi) in diameter [1], hence about 25 times larger than Meteor Crater.

The comet would have struck the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and Australia, causing a mega tsunami. 

But I digress, because I've spent so much time talking with atheists recently that I can no longer say anything without backing it up. As soon as I had written the first sentence I heard voices in my head insisting that scientifically the flood couldn't have happened. 

I really wanted to talk about the two parts of God's nature that are so closely intertwined that we cannot separate them: his justice and his mercy. First, there is God's justice. Victims require justice. Nobody sins in a vacuum--sin not only affects other people, but it spreads like a cancer. "The sins of the fathers" are truly visited upon the children, as psychotherapists can attest to. The children bear the scars and inflict them on their own children. 

Although our justice system recognizes that criminals are often deeply broken, crime has to be punished and society has to be protected. But sin injures even when no punishable crime has been committed. And sin and suffering are inexorably linked, even where the link is not direct. 

So God who is just and good will some day do away with all sin and evil. Nothing and no one who causes people to stumble can have a place in the New Earth (Matthew 13:41). In the same way that God flooded the earth during the time of Noah, he will put an end to the current earth. And in the same way that he gave Noah clear instructions on how to build the ark, he gives us clear instructions in his word on how to receive "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:15). 

After the flood, he put his rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant of peace and mercy. And after his crucifixion, when evil seemed to have prevailed, he went "and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:20). At that darkest moment of human rebellion, he extended his offer of peace to the corrupt people who died in the flood, demonstrating that his mercy triumphs over judgment.