Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.
― St. Augustine of Hippo [my emphasis]
Walking in Faith
Sometimes God explains why He gives us a command or a ritual to perform and sometimes he doesn't. There may or may not come the second part of understanding the command.
Some of His commands seem reasonable such as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Most religions and even atheists can see the logic in that.
But what about His law not to engage in sex before marriage or divorce once married and at the very least never remarry if you do leave your spouse? Many have tried to logically argue that God was wrong about those commands. After all, we are in the 21st century and things are different now. Surely He doesn't mean that today we are supposed to refrain from having sex before marriage and obviously He doesn't expect people who have divorced from abusive spouses stay single the rest of their lives? Right?
Most Christians assume that God doesn't expect us to behave like automatons. He is not a totalitarian who expects us to blindly follow Him. He gives us free will. God is reasonable. He convinced us with the Holy Spirit and with the Bible.
Christians will pick up the scriptures and show that it clearly spells out in black and white what is sin. And most of that is fairly reasonable. But when it comes to actually living by it, most Christians hesitate. Most insist that even if they are the very words of Christ, they must be judged to be compatible with the culture. The spiritual must be tested, the miraculous, verified. It need to make sense to us before we obey, right?
Isn't that what the great Reformer Luther stated? "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain
Luther's "I must understand before I will believe" is the exact opposite of St. Augustine's "believe that you may understand."
Granted we do begin our grasp of the gospel with understanding.
As we come and reason together, the Holy Spirit draws us with enough evidence that we accept Christianity. Jesus asks us to believe in Him as Savior. We trust Him enough to dedicate our lives to Him. The evidence of the Cross and His atonement is compelling, though we do not yet understand the Trinity doctrine or many other things written in scripture.
As we grow in faith, we will begin to understand through little steps, lots and lots of little steps. Through the journey of obedience, we beginunderstand. Similar to the trust you place in a person you end up later marrying, there is enough evidence at first to capture your interest. But you walk with your beloved, your trust grows. That is similar to what happens in our relationship with Christ.
That's how the obedience of faith works. While we are spiritual children, sometimes we just obey because our Father tells us to. Of course we can question, God expects our questions and He certainly has answers. But sometimes He does not give us the answers. He wants us exercise our faith by not understanding. He asks us to trust Him.
And if you have been walking with Christ long enough, there will be a time when He asks you to walk on water. And this will not make sense. He is teaching us to trust Him.
Now to build upon this and bring it into the understanding of faith and works. This is a much misunderstood doctrine of Christ. While Jesus speaks of faith as saving us, He also speaks of judging people by their works.
Protestants are adamant about separating works and faith. As if doing deeds of charity or going to church is somehow against the gospel of Christ if it has any connection to salvation. Well, I think if they saw things with a little different perspective they might not feel quite so adamant.
Now keep in mind that I am not arguing a works-salvation. I repeat WE CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES by our good works. We are saved by grace through faith. But, I will show you how the obedience of faith ties together faith and works in a wonderful way.
To begin, we must understand why we are on this earth. Why didn't everything wrap up at the Cross and everyone go straight to heaven? Why all this madness and chaos post-Cross? Why are we here?
We have been given this time on earth to accept the gospel and grow to love and trust God. That is the entire point of each covenant with God. We must learn to truth Him. Totally.
Think of it like this. After this life, we will be living an eternal adventure with God. It will
require complete and perfect trust. Sin keeps us from trusting God, so sin has to be eradicated. Jesus did that on the Cross for the world, and we now each must take that gift and run with it, in faith.
And to teach us love and trust, God had a plan. He didn't just stop at the Cross and slap His hands together and walk away with "I'm done here, y'all have fun." He gave us a plan in order to help all those who accept the gospel to "finish the race."
There is a great mystery that most Christians don't ever understand. Being good, keeping the law doesn't help us to love and trust God. But faith alone doesn't either.
You see sin must be eradicated, for sin blocks us from trusting and loving God. But just keeping the Mosaic law couldn't do it. The Pharisees found that out. But keeping the New Covenant law can't do it either. Perfection, as our Father in heaven is perfect, must be through learning to trust God. And we can learn to love and trust Him through keeping His commandments.
Don't get too far ahead of me. First consider this:
God tells us to love our neighbor as ourself by feeding our neighbor if he is hungry. That's rational. We can do that without any faith or trust in God. We can handle that. So we give a homeless man some money or bring him some food. We have obeyed God's command. Right. We did well.
This is the first part of the journey. God gives us simple, clear rules we can understand. And this begins to teach us love and trust.
Then all of a sudden our spouse cheats on us. We do not believe this relationship can mend. It to us is not just toxic, it is dead. Our logic tells us to divorce. Our emotions tell us that we have no option but to hate our spouse.
Now God tells us we must forgive them. We have come to a place where we can't forgive on our own. The hurt is too keen, the wound too deep.
Forgiveness is impossible. And we have to submit to Christ's command, rather than go with what we think is best, or what a marriage counselor might prescribe, or what even logic says is best. We have to prostrate ourselves and beg to God's grace to forgive. We walk in obedience to faith. It is a leap of faith that will eventually bring us to supernatural trust in Christ.
The whole purpose of God's law is not to make us good enough to save. God doesn't want simply perfect behavior, but perfect trust. (Which is also perfect love.) Every single act of obedience, every single command, every single rite and ritual we are given by God is to help us along this path of trust. It is not just to make us grovel like obedient slaves, but to make us strong with confidence. He is able. God is able.
God's plan with the sacraments and rites and rituals are to give us grace and nourish us as we learn this supernatural trust in Him. It is not enough to follow God when we can see the end of the road or understand where He is taking us. It is important for us to take the baby steps of confession and penance and going to mass and taking the Eucharist often, these steps we can see and somewhat understand so that when the road is dark and lonely, we will still keep walking in faith.
We start out walking in faith, so that we will someday be able to fly in faith. But we can only fly if we throw ourselves off a cliff! (I mean this spiritually, of course.)
When you can't understand something that God has asked us to do, like refrain from taking contraception or divorcing or believe marriage is for a male and female, or give alms, it is all about learning not to trust in our own reasoning or money. Always remember, He is the Alpha and the Omega. He already sees the end and knows that this is best in the long run. He sees things you cannot see nor even understand. Trust Him, he whispers to each of us and we learn to fly.
Believe in Christ and obey first, the understanding will come during the journey. In this way, faith and the works cannot be separated, each act of faith strengthens our faith and trust. It is the journey of obedience, the journey of action that perfects our faith. We cannot have one without the other.
It can be hard, very hard, but this is for eternity. Eternity will be about love and love comes from trusting God.