“Belief is No Good Without Practice” and Other Stupid Statements (Part Deux)
from Parchment and Pen by C Michael Patton
Part one in a nutshell: God is glorified by right belief. Right belief is foundational to right practice.
In Peter Rollins’ book How Not To Think About God (a book I enjoyed and recommend) it is said that we are to love God as a newborn baby loves his mother. Rollins says that the baby does not need to know anything about his mother to love her. He simply recognizes her as his mother and rests in her protection.
The point he makes is that the Christian life, like the newborn, is not so much to love God by knowing or understanding him, but to be known, understood, and loved by him. While this has much to commend as we as children of God recognize and find protection in our Father’s love, the analogy does not provide a sustainable or stable illustration of the Christian worldview. It can also be misleading, giving people the impression that God does not care about what you think about him or whether you understand or know him.
What we must realize is that the baby is unable to move beyond its state which necessitates the passivity of his interaction. As many of you know, my wife Kristie and I have been blessed with four children, two girls (10 and 9) and two boys (5 and 2). Not too long ago Zack was an infant. I remember holding him in my arms and was talking to him. One day when I was doing this Will (my then three-year-old son) profoundly informed me that Zack could not understand. “Daddy, Zack does not know what you are saying!!” was his comment. I said to Will, “This is how you learned to talk and understand. If we keep talking to him someday he will be able to respond.”
Though there is a part of me that desired my children to stay a small, helpless, innocent newborns, there is a greater hope—a great anticipation—that one day they will grow to understand and know me. There is the great hope that we will one day have a relationship that is not one sided. In this relationship I will, among other things, tell them my name, let them be involved in my life, share with them things about myself that I would not share with others, and hope that they would love and trust me based on what I have revealed to them. I will hope that they will come to know and understand me.
It is the same thing with God. A relationship is never meant to stay one sided. God did not make newborns to perpetually remain in a state of passive interaction where love comes by default. God created people to grow in our understanding.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts his audience to mature in their thinking. They had become like newborns in their faith which was not a good thing.
Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
“You ought to be teachers” assumes that they needed to grow in their understanding. But sadly these people were like newborn babes, ignorantly feeding off their mother’s milk once again. The time for immaturity in our faith has passed for all of us.
Let me use Jeremiah again and expand on it a little more:
Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
We are not to boast in our supposed wisdom, strength, or riches. But we can boast in our relationship with God. This relationship is defined very particularly in this passage. It requires knowledge and understanding. We can only know and be satisfied in God to the degree that our understanding of Him is growing. The Hebrew word here for “understand” is one that communicates comprehension based upon reflection. This does not mean that we will exhaustively understand God or any one thing about Him. But it does mean that which He has revealed about Himself is essential to our relationship with Him.
What are these things? God is one who “exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth” and that he “delights in these things.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I see this as quite a bit of information here—quite a bit of doctrine, theology, truth, correct information. Who is this God that you love? He is one that is kind, but He is also just. Each of these characteristics go far beyond the information that a newborn can have of a parent. It goes far beyond a theology of milk that says our love for God can stay and grow in a state of joyful agnosticism.
God is good. God is righteous. God will provide. God loves us. God has a plan for the future. God is involved in history. God will not lie. God does not change. God made us in His image. God will not drop us. God will feed us. God will clothe us. God is in control of the good and bad. God gives us comfort. God cares when we cry. God will heal the wounds. These are all statements of belief. This is theology. While we can and should enjoy being loved and understood, our relationship must become reciprocal. The Christian faith is one of understanding God, not simply being understood by him. You cannot have a perpetual relationship that is one sided. There is really no such thing.
Proverbs 2:3-6 “For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”
Again, while God cannot be understood exhaustively, he can and must be understood truly. He himself has said as much.
Beliefs are foundational to all else. Don’t ever think you can have right practice (orthopraxy) without right belief (orthodoxy).