Friday, January 12, 2007

Seeing Faith and Obedience

I have moved from lectio on Ezra to Colossians. This passage and a parallel from the Psalms caught my attention:

"from the day you heard and understood (ekousamen kai egnomen) the grace of God."
-- Col 1: 6

"what we have heard and understood (LXX: ekousate kai epegnote; Hb. shama'nu vanneda'em)
-- Ps. 78: 3

Faith comes through hearing, says Saint Paul elsewhere. It is worth noting that this faith, if we read it in light of this passage, can be linked to understanding (read: fides et ratio). Similarly, students of the Old Testament are often told that hearing in the Semitic languages means obeying as well. Think of Abraham, when God calls to him in Genesis 22: "Here I am!" Samuel has a similar experience of hearing and disposing himself to obey. Again, I believe that the connection of obedience and understanding can be enlightened by these two passage.

In bringing up faith and obedience, I mean to point out that we often think of blind faith and blind obedience as the truest kinds, perhaps even more praiseworthy than understanding faith and obedience. Not all think this praiseworthy of course, and not a few intellectual types are afraid of the Christian faith because they understand it to involve turning off the brain.

Faith is not unreasonable. It can be understood. Perhaps it cannot be understood all at once, but most of us also need time to understand differential calculus or the General Theory of Relativity. Just because most of us can't quite follow Einstein in no way suggests that he is unreasonable or that our faith in his theories (which are important for things like sending men to the moon) is blind.

Obedience is also not unreasonable. Someone needs to make decisions if we are to live together, and it is reasonable to entrust decisions to a person who has the most information and wisdom. How's an omnipotent God for that role?

Granted, both examples I quote are late examples of 'Semitic' thought. Let me finish by pointing out that the Greeks are sometimes blamed for introducing this idea of sight and understanding into the pristine Hebrew religious practice of hearing and doing. Might it not instead be the case that the Greeks gave the Jews a vocabulary and method to describe something already present in Israel?

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