Scripture from sacred texts inspires, informs and challenges the faithful. To face the challenges, it is important not only to read but to study the text. Over the years of teaching and preaching, I have been asked many questions and heard many opinions. Questions and discussions stimulate natural curiosity and can increase the understanding of any faith.
Reading and studying scripture is rewarding, but it can be puzzling. Out of many passages that arouse my curiosity, I will note two. The first one comes from the complicated story of Job when his friend Zophar asked him a question in Job 11:7, “Can you fathom the depths of God or discover the limits of the Almighty?” This question about God has been asked by many, but not completely revealed to humans. The reason is given in the following lines, Job 11:8-9, “They are higher than the heavens above. They are deeper than the depths below. Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” In other words beyond human comprehension. In this story, the question serves to deliver a different message. Zophar mistakenly believed that he had access to God’s mysteries. Job also had too much spiritual pride and was taught that he did not know God’s depth and unlimited power and wisdom. It is a warning against spiritual pride. Some people act as if they alone have access to God’s wisdom. If people of faith use scripture as a power tool to coerce, condemn, judge or humiliate others, they should consider passages of their sacred text. Christians have been instructed to walk humbly and trust God.
Judgment for whether an individual has upheld or denied God’s righteousness will be considered in time. Human judgment and laws are valid if they do not violate God’s laws. In addition to laws, human conduct should be guided by an inner light that reveals the proper forms of conduct.
We do not know all of the “hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge of God,” but Christians have been told that God has revealed himself in Christ. Christ has taught us how to live. He is the guiding inner light. This point is supported in Colossians 2:2-3. “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul was writing about the church people in Colossae (modern Turkey), but the message for all Christians is clear: God through Christ revealed that Christians should live and act with love and kindness. Christians look forward to the time when all the mysteries of God will be revealed.
People of faith have been given assurance by the justification of faith which mean that one can be forgiven of sins and have a restored relationship with God.
Christians have been told that they are saved by faith alone apart from obedience or good works. Yet, we find a passage in James 2:14-17 that stresses the importance of good works. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
To reconcile the requirement of faith and good works, one must believe that good works will flow from faith. They are the natural effect of faith.
“How do we cope with great sorrow and suffering?” It is a question that can challenge faith. This pandemic has taken many lives and placed others in danger in their support of the sick and dying. Many people in our country have already been lost to drugs and violence. In this time of confusion and loss, we pray for strength and wisdom. In spite of fear, may we help those with emotional and physical needs. May we give thanks to those who are on the front line of danger. May we find peace and strength in knowing that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 and “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13