The Outworking of Faith
In a kind of follow up to my previous post, I would like to address what the outworking of faith in the world around us means after we have obtained it. As a reaffirmation of what it means to be a “new creation” in Christ, I find certain aspects of the Fall of Man quite interesting:
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
The contrast is inferred to be in direct opposition to what Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden. Man and Woman were both made as equals in the image of God, but now Sin has causes Eve to become subordinate to Adam’s authority. They both lived in peace with creation, but now Adam must toil the ground with hard labour. Ultimately, of course, they are both expelled from Eden, having gone from a perfect communion with God into a chasm of distance between them.
The traditionalist (and also literalist) interpretation is that the Fall had some kind of cosmic effect on the earth, and that the “thorns and thistles” are representative of the way creation began to decay because of the Sin humanity had wrought upon it. It’s occured to me, however, that the scheme of events might actually be subtler than this. The first point in the story upon which we first realise things have gone terribly wrong is the realisation Adam and Eve gain of their own nakedness. There has not been any significant change in reality itself, but rather in the way our two character perceive said reality. Similarly, it might not be the case that the Fall radically altered the entire universe, but simply that Man’s perception of it changed. Where we were meant to be equal, we become enslaved to a system of authority and subordination. Where we were meant to live in peace with creation, we came to see it as hostile and unforgiving. Where we were meant to have a communion with God, we became distant from Him and turned instead toward ourselves. Ultimately, that is what the condition of Sin really is; a moving away of the focus from God and humanity, and the turning inward to ourselves and our own desires.
As I mused in my last post, if faith is the forgiveness of Sin, then faith is also the end of these divisions we set up for ourselves which separate us from the rest of humanity, from creation, and from God. The former reality, we now realise, was an illusion which we saw through the lens of human mortality. Now, however, God has removed the illusion and unveiled what we might call “the new creation,” the beginning to reconciliation between existence, and between existence and God.
What the new creation signifies then, is harmony and unity. The Gospel which Christ preached, that of the coming of God’s Kingdom, spelled the beginning of the new creation which begins in the individual person and then manifests itself to the rest of the world. This is what I mean by the “outworking of faith.” We might alternatively call such a phenomenon “good works,” which of course we do as people of God, but we also accept that works are the natural outworking of the faith God has granted us. This manifestation, I feel, is the growing unity of humankind through the eternal love of the Living God.
When I speak of things like peace, nonviolence, anarchism, etc, what I am really doing is putting in modern terms how I feel this outworking ideally ought to be seen. I believe the Gospel demands nonviolence because there can be no unity in destructiveness. I believe in peace because I ultimately feel this is the effort of God seen on earth. I believe in anarchism because I do not feel that subordination and coercion can exist in the ideals of universal harmony.
I do find it quite interesting to note, on this point, that I have often noticed something of a dual nature within the human psyche when it comes to matters like these. For example, it is not uncommon to hear of people saying they could not work in the development of weapons, and I have known of people in the past who did work in such positions yet admitted they grappled with the moral implications of such a job. However, on one occasion when I brought up the subject of pacifism to one of them, he became quite animated in defending the causes of just war and violence. Similarly, most average people will express a definite disdain for politicians and a general distrust of authority. However, suggest the idea of anarchism to them, and they will most likely be the first to defend the unadulterated need of government.
There seems to be a large inner war going on within the human heart. Somewhere, we just know that this is not the way things should be. We know that peace is more desirable over war. We know that people should not be kept in poverty for the favour of the privelaged. We know that government is an inherently corrupt and immoral system. But there is something else, something deeply ingrained within our personas which cannot accept that change ought to happen, something which convinces us and drives us to convince others around us that the present scheme of things is the correct scheme. Tragically, we have been conditioned from generation to generation to accept this scheme, and not to challenge it out of a misguided belief that anything else will spell disaster for humanity.
I cannot help but be reminded of Paul, who says in Romans 7 that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” We are dual-natured human beings; in one sense, created in the divine image of God, and in another sense ravaged by the condition of Sin which turns our focus inward. As Paul concludes in his dialogue of inner despair, it is God we thank for granting us His grace where we cannot defeat Sin by our own ability. However, we also understand that righteousness is the system to which we are now enslaved, not the world and its darkness. This appears very much to be the inward battle of the individual human being.
It is not just that we need to “turn away from sin,” but that we need to focus on the outworking of faith. To turn away from sin, while important, is simply to satiate a personal struggle. The cosmic struggle, that of the mortal decay which ravages the creation due to Man’s flawed perceptions, is a greater matter altogether. If we have been restored to communion with God, man, and creation, then we are agents for bringing about this restoration in the rest of the world. Not necessarily to act as super-missionaries preaching the Gospel to every random stranger in the course of a day, but simply to act as the example, to be the change we wish to see, and to change the world one piece at a time.
As with all things, it begins in the human heart.