Hope–Authentic Faith Formation: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Hope anticipates God to do what God has promised. Abraham Heschel, a critical thinker and Hasidic Rabbi, wrote this about God’s promise that faith has incredible rewards. “God is unwilling to be alone, and man cannot forever remain impervious to what He longs to show. Those of us who cannot keep their striving back and find themselves at times within the sight of the unseen and become aglow with its rays some of us blush, others wear a mask. Faith is a blush in the presence of God.” And Paul confirms the impact of faith, that blush as opposed to a mask before God, when he writes, “He (God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Being formed in faith through the experiences of God’s righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, is a sign that hope is real.
Faith is critical. And so is its formation in our lives. Without faith in Christ, human flounders. I often ponder if our struggle with faith formation rests in our preconceptions of what God must be like as opposed to who God is. The story is told…
Visitors to the Smithsonian Museum of American History see the flag that flew over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1814. The original flag measured 42 by 30 feet. It was the immense size of the flag that allowed Key to see it from his position 10 miles out to sea, following a night of gunfire. The means by which a flag that large could fly on a pole 189 feet in the air is on display at Fort McHenry on Baltimore’s inner harbor. There, in one of the barracks, are two oak timbers, 8 foot by 8 foot, joined as a cross. National Park Service personnel discovered this cross-shaped support near the entrance to Fort McHenry in 1958, buried nine feet below ground. Not only did the cross help rangers locate the original site from which the star spangled banner flew, but it answered the mystery of how such a large flag could fly in stormy weather without snapping the pole. This unseen wooden device provided a firm foundation for the symbol of our national freedom. Similarly, the cross of Christ provides the foundation by which our faith is rooted and supported.
The text in 1 Corinthians makes two points regarding faith formation as a necessary and crucial life discipline. First, Christian thinking must be shaped by and rooted in the cross. Religion is a means for human attempts to connect with the Divine. Christianity provides an opportunity for human to respond to God’s decision to engage us. Second, no one likes to be embarrassed or viewed as a fool. Asserting that we can choose God and “make,” if you will, God do things for us is considered wise. Intellect and ingenuity are held in high esteem, so when Christianity makes the claim that God chose human and not the other way around, we easily can be embarrassed. And no one likes being called a fool. Acknowledging that faith is formed by what God accomplished on the cross for every human being in Jesus Christ is foolish in the world’s eyes in that human cannot take credit for salvation. What is foolish in the eyes of others is wisdom according to God. P. Mark Achtemeier, former Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary, writes, “Paul in the passage stresses that fellowship with God is the product of God’s decision to come to us. He bases this claim on God’s act of reconciliation in the cross.”
Hope, believing that God will do what God has promised, demands we take seriously authentic faith formation. The cross cannot be ignored. Relationships that ultimately matter, with God and others, are possible only through the reconciling work of God in the cross. Again, Achtemeier writes, “This unlikely means of salvation, in which the Son of God suffers and dies an ignominious death for the redemption of humankind, is not something that conventional spiritual wisdom or philosophical reflection could have anticipated.”
Authentic faith formation nurtures our relationships with God and others. Christian thinking must be rooted in the cross. Although faith is a blush in the presence of God, no one likes to be embarrassed or viewed as a fool. So, our forming as faithful disciples of Jesus must grow comfortable with the realization that authentic faith formation is an ongoing journey of gratitude for what God has already done on our behalf for which we can take no credit. Christianity is not a ladder of spiritual achievement that we can be taught to climb by those who are enlightened. The Christian journey is not a methodology. At the heart and center of our Christian Faith is the claim about what God has already done on the cross for you, me, and all humanity. As Martin Thielen writes, “All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend time and energy creating, are built on sand. Sooner or later a wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. And when that happens, only the person who has somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh and rebuild.”
Jesus showed us that this is true, the hand holding of God and others. Recall the beatitudes as found in Matthew 5:1-12. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And blessed are you when people revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Practicing the beatitudes nurtures our relationship with God and others. Therein lies contentment. By faith, God and others hold our hands. And such is the role of faith.
Samuel H. Dresner, editor, I Asked for Wonder (New York City, New York: Crossroad, 1983), 5.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31
Idea gleaned from Preben Vang, Teach the Text Commentary Series 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2014), 31.
P. Mark Achtemeier in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 302.
Some ideas in previous sentences have been gleaned from P. Mark Achtemeier in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 306.
Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 97.