Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fallen by unbelief; Justified by faith

The atonement debates seem to be heating up again. Much of the ground has been thoroughly covered, but perhaps a few comments might be productive.

First, what is the nature of the fall? It is first of all a loss of faith in God, and the rest follows. The serpent is portrayed as preaching doubt in God: distrust of God's honesty, distrust of God's motives, distrust of God's word. The fall happens when we say in our doubt, "That's right; I can't trust God. He doesn't have our best interests at heart. He's trying to keep us down. He's trying to keep exaltation for himself." It is precisely a loss of faith -- a loss of trust in God -- that is the key moment of humanity's fall from grace. Grace, again, is a good relationship with God. When our actions advertise a distrust of God, when we say with our actions "God is not trustworthy", implicitly accusing God either of duplicity and treachery or of a lack of wisdom -- this inherently and by its very nature destroys the relationship of grace.

If the fall is a loss of faith -- loss of trust in God -- then is righteousness anything other than faith? Is righteousness anything other than confessing, "God is trustworthy"? Is a return to our right minds any more complicated than that realization that God is trustworthy, that he is for us and that his word can be trusted? God's faithfulness is the bedrock on which our faith stands. And our trust is not a blind leap or an irrational one, but a reliance on the reality of God's trustworthiness.

Abraham and the ancients were reckoned righteous by faith, because they considered that God who made the promise was faithful.

What about our faith? As guilty people, we dare not trust the judge. Does God have our best interests at heart? That question becomes, in our bad consciences, whether the judge has at heart the best interests of the guilty. We dare not risk it, so we hurry to accuse the judge of unfairness, to create a cosmic mistrial, to get ourselves acquitted not by innocence but by counter-accusations. That is unbelief. Notice how atheism -- supposedly a belief that there is no God -- actually in practice is much more preoccupied with accusing the judge of unfairness. The driving force of atheism is the variety of unbelief spoken of in the fall -- unbelief in God's fairness -- rather than unbelief in God's existence. The innocent may go before a judge boldly, but not the guilty.

Here is one place where Christ speaks plainly and clearly to us. It is in Christ that God has proved his faithfulness to us. In Christ, God has shown the world that he has our best interests at heart, even as guilty as we are. It is in seeing Christ and hearing the message of Christ that we trust God again.

And as we trust God again, we find that this is righteousness. This is faith; it comes through hearing the message of Christ. As we trust God again, we find that we are in a right relationship with him again, and that this is grace; it comes through Christ. The day of accusing God to justify ourselves is over.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

As you say, when our actions advertise a distrust of God, that is sin.

Righteousness is the opposite: when our actions advertise a faith in God. When that trust is both explicit and implicit. Either one alone is not faith in a Christian sense.

Abraham didn't just *consider*, he based his *life* upon that trust.

Put another way, actions is the explicit side of faith, while belief is the implicit. You need both to constitute true faith.


Weekend Fisher said...

(Copying in some comments from a neighboring blog, so that if I ever refer to this later I can find all the discussion on it more easily.)

Mark: My question to put to Anne’s essay would be if the fall is just loss of faith, what was accomplished by Christ on the cross and by his Ressurection on Pascha?

My Reply: Hi Mark

I’m not contending that the fall is “just” a loss of faith; I’m contending that the fall’s first misstep, the one that makes the rest inevitable, is the loss of faith.

I edited out the parts of that post on the consequences of the fall because it was a little off-topic for the current post, which looks at the key place of faith in both the fall and the redemption.

So read the original post in the spirit intended, not as an exhaustive catalog of what happens during the fall and redemption, but on the key place of unbelief during the fall and faith during the restoration.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

(Copying in more comments ...)

Mark said:
I didn’t mean to be uncharitable, as you were responding not just to my post but a whole bunch of them. At any rate, I had only commented on the faith issue as regards its connection with justification and penal substitution. That is the “spirit”, to which my comment was intended.

I wonder though if loss of faith is sufficient explanation. Adam was “walking with God”, which seems to me a closer relationship than those of us today in the fallen world. Do you need faith when you have such a close active intimate relationship with God? It was his disobedience that led to expulsion and the fall.

On another note, N.T. Wright (who figures in at least some of these discussions) notes “Faith in Christ” as the equivalent in the New Covenant to circumcision and following Torah in the Old.


My reply:
I think you and I are working from different definitions of “faith”. “Faith” (in Lutheran parlance, remember I’m still on the other side of the Bosphorus) means “trust”. On that definition, faith is part and parcel of that “close active intimate relationship with God”, and asking if you “need” faith when you have that “close active intimate relationship with God” is a question which arises from a different definition of faith.

Btw I didn’t think you were uncharitable, just that I could see some things I wanted to clarify.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Sure, Adam and Eve fell by lack of faith. They believed the serpent instead of God! They believed God was a selfish, lying tyrant. How much less faith can you have in a person??


Weekend Fisher said...

Right. You don't disobey God without first distrusting God.