It is January 1, 2020. The first day of a new year and a time of making resolutions. I make the same resolution every year: to better integrate what I believe and what I practice.
Back when the iPhone was a novelty it came with a game called The Marble Maze. In order to get the digital marble to fall into the digital hole you had to get it through a digital maze by tilting the iPhone back and forth and getting things lined up just right. Integrating faith and practice is very much like playing the marble maze game. I’m an academic at heart. I love teaching. I love new ideas and chasing their implications. But I’m not the stereotypical ivory tower academic. I think ideas really matter and I especially think what I believe should determine how I live. But, like getting the marble through the maze, integrating faith and life takes awareness, commitment, focus and adjustment. It takes a lot of tilting to get through the maze of life with an integrated faith and practice. This frustration is nothing new.
Apparently the Ephesians aced doctrinal orthodoxy (they could tell false apostles from true) and excelled at hard work, but they had lost their first love. It is a bad thing to know what we believe, but to practice it without love.
Which is better – to believe the truth or to love our neighbor? Neither! It is a false choice. Faith and practice should be integrated.
We live active lives. But just concentrating on our actions can make us shallow. Time pressures us to live by what’s expedient. Faith provides the corrective by reminding us that the quick and easy action is often the wrong action. Knowing what we believe matters to the way we live and people are starved for it.
Ephesians 4:24 reminds us that we are to: “clothe [ourselves] with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness.” It’s easy to focus on the word “righteousness” and turn this verse easily into a teaching on moral character. Instead let’s ask ourselves what it means to be created “according to the likeness of God?” To answer that the natural question that begs to be answered is “Well, what is God like?” It seems that by exploring the nature of God (theology), we can begin to see what God expects of (and is doing in) a believer. The deeper our understanding the less likely it seems that true righteousness is a list of qualities that roughly matches our notion of a righteous character, working to realize that list of qualities, and calling it good. We love the simplicity of lists. We love the tangible, the workable. Unfortunately, I just don’t think Ephesians 4:24 yields itself to a simple workable list. It reveals a much deeper truth.
The very image of the Godhead is being restored in me/us by the grace of God. That image in us somehow involves a mutually interactive community of agape love within the Godhead. Thinking about having that image restored in me makes me think about not just my individual righteousness but the righteousness the my communities. Then the “payoff” question comes: Does my faith community reflect the image of God? Is that image being restored in us? Can anybody see it? Can we?
In the end, if our beliefs do not pierce our hearts, they are pretty useless. But when they do pierce our hearts they restore our souls. We must ponder our beliefs for them to pierce our hearts. Pondering is a kind of mixed activity. It’s more than prayer, but prayerful. It’s more than study, but studious, slow, reflective. It’s meditation in the classic sense of the word.
If you’re not pondering your beliefs like this now, the beginning of a new year is a good time to begin. Join me in the quest to integrate faith and practice.