Surrender!

I recently had a conversation with an friend about surrender.

We were discussing the nature of good and evil. I believe that you don’t need to be a Christian, or religious, to be good. Nor does a particular religious identity diminish the capacity for evil.

The great biblical scholar Willi Marxsen, probably the last bible scholar also famous for theological ethics, argued that the real point of the Christ event, the faith of Jesus, is that He is the sign for taking action.

There are a couple easy objections. Such a view is a bit reductionistic. It’s as if someone told us, “do something.”

We could just as easily respond with “do what?”

“Just stand there.” “Look busy.” Or just dead silence.

I argued that we know God when we are active, taking risks, and creating. When Luther said “sin boldly,” he was stating that knowing the love of God allows us to make mistakes sometimes. Knowing God means also knowing your power. And it is going to be imperfect. If it were perfect, it would be God-like.

My friend’s response: and what about surrender? Sometimes it is precisely when we realize we do not have power that we are able to grow and become transformed by God. I can’t control everything. One cannot both surrender and have power.

Yet even surrendering is a creative act. And often we need to surrender over and over again. Surely, we do not need to be in control, because the Divine Affection is. But the debate between initiative and surrender conceals Christ’s deeper challenge.

Jesus doesn’t ask for action or surrender for their own sake, but because our lives are at stake: are we zombies or human beings? sometimes the choices we make deaden us; and other times it is through surrendering we become award of God’s glory. Christ wants us to recognize our shared humanity and its reflection of the grand transcendence around us.

It’s actually an old metaphysical problem. Are we the living dead? Are we puppets on a string? We we simply robots? Or are we alive? Can we take the risk of commitment? Can we take the risk to change? To whom to we surrender?

We act in our walking. And some times we will stand still and surrender to the enchanted glory that envelops us.

One perspective on faith

Paul says in Romans: “The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve.”

In this passage he is making faith subjective. Faith is located in the individual. He’s almost saying, “if it feels good, do it!” He tempers this a little later in the letter, but he is also insinuating: don’t judge other people’s faith. Your conviction is your own. It’s a blessing in its own right. But it also means we can’t go around dismantling the hope of others, or judging them on their lack of confidence.

Have you ever been suspicious of the way people use the word “faith?” I have. Sometimes it seems like a short-cut for thinking, or a synonym for foolishness. “Faith-based” can also be a codeword for institutions like churches that want to have some say in the political sphere.

I believe, however, that “faith” is not merely about believing in things that simply won’t happen or in the supernatural. “Faith” is a description of what we trust. It provides a lens with which to see the world. It may be sometimes grainy, but it helps us understand what we see. In this thin sense, human beings are imbued with a faith as deep as the alphabet we use to speak.

It may also be the location where we find our strength: such as the love we have for our kids; the support we get from our loved ones; our commitment for a changed world order; in the belief that our parish can become a place to experience creativity in our communities.

“Faith” also describes those rituals, practices and thoughts that are so ingrained we don’t even reflect upon them. We aren’t even aware they are there. That we wake up, have breakfast, go to work, take care of the dog, and come home requires a habit of action that assumes the presence of millions of other actors and actions that may change at any moment. So to some extent, to say “I have faith” is to be redundant. Perhaps the best way to say we have “faith” is to say nothing at all, but merely to live confidently in the world, believing, however foolishly, that what we do matters.

Even more so, faith allows us to say that we can reflect upon our rituals, and have some choice about who we are and what we can be. It might be a faith that allows our awareness, our sensitivity, or our creativity to be harnessed to enchant the world and reveal the loveliness of the world that has been made and we continue to make. Blessed be!