Faith Precedes Wisdom: It’s a Spiritual 'Law'

How interesting is today's set of readings from the Lectionary. We have just witnessed all the drama of the Easter season, and its culmination in the outpouring of God's Spirit in superabundance on the Apostles. On the very first day back in Ordinary time we hear a message insisting on 'faith' as a precursor for wisdom, and we see the Lord Jesus shaking his head asking 'Why is this generation looking for signs?'

Today's gospel reading is actually a confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus: they argue and they want to test him. They are what we would call 'Religious Scientists' who want to observe and evaluate the data. 'Just show us a sign; prove who you are and we'll listen to your theory'. In one sense, none of this is unreasonable as we note that the Lord did perform many signs and wonders during his period of proclaiming the kingdom. And the signs were seen and recorded, and the wonders were witnessed and pondered.

Today's first reading from the Letter of James points to a vital sequence in spiritual growth that often gets ignored in practice. Faith precedes wisdom. James puts it this way:

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways." [James 1:1-11]

Those who accept the Faith in its most rudimentary outlines often move forth slowly in devotion and understanding because they allow unanswered questions to halt their progress. Even those who simply must have their questions answer as a precondition for faith would argue that 'we are begging the real questions' that lurk as barriers to their faith: 'Give us the 'ah-hah' moment of realization and then we'll believe'. Skeptics take note: I don't deny the reality of 'ah-hah' moments, but they are always proceeded by humility and faith. Neither do I deny the real difficulties that unanswered questions pose: and yet ironically, it's the increase in faith that brings wisdom and understanding to unanswered questions and not the other way around. It's a 'spiritual law' that must be respected.

If I wanted to learn the science of physics, I would enter a science class and listen to a physics professor. If I were highly astute I might discern 'gravity' on my own or pick it up from casual conversation and believe in its effect. But to go beyond I would actually require some humility and faith as I would have to sit at the feet of those who are trained in the science. I would have to listen and have my knowledge guided even to the point of conducting 'experiments' that have been produced and reproduce thousands of time in order for me to observe the predictable results. And it almost goes without saying that to learn physics I would speak with a physics professor, not a voodoo doctor.

Let me insert here that I don't need to study physics to enjoy its benefits. And I don't need a PhD in order to avoid jumping off a cliff foolishly; nevertheless whether knowingly or unknowingly, I must respect the law of gravity.

As implausible as this might sound, there's something akin to that in the growth of a faith relationship with God. We follow Church teachings and listen to the 'professors'. In the realm of faith we call them 'shepherds, bishops and pastors' as opposed to professors but their role is similar. We review life's data with the discerning eye of faith formators; who are simply people who have walked ahead of us on the faith journey. We ask the help of those who can demonstrate some acumen in their life of faith and in this process; faith is passed on and grows. We avoid serious pitfalls and believe it or not, we obtain the desired results.

My analogy is limited for certain, but in each case we must demonstrate faith and humility as a precondition, before we can even attempt to acquire the knowledge that we seek. (Here's some practical advice from a former athiest who confronted this very issue.) If you ponder it sufficiently you'll see that it not such an unreasonable demand. And that's exactly what the Pharisees in today's gospel were unwilling to do.


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teresa_anawim2 said...

I find that questioning often leads to growth.
However, in my asking...and I do a lot of that...I often find that many questions have no answers, that I am to go on the obscurity of faith.
They are to remain just what they are...mysteries.
Thanks for this well thought out and well written post today, tausign.
You have a gift for writing which is a blessing.

allyouwhohope said...

Thank you so much for linking to my documentary trailer! That is so kind of you. Also, thank you for your prayers for me and my husband. I can't tell you how much that means to us.

Ilse said...