“The righteous shall live by faith.” Faith is the law of life. Adam lived by faith, although not saving faith. It was his sin that he did not believe the Word revelation given in Paradise. Saving faith, both as gift and task, is the law of life of the redeemed.
This is manifestly true for the prodigal sinner. The Holy Spirit working through the Word brings us under conviction. Born of the Spirit, the believer experiences a movement of the entire soul to Christ. “Other refuge have I none; hangs my helpless soul on thee.” We understand this well with the weeping widow. Dependent in grief, she wonders where her food will come from. Yet she believes in God. Looking at the lilies of the field, listening to the ravens cry for food, she trusts her Father’s love. The Heavenly Father considers her worth more than many sparrows. In faith she prays, “Give me this day my daily bread.” He is able, being almighty God; he is willing, being my faithful Father.
We Believe In Order That We May Know
Not so apparent, yet equally true, this dependence of faith applies to the reflective thinker. He, too, lives by faith. The law of knowledge is governed by the law of faith. We believe in order that we may know. The reflective thinker prays, “Reveal, illumine, O Fountain of all Truth.” Thinkers, theologians live by faith.
The theologian must study. Seriously he searches. Diligently he reads the Word. Studiously he lays bare the Sacred Text. Patiently he collects his evidence. Carefully he arranges, sifts, rearranges and systematically sets forth his views. This is his task. His mandate for such labor comes from God. Praying never excuses us from working. Humble dependence upon the revealing God and his illumining Spirit cannot lead to apathy. We patiently follow all the data of revelation. Further and further we push our understanding. Our minds strain themselves to learn. Thus we come face to face with the vast distance between our minds and Gad’s truth. Not only in quantity, but also in quality, God’s ways are not our ways. Both at the beginning and at the end of our reflective seeking, we bow, we worship, we confess. “I do not know, but my God knows.” God is glorified.
Calvin put it well when speaking of the knowledge of faith: “Nor does the mind which attains it comprehend what it perceives, but being persuaded of that which it cannot comprehend, it understands more by the certainty of this persuasion, than it would comprehend of any human object by the exercise of its natural capacity.”1 In faith we steadfastly refuse to eliminate one side of the contradiction. We live by faith.
God-Man, the Supreme Paradox
Consider for a moment our faith that God has come in the flesh. Our Mediator is both God and man. Certain of this knowledge, we refuse to eliminate either his perfect Godhead or his essential manhood. The Athanasian creed puts it thus: “For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.”
We will not blush. We believe. Faithful ignorance is better than presumptuous knowledge. We worship and adore.
Let us remember what the Scripture says of providence. It defies the neat schemes of the mind. This almighty and everywhere-present power of God upholds all things and directs everything to its destined end. Yet secondary causes are genuinely real. God directs even the blasphemy of the wicked. Yet there is no taint upon his purity.
“To Be Ignorant…Is To Be Learned”
There is the problem of sin. God foreordained the fall of man. Sin’s entrance into our world was rendered certain by God’s decree. We confess divine causality. Helpful distinctions concerning permissive decrees fail to solve the problem. Yet God is not the agent of sin. We are guilty. It is our responsibility. The glory of the Christian thinker is in his believing acceptance of God’s Word. This is the strength of our foundations. Listen to Calvin again: “We should feel no reluctance to submit our understanding to the infinite wisdom of God, so far as to acquiesce in its many mysteries. To be ignorant of things which it is neither possible nor lawful to know, is to be learned; an eagerness to know them, is a species of madness.”2
We Rest in God’s Wisdom
We wait for our Savior to return. We pray, “Lord Jesus, come, yea come quickly.” Ours is the hope of glory, the hope of life eternal, the hope of deliverance. Yet we labor while it is day. We work and pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” No area of life is free from the Lord’s sovereign claim. This is our life, our dynamic. We are living parts of two ages, this age and the age to come. Faith keeps us in living tension. Theologians, thinkers, live by faith. The believing acceptance of such paradoxes is the humility of faith. Far, very far, from the mental gymnastics of a dialectical world, the believing thinker rests in the infinite wisdom of the triune God. Turning to the Scriptures, then to God’s world, the faithful thinker prays, “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
1. John Calvin, The Institutes, Bk. III chap.ii, par. 14.
2. John Calvin, The Institutes, Bk. III, chap. xxxiii, par. 8.