Faith begins its work on us from the inside, not on the outside. The seeds of faith are planted, cultivated and grown inside us. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, Paul, quoting from Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 33, writes, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds” Indeed, God has planted the seed of faith in us and in each of us it grows. How well it grows and how strong it grows has as much to do with how we treat that faith. If we recognize it and give it room to grow our faith becomes a source of immeasurable strength. Faith is a most precious gift.
It is important for me to make clear to you how important this faith, that is inside us, is. It is important because there are so many things outside of us that try to misled us into thinking or believing that they are important or that they are the way, even through they are always, in varying degree, corrupt. Before I begin to list some of the many things outside that can misled us, I will start with me. Strive as I do as a parish priest to preach, to teach, and to act as priest and proclaim the messenge of God in Jesus Christ, I am far from perfect. I make mistakes. I confess this so that when I list the things outside of us that can misled us, you understand that I am not casting stones, but only intending to help us understand a little better the important role of the growth of our own personal faith. The reality is that there are numerous things that surround us that will, at times, mislead us, intentionally sometimes but more often unintentionally, and this includes everything from organized religion, government, business, to friend and family. Thankfully through God’s grace, our faith is still at work within us, leading us, ultimately, in the right direction.
Here’s an example of what I mean. In that same chapter from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10, Paul is challenging the tradition, taught and promoted in the Old Testament and by the priests of the temple, that to receive forgiveness you must make a appropriate monetary offering or animal sacrifice at the temple. The problem that Paul is tring to get at, is that this practice of this model of atonement can be corrupted on the inside, both in its intent or use, and yet on the outside it can continue to made to appear on the level. Paul recognizes that practice of physical sacrifice, promoted and enforced by the religious authorities, was no longer encouraging the true growth of faith.
Paul then reinforces the understanding of the New Covenant in Christ by pointing to the faith inside us, as announced in Jeremiah; a faith put in our hearts and written on our minds. And by replacing the corruptible practices of atonement with the atonement found in Christ, who was, Paul writes, “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12) Paul makes clear that our faith in Christ grants us a way to an incorruptible atonement. This approach of atonement recognizes that faith “at work on us from the inside”, not from the outside.
There is a classic book written by Viktor Frankl called “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl wrote this in 1949 as both a survivor of the Concentration Camps of the Second World War and as a trained psychologist. It is a powerful and insightful book that gives a glimpse into the deepest parts of a persons inner workings. In this great book, Frankl tells of experiences of the horrible loss of his family, friends, and freedoms. In the camp, he is subjected to intense physical and emotional suffering. Yet he documents also in his book an understanding of the strength that can be found inside us. He writes,
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”1
Frankl’s book although set in the cruelty of the concentration camp, illuminates the inner life of the heart, mind and soul. This is just that place where our Christian faith is at work. Frankl’s book is not overtly spiritual or religious, but in places he walks along the paths that all of us on our Christian journey walk can recognise. For example, one of the greatest sources of joy that he experienced while incarcerated, was in remembering and reflecting on his relationship of love with his wife, with whom he had been separated. It was about those moments that he wrote,
“Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”2
For me as a Christian reading Frankl’s book, it is plain to me that this inner realm of which he speaks is the place where my Christian faith dwells. From both Paul’s letter to the Hebrews and from Viktor Frankl’s wisdom, I can’t help but believe that even in this world of brokenness, Faith will always continue to be a source of strength, guidance, and hope, that leads us. May the voice of faith continue grow within us , and may we listen more clearly to it when it speaks to us. Amen.
The Rev’d Rob Park
1.Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1963, p. 104-105
2.Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1963, p. 53