THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST: AN ANTIDOTE TO CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY
BY MR. NWOKEDI, FELIX CHIEMEZIE
The celebrated crises of faith within Christendom have given urgent concern to the ecclesiastical leaders. Following the way of the cross and totally abandoning oneself to the Way, Truth and Life unfortunately are today seen as a far journey into ideological paradise. Abiding by the dictates of Christian morality seems to be an alternative forgone. The modern man seeks to understand everything in the light of reason, materialism and science. Faith is therefore thrown overboard. In the midst of this, one must ask if the belief in Jesus of Nazareth should out of necessity circumvent other practices against the teachings of Jesus? What shall we do to curb-off shallowness of faith among Christians? In bid to proffer solutions to these overwhelming issues, the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, in his Porta Fidei declared 11th October 2012-24th November 2013 as the year of faith. In this year of faith, “the Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, toward the place of life and friendship with the Son of God” (Porta Fidei no 2). In like manner, Pope Francis in his maiden encyclical, Lumen Fidei has invited all to walk in the light of faith. The nexus between the two Magisterial interventions calls all to adopt the faith of Jesus Christ as against the faith in consonance to our contemporary society. It is therefore the task of this write-up to embark on an illuminating sojourn in order to highlight what faith is, the misconstrue d understanding of faith in our contemporary society and then setting out the faith of Jesus Christ as an ideal.
FAITH: AN INSIGHT!
The term faith is not only restricted to the religious faith. Thus, we hear Eric Erikson in his theory of psycho-social development teaching about Basic trust vs Basic mistrust. Many other disciplines and scholars have representations of faith within their ambience of operation. This work has its scope delineated to the religious sense of faith.
Resonating with the teaching of Vatican II, faith is understood to be the submission of the intellect and will to God when He makes a revelation. It is a supernatural virtue by which, with the inspiration and help of God’s grace, we believe that what He has revealed is true - not because its intrinsic truth is seen with the natural light of reason- but because of the authority of God who reveals it. The Magisterium instructs that “God made himself known in his saving deeds in the Old Testament and in the fullness of time he has perfectly revealed himself in Jesus Christ.” (Dei Verbum). This affirms the conviction of Karl Rahner that “faith is consequently not a belief in something but a belief in someone”.
In its etymological understanding, the term “faith” emanates from the two Hebrew words aman and batah which underscore the OT faith. Aman points to a personal relationship with God who is the unshakable foundation and stronghold of human life. Batah conveys the dynamic force of actively trusting God and confidently expecting his unfailing goodness. The Greek pistis found in the Septuagint and NT traces its root to Old Testament’s aman and batah.
Subscribing to the Letter to the Hebrews one recalls that faith is the assuarance of the things hoped for and the convictions of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Abraham remains the paradigm of OT faith. He accepted God’s promise that in spite of all human obstacles he would become the father of great nation. Later, he was willing to sacrifice his only son trusting in God to fulfill his promise in his own unpredictable manner. The faith of Abraham remains a model even in the NT where he is praised by St.Paul in the Letter to the Romans (chapter 4) and Letter to the Hebrews (11:8). Philosophically, S. Kierkegaard appreciates the religious faith of Abraham in his “Stages on the Life’s Way”. Little wonder the prophet Isaiah echoes that unless one has faith and therefore believes, he will not be established (cf Is7:9). Pistis Christou (faith of Christ) is the summit of any insight on faith. He is the super-paradigm of faith.
The spirituality of faith is anchored on the fact that “faith is the letting-go by which one surrenders his securities and take Christ alone as his rock”. In St. Paul’s great hymn in the second chapter of Philippian, he sings of Christ, who did not consider his equality with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7). The Christian is invited in faith to relive this self-emptying of Christ.
To tell the truth, “the door of faith is always open for us ushering us into the life of Communion with God and offering entry into His Church (Porta Fidei no 1). Unfortunately, we are undergoing profound crises of faith. It is our utmost task to come to the true knowledge of our faith in order to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it and confess it.
CHRISTIAN FAITH AND THE CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
With a pseudo-prophetic insight Nietzsche foretold the present situation of our faith. Recognizing the rapid collapse of European tradition which is anchored on Christianity he proclaimed that God is dead. His announcement of God’s obituary has many implications which may not be of great interest in this work. However, we must recall that Nietzsche was convinced that with the death of God, Europe must be liberated. To get this task accomplished, he outlined a new morality while at the same time relegating and underrating the Christian morality. Is this not an exaggerated ignorance? Has the Scripture not taught that cut-off from Christ we are nothing? Unfortunately, having shattered the foundation of Christian morality, the modern man begins to campaign for the legalization of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage etc.
With technological advancement and amazing scientific discovery, the modern man is moved to the enthronement of science and technology. What was earlier held sacred and met with awe became simplified; the mysteries of the universe became demystified. Under this atmosphere, one begins to hear of the slogan that “man creates man”. Much relevance which has been earlier attached to divinity began to be mellowed by humanity. One begins to think of the necessary connection between cause and effect. Logical connections between propositions seem to be the new commandments. Here, man learns that he can supply for his needs without even praying to God. The place of God in the existence of the individual becomes so peripheral. This gives rise to absence of faith. In this situation, faith has run dry.
In the third world and other developing countries, the case is not so different. The advancement in science and technology is still not at the beck and call of the common man. Here, faith is not totally thrown away. However, faith is not seen as a total surrender to God. Faith is also not seen as a nurtured virtue. Faith here focuses on the provisional capacity of God. This gives rise to the alarming gospel of prosperity gaining unnecessary relevance in Nigeria and many other developing countries. God must be trusted because He can bless and favour us. Any lack, crises, problems of life or cross is seen to have come from the evil one. Therefore, the power and the fire of the Holy Ghost must be invoked to consume the evil spirit. The greatest paradox of faith in Nigeria is the multiplication of Churches which is contemporaneous with multiplication of crimes. In the market, traders conduct prayer sessions and will go into cheating their customers once the prayer is over.
The modern man having attacked the foundational morality, having thought he can provide for himself and having misconstrue d the ideal of faith in God has therefore failed in many facets of life. Syncretism, whereby faith is diluted with paganism, superstitious beliefs and other cultures not in tandem with the gospel, is practiced by many Christians. Pragmatic faith is another problem. We must recall that the theory of pragmatism states that the proposition that works is the true one. Thus, if ‘arusi or ekwensu’ can urgently hearken to my petitions, why wasting my time relying on an unseen God. Inspired by this false confidence, some Christians practice their Christian faith while also clinging to their occult shrines, thereby trespassing the first commandment. This pragmatic faith also gives rise to faith rooted and built up on miracles alone. We must also not forget the faith mixed with liberalism and secularism. These are the evil of our epoch.
Indeed, faith is now apparently subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality. One thing that will be of decisive importance is retracing the history of our faith. To accomplish this, we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ who is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST: ANTIDOTE TO CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY
Since Jesus is also God, can one rightly say that Jesus lived by faith? Aquinas rejected this position saying that Jesus always enjoy the beatific vision. Today, many theologians reject Aquinas’ position arguing that it is part of the kenosis of the Incarnation for Jesus to accept our human condition of ignorance and darkness. This does not mean that Jesus was ignorant of his divinity. Rather, the moment of full vision would be the resurrection. Thus, Jesus had to rely ever more on faith in God alone. He was tried but whereas Israel when tested, turned to other gods, Jesus remained absolutely faithful to the end. Christians of today should emulate this.
Again, Jesus is not only the embodiment of faith but also faith’s catalyst. When we look at the ministry of Jesus Christ, we must discover that it was His role to arouse faith in others. When, for instance, the father of the epileptic boy comes to Jesus and asks in desperation, “if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” (Mk 9:23), it was Jesus’ rebuke that stirs faith in the man, that he cries out, “ I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Christians must also trigger faith in others through their behaviours. Paul VI affiliating to Matt 5:16 advices the present day Christians to be true preachers of the gospel through witnessing in order to arouse the faith of others. Thus, he asserts that “the modern man listens more to witnesses than to preachers and if he listens at all to preachers, then, it is because they are witnesses” (cf Evangelium Nuntiandii no 41). Christians of today are invited to abide by and with Christ who bore witness to God as his food was to do the will of He who sent him (Cf. Jn 4:34).
Furthermore, Jesus who was the witness of faith has become the ground of faith. In this way, we not only believe in Jesus as object of faith but we believe because of him. Through his incarnation, Jesus’ faith is historically summarized into five phases: nesting, testing, investing, arresting and cresting.
The nesting phase of Jesus’ faith is when he was twelve years and realized he must leave father and mother and be about the Father’s business. This teaches the contemporary Christians that there is time for everything. Of paramount importance is the lesson that all Christians must be about our Fathers business summed up in the love of God and love of neighbor. This, properly understood, will outwit the high rate of crime in our society.
Again, the testing phase of Jesus’ faith is when he spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. He emerged victorious eventually. Christians must also be mindful that in the world we must face temptations. We must be prayerful. We must fast. We must put on the full armour of God (Cf. Eph. 6:11) in order to prevail. Indeed, Christ has taught that Christian life is not all about eating and drinking but also must have place for penance and mortification.
Furthermore, the investing phase of Jesus’ faith is when he spent time preaching, teaching, healing and investing his life energies, thoughts and ideas thereby committing his prestige to public appreciation. Christians must also work harder while praying for God’s blessing. The present day Christians must recognize that heaven helps those who help themselves. Faith in God is not total dependence without effort. Though our effort worths nothing before God, we must not stop making effort. We must commit ourselves into action before we bake our bread and gain favour from God.
The arresting phase of Jesus’ faith is the period before his death. He prayed “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done (Mk14:36). Everything was turning apart for him. His disciples had betrayed, deceived and deserted him. He was crucified. This must teach the Christians of today that faith in God does not imply the absence of sorrow. The contemporary Christians must be ready to accept everything that comes our way as the will of God believing that after rain comes sunshine.
The climax of Jesus’ faith is the cresting phase. This is the faith of Easter Sunday. The contemporary Christians must be conscious of the fact that we are Easter people and alleluia is our song. We must joyously await the day of our own resurrection when our motal bodies will be transformed through the beatific vision. Bearing this in mind, we must do away with anything that militates our admission into heaven. We must say no to gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, cheating and indeed immorality of any sort.
Having come to the end of my write-up, it behoves me to invite all Christians to “aim at faith” (2 Tim 2:22). There is an urgent need, then, “to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim” (Lumen Fidei no 4). Resonating with Hilary Okeke of Nnewi diocese, unless our faith is built and rooted on Christ, we have not started.