Faith and Works

In Christianity there is a great debate about whether it is faith (as promoted in Romans) or works (as suggested by James) that confers God’s Grace on believers.

(And before Father Robin interjects I must tell you I have known a couple of Graces in my life but I suspect God’s Grace was not one of them!)

In the early 1500’s the Protestant reformists came to the conclusion that faith was primary and was instrumental in gaining salvation for believers. For a non-Christian it seems a strange argument. If we are to observe the edicts of Jesus Christ and “love our neighbours”, shouldn’t this translate to real behaviours demonstrating this fact?

I could never really come to grips, for example, with John Milton’s pronouncement in his poem “On His Blindness” that “they also serve who only stand and wait.” But maybe that’s because I tend to be a little hyperactive.

It is interesting to see the responses from other traditions.

Islam, if I understand correctly, teaches that God bestows His Grace upon those that have both inner belief and carry out good works. In fact Muslims believe that works is a part of faith. Muslim scholars liken faith to a tree. Inner belief, because it is unseen is likened to the root and works, which can be observed, is likened to the trunk and the branches.

One of my favourite stories is the tale of Tetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan. He made a promise that he would publish the Buddhist Sutras in Japan. In his time they were only available in China. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies. In those days this was a tremendous undertaking. But despite his devotion to the Sutras and this overwhelming ambition, Tetsugen had a great affinity for the common people and they were always the beneficiaries of his compassion.

Tetsugen began travelling the country soliciting donations to help pay for this mammoth task. Because most of the donations were small it took many years for him to raise anything like the amount needed to print the Sutras. And then a great disaster occurred. There came a great deluge and the Uji River flooded and overflowed its banks destroying the crops. As a result, famine followed and the people began to starve. Tetsugen was moved by the plight of the people and donated all he had raised to import rice from a neighbouring province to relieve the suffering of the people.

Despite this setback he then began his appointed task again, going from town to town, village to village seeking money to print the Holy Sutras. Many years went by and again he had acquired almost enough for the printing. But then there came a great epidemic which struck down the people. Because of its effects the fields could not be worked or the animals tended. Tetsugen was again moved by the plight of his people and once more donated the funds he had raised to ease their plight.

For a third time he resumed the task of raising funds to print the Sutras. Finally, now an old man he completed the task and the Sutras were duly printed.

It is said that the wooden printing blocks that enabled the printing of the Sutras can still be seen in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto.

The Japanese relate the story of Tetsugen to their children, and the children are told that Tetsugen made three sets of Sutras and that the first two, which can’t be displayed, even surpass the last.

I can’t help but concur with that assessment. Compassion will always make a greater statement than dogma. And as for Faith and Works, it seems to me that Works are the best indicator of Faith.

And Another Thing! (Refer my blog of October 6 2010.)

My friend, the good Dr Phil, has told me for many years that there are no bad people, there are only bad ideas. Here are some bad ideas!

1. Bad Idea No. 1
That a fundamentalist Christian minister should provocatively burn a copy of the Koran.

2. Even worse Idea No. 2
That fundamentalist Islamists should slaughter innocent people because an ignorant fundamentalist Christian burnt a copy of the Koran!

16 Replies to “Faith and Works”

  1. What about work for the greater good but without faith? A dogmatic religious view would refer to this as heresy.

    You can get way with faith without work though. Who cares about the material earth and body existence. We are all just stuck here waiting for the second coming!

  2. “What about work for the greater good but without faith? A dogmatic religious view would refer to this as heresy.”

    That thought would have meant being invited to a barbeque a few centuries ago

    “You can get way with faith without work though. Who cares about the material earth and body existence. We are all just stuck here waiting for the second coming!”

    Faith is a problem.

    Reason is an equal problem.

  3. We must stop learning from human experience and progress. Ignore the past 2000 years. Our learning stops with the barbarous threats of the bible (or koran). We have faith……….with burning flames from hell leaping up to engulf those that don’t.

    I do not feel obliged that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use. Galileo.

  4. As a species we seem to have the need to be right and what we know is right must be defended. Faith is all about being right. To have faith you are obliged to close your eyes to any other possibilities. I have pulled out a couple of De Mello quotes to better explain. You are right Ted stories are unbeatable for getting across a meaning and De Mello did it as well as anyone.

    To a visitor who claimed he had no need to search for Truth because he found it in the beliefs of his religion the Master said:
    “There was once a student who never became a mathematician because he blindly believed the answers he found at the back of his math textbook – and, ironically, the answers were correct.”
    © Anthony de Mello, SJ

    The Master had quoted Aristotle: “In the quest of truth, it would seem better and indeed necessary to give up what is dearest to us.” And he substituted the word “God” for “truth.”
    Later a disciple said to him, “I am ready, in the quest for God, to give up anything: wealth, friends, family, country, life itself. What else can a person give up?”
    The Master calmly replied, “One’s beliefs about God.”
    The disciple went away sad, for he clung to his convictions. He feared “ignorance” more than death.
    © Anthony de Mello, SJ

  5. If we stop learning we may as well be dead.

    Whether the god of sense, reason, intellect, Love or Wine.

    My favourites are Eros and Bacchus.

    O.K. and Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, Jung, Hawking, Spong, Tillich, Maslow, Plato, Huxley, Penrose and the Blonde Buddhist.

  6. But, I have to admit, that with Winter approaching, I’d prefer curling up with the Blonde Buddhist, a decent red and a good book.

  7. So, it is looking likely that I will spend my big seventy zero in July in Kenya with Her.

    Apparently at breakfast we have to fight off giraffes who consider the buffet open slather.

    Such is life.

  8. Irrespective of who wrote them down.

    (e.g.) “The Ten Commandments.”

    Charlton Heston?

    Scares hell out of me.

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