Fortunately, we do not have to reinvent the wheel of Christian faith; it is a traditional faith, which is mostly handed down from one generation to another. In the broadest sense there is an unquestionable continuity with the Jewish faith as the first Christians were Jews. We inherit many things from our parents; the very core of our being is the genetic code, which has a major influence in the way we look and behave. However, even these inherited traits may get modified with interactions with environment, religious, other societal influences, medical and scientific interventions. Education, training and life experiences may alter many of our characteristics as we grow older and attain certain degree of ‘maturity.’ This could also be thought of as an interaction of genes with environment. Such an interaction has the possibility to bring about somatic mutation or transcriptional regulation, which is the quickest way to change a gene and its characteristics.
The most obvious change that has happened after the Second World War is the average height gain of the post war generation. In addition to this, emerging sedentary lifestyles are contributing to the pandemic development of diabetes, and it is estimated that 360 million people worldwide will suffer from the consequences of diabetes by 2030. This could mean that we adapt to circumstances as a result of certain inevitable genetic adaptations. Therefore, even phenotypic characteristics inherited through genetic codes can be modified by diet, environmental factors, and lifestyles. Certain things we initially learn from our parents and teachers, but we have a tendency to modify them according to our own personal experiences and pressures of circumstances. How do we handle traditional faith, which is handed down from one generation to another?
Church has a tendency to hand down faith in a ‘locked box’ without the key and this sort of traditional faith is challenged today. The younger generation may not be prepared to accept these ‘locked boxes’ without keys, and they want to discover their own faith and not the handed down version. They are eager to find out what is hidden in these boxes. But this eagerness can be mellowed down through dominant pressures applied on them through parents, church and community. But they need to live their own life and no one can live their life for them. In the absence of such personal discovery traditional faith may have little relevance. Most of the time people are not interested in opening or handling the ‘locked box’ for the fear of wiping out the handprints of older generation who handed down the box to them.
Institutionalised church is more often than not is interested in preserving handprints and as a result they do not allow anyone to examine more closely the handed down version of faith. This is precisely the point Metropolitan Chrysostom of the Mar Thoma Church is making in his book on ‘Mission in the Market Place.’ Metropolitan says that “Malpans reformation was a movement against the practices of the church; it was not based on any well thought out theological position. But to a certain extent, we follow in the tradition received largely though our ancient church fathers……………………………It is therefore my understanding that reformation in the Mar Thoma Church did not originate from any systematic theological analysis of the situation then.” We need to examine our faith with the grace of God.
Some are immensely blessed to make a personal choice under the grace of God and examine their faith and accept, modify, or reject it with amazing courage. We have no business in developing judgmental attitudes to people within our own faith communities or that of other faiths. I have experienced many 'walking saints' in various Christian denominations and in other religious traditions; I have no problem in praying with them. Tradition has a tendency to degenerate to traditionalism in the way Jarsalov Pelikan described it; according to this Yale theologian, “tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
In my case, I followed the religion of my parents, but by the grace of God I tasted it and found it more than sufficient for all my needs. However, my faith may not be exactly same as that of my parents. Many adherents of various faith communities never questioned anything, they accepted everything, but they were blessed for it too. But I do question and I have doubts; yet, I find strength in my Lord and live by His grace. Therefore, we should not be frightened to open the 'traditional faith box' and examine its content in the context of everyday reality of our lives. In this process we may upset the establishment, but it should be a sincere effort with prayer and utmost sensitivity for the needs of our time. I recently came across a translation of K. C. Appan’s book, “Bible; the armour of light”, by Valson Thampu in which he says: “I believe in the beauty and the usefulness of criticizing the flexibilities of all orthodoxies. It is part of the public ministry that men of culture have to undertake. So I too participate in it with the sanctity of an act of worship. Christ cleansed the Temple, casting out the traders who had trespassed into its holy premises, as part of this sacred ministry. The impudent traders in the temple of intellectual life are peddlers of antiquarian ideas. The Bible is not the mantra of mindless orthodoxy, but a clarion call to critics to liberate the captives of every petrified system of thoughts.” This highlights for me the importance of opening the ‘traditional faith box’ ‘with the sanctity of an act of worship.’
My idea of God is based on my limited understanding of Jesus Christ. He is my source and my reference point. Through the sheer grace of God I believe that I have a relationship with the Jesus that I know. This relationship started with a very sincere understanding that Jesus came in search of me; this was for me an amazing realisation. My perception of everything is based on the lived knowledge of being a man. I can only understand God through my humanness and therefore, it makes sense to me why God found it necessary to become man. He set aside all the privileges of a deity and took the status of a man. Having become a man, he lived within the frame work of a man. He lived a selfless, obedient life and died a selfless, obedient death on the cross. The whole human situation is totally represented in Jesus’ life. Jesus came to us as a child threatened by violence, as a refugee whose family fled due to the ambitions of an earthly king and his advisors. We are also given the amazing opportunity to see God, whom we cannot see directly, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this process, He has called us to discern the face of God in the neglected and abandoned. This is basically the source of Christian faith. Many streams of thoughts have originated from this source and the tragedy is that not everything that got into the stream came from the source and not everything that came from the source can still found in these various streams of thoughts and theology.
Over the last twenty centuries enormous changes have been brought into these streams of theological understanding and they have become sacred tenets of various denominations though reformation and formation of breakaway groups and churches. As time passed by each of these branches prepared their own ‘locked boxes’ of traditional faith to hand over to subsequent generations. We are seeing this process today in our midst with ongoing debates about adult baptism, gift of tongues, creation and evolution, intelligent design, ordination of women; feminist theology, gay liberation and the urgent need for Eucharistic hospitality and so on. Each variant of the original source claims to have a total view of everything in this universe. It is alarming that many who engage in this behaviour attempt to justify themselves because they seem to have privileged and classified information from God. Even St. Paul does not claim such an ability to declare a total cosmic view of our faith. Paul, although unswervingly confident in the conviction that Christ occupies our only means of salvation without any sort of doubt, is not arrogant about his faith because he confesses in total humility: “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; the we shall see face to face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete- as complete as God’s knowledge of me” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Therefore, the question I ask is a very relevant one for our individual and collective spiritual journey. Without faith the whole religious instinct is an empty shell. Arguments cannot prove the existence of God. It is difficult to explain why some people have a more God-centred life than others; faith itself is a gift of God, it is a divine mystery. Faith is best described in human terms of trust between two persons. It is an intimate and personal relationship with God involving our whole being, faith is friendship. It is simply a loving response to the love of God showered upon us through His birth, life, death and resurrection. All the precepts of Christianity originates from the fundamental commandment which begins with these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your entire mind” (Mt 22.37), and from the commandment of Christ: “This is my commandment, you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12). It is through friendship with God and one another our faith communities become holier and our world more human. Wherever we see manifestation of love, there we see God’s amazing intervention in the consecration of that love; where love is God is.
Christian faith is never primarily an intellectual accomplishment of an individual, something he might be able to imagine or workout for himself. Spiritual truths are revealed to children and the people in the margins of life as well who can receive at the level of their ordinary existence, at the very basic level of love and faith, while they may not be relevant to more intellectually endowed among us. Faith has many definitions and many theological contours, but faith is first of all and fundamentally an invitation, an encounter, a friendship, and thus a gift of God, a grace.
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