by Berry Friesen (February 22, 2016)
Those who are just—those who are righteous—will live by faith. Six-hundred years before Jesus, a First Testament prophet named Habakkuk (2:4) wrote those words.
In the Second Testament (Hebrews 11), we find a list of heroic people who lived by faith. Abraham heads the list, which includes Moses, Rahab the prostitute and the prophets.
The Apostle Paul repeated Habakkuk’s maxim twice (Galatians 3:11, Romans 1:17) and wrote about Jesus as a hero of faith. Paul insisted the justice/righteousness of God had been revealed in the faith of Jesus (Romans 3:21-22) and that all who have Jesus’s faith are by that faith made just/righteous (Galatians 2:15-16, Romans 3:26).
Faith in what? In YHWH, god of the Hebrews, and the promises YHWH made.
What promises? That a very unlikely bunch—the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for justice/righteousness’ sake—are the blessed ones, the ones in synch with YHWH’s intent and purposes (see Matthew 5:1-12).
This is what Jesus believed; it is what put him on a collision course with the empire and its religious collaborators.
For Paul, the resurrection of the crucified, dead Jesus was an historical event demonstrating—guaranteeing—that the way Jesus lived is the salvation of the world (Romans 1:4). By “salvation”, Paul was not speaking of a transaction by which YHWH moved names from one side of a metaphysical ledger to the other, but of a great reversal within human history through which our captivity to false gods (e.g., the empire) has been broken and our capacity to live with and for one another flourishes.
People have always found it a stretch to believe the way of Jesus has the power to transform human history. His was a very high-risk and costly kind of faith; as we know, it didn’t save him from the cross.
In contrast, believing in immortality is very attractive proposition. It’s flattering to be told my unique personality will never die, that god wants to enjoy my presence forever, that I am destined for everlasting pleasure. Add the threat of hell and everlasting suffering into the mix and becoming a “Christian” becomes a no-brainer.
For Christians formed by this understanding of “faith,” discussion of “empire” is irrelevant.
I can see two pathways to the faith of Jesus.
One is via an engaged agnosticism that declines to worship any of the gods prominently on offer today (whether labeled “Christian” or “American”), yet cares deeply for the future of Earth and for coming generations. Those on this path already recognize the god-like power of the empire. Eventually, by hit and miss, they hear of a biblical tradition that celebrates life on Earth without destroying it. It is for this group that John K. Stoner and I wrote If Not Empire, What?
The second path is explicitly religious in that it entails devotion to Jesus, not as a magic man, but as the revealer of YHWH’s intention for humanity on Earth. Because it is so overgrown by conventional notions of Christianity, this path is the more difficult to see, but it can be found. Once on this path, people inevitably find themselves confronted by the god-like power of empire.
On either pathway, the faith of Jesus inspires, equips and transforms us.
(NOTE: To find the first post entitled "The Faith of Jesus" click here.)