The cure for little faith

lies, therefore, not in whipping up within oneself a higher energy of believing but in a desperate turning toward the Person who is faith’s object: “Lord, save me,” Peter cried, and “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him” (14:30, 31). The men of the New Testament show remarkably little interest in a definition of faith or an analysis of believing. They are much less interested than we are in examining their religious viscera for tokens and omens. When they think of faith, they think of it as relatedness to an object; and so, when the disciples came to write the record of Jesus, they did not write meditations on faith, though faith was central in their relationship to Him; they wrote Gospels.

Martin Franzmann
Follow Me: Discipleship According to Saint Matthew
p. 142-143

Robert Farrar Capon’s Definition of Faith

Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing. Illustration: Imagine that I am in the hospital, in traction, with casts on both arms and both legs. And imagine further that every time you visit me, I carry on despairingly about the fact that my house, in my absence, is falling apart: the paint is peeling, the sills are rotting, the roof is blowing away in the wind.

But then image that one day, after a considerable interval, you come to me and say, “Robert, I have just paid off the contractor I engaged to repair your house. It’s all fixed—a gift from me to you.” What are my choices in the face of such good news? I cannot go out of the hospital to check for myself—I cannot know that you have fixed my house for me. I can only disbelieve you or believe you. If I disbelieve you, I go on being a miserable bore. But if I believe you—if I trust your word that you have done the job for me—I have my first good day in a long while. My faith, you see, accomplishes nothing but my own enjoyment.

Look at it another way. Suppose I had decided, while staring at the hospital ceiling, that if only I could work up enough faith, you would undertake to repair my house. And suppose further that I had grunted and groaned through every waking hour trying to get my faith meter up to red hot. What good would that have done unless you had decided, as a gift to me in response to no activity on my part whatsoever, to do the job for me? No good, that’s what. Faith doesn’t fix houses—carpenters and painters do. And faith doesn’t pay bills, either. Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them—and who has promised me he already has.

Robert Farrar Capon
“The Astonished Heart: Reclaiming the Good News from the Last-and-Found of Church History”
p. 40-41

Dining at the feast of movies

At the feast of movies, I’d like to leave gluttony, judgment and fear behind me. I know that I am free to eat almost anything, but I want to be strong and fit, disciplining myself to a diet of excellent, nourishing work.

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Dessert? Alcohol? In moderation, on occasion.

As a critic, I feel more like the nutritionist—doing my best to counsel others on a balanced diet that serves their individual needs and respects their sensitivities. But I also want to be the kind of connoisseur who can speak knowledgeably about the culinary arts. I want to speak with eloquence about Sophia Coppola’s sauces, the exquisite wines of Eric Rohmer and the finer point of Martin Scorsese’s pasta.

But the more I learn, the more I’m in danger of becoming another character at the table—the snob. It would be easy for me to leave behind enjoyment of the simpler sorts of films and demand only the most sophisticated work, sneering at those who don’t understand or appreciate it. I have, at times, ranted against the ignorance of others, forgetting that I was once at their place in the journey.

If my enthusiasm for films as cerebral as Russian Ark or Werckmeister Harmonies makes me pretentious or condescending to those in line for blockbusters, then I have lost my perspective on the purpose of art. The goal is not to see the most obscure movies or even to be the greatest interpreter. If these experiences aren’t strengthening my conscience as well as my intellect, what good are they?

Henry Miller once wrote, “Art is only a means to live, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.”

If dining at the table of movies becomes my primary focus, I am forgetting the purpose of the meal. It is served to give me strength so that I can return to my life stronger, healthier and closer to being whole.

Jeffrey Overstreet
Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies
p. 93-94

God will uphold you with His victorious right hand.

I will uphold you with My victorious right hand. This beautifully brings the supreme comfort to a close. He uses a new word, I will uphold you. Christ grants the strength of His own righteousness to all believers and descends on the wretchedness of all who rely on their righteousnesses. Therefore he says here: “Only the righteousness of Christ, which is His own, this alone helps you against all enemies.” There he indicates that the Christian man is especially distressed by his own righteousnesses or is even perplexed by sins, his own and those of others and false ones. Day and night Satan is busy making sinners afraid, and with endless devices he assails this citadel, a happy conscience. That is something he cannot endure. But Christ fortifies this citadel against all the assaults and endless schemes of Satan. “Do not be confused, do not fear sins, and do not rely on your righteousness, but walk the middle way. Grasp My righteousness, and cling to it alone.”

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17 Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66

We are bound by our own will.

And it is because we do not really know God that we must, in the second place, construct a theology that enables us basically to place our trust in ourselves. The point of Luther’s writing On the Bondage of the Will is that as sinners we are bound by our own will to do this. The bondage of the will does not stem from the fact that because God is almighty we are therefore forced to do things “against our will”— as though we were “determined” or some such nonsense. No, the bondage of the will Luther was talking about was much more actual. It is something of our own making. We will not accept an almighty God and so are bound by our own will to construct a theology based on our own freedom. We are the problem, not God. We are bound to the folly of taking our fate into our own hands. That is what Luther means when he says in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. . . .”

Gerhard O. Forde
Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel
p. 24-25

Their works are nothing but grasshoppers. . .

This comparison with grasshoppers is frequently used in the Scriptures, as if to say, “Grasshoppers are easily shooed away.” All inhabitants of the earth are like this in the sight of God. They cannot bear God’s least judgment but are scattered by one word and breath of God. So today we observe that the pope and all the most holy servants of the Mass are in God’s sight nothing but grasshoppers that are scattered. The nations, again, are not to be understood metaphysically. The reference is to every undertaking and righteousness on their part that aims at appeasing God. Their works are nothing but grasshoppers that must be dispersed. And they hang on very weakly.

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66

The gist of preaching is “Behold your God.”

Say to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! He mentions the doctrine that should be preached. This is the gist of your preaching: Behold your God! “Promote God alone, His mercy and grace. Preach Me alone.” The rest, the ungodly, preach the doctrines and works of men, their own rules and righteousnesses. This herald must avoid that kind of teaching and speak of Christ alone. In Him alone rests all our salvation.

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66