February 24, 2015

The Righteousness of Faith

            Even though Lent reminds us that we are not righteous, the Bible tells us stories of exemplars of faithful living and trust that God counts as righteous.  Abraham was not blessed because of fidelity to the law, but “through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13b).

            The promise to Abraham and Sarah was that they would be forebears to “many nations,” thus we cannot read this covenantal overture in an exclusive way, focusing only on the election of Israel.  Paul’s focus is on the hopes of all who would put their trust in God’s redemptive purpose.  To believe in God is to believe in the one “who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (4:25).

            Over the past couple of days I have been serving as Theologian in Residence/Visiting Scholar in Religion for our neighboring community of Lawrence.  Sponsors of this initiative are Ecumenical Campus Ministries, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, Islamic Society of Lawrence, KU Department of Religious Studies, and a variety of mainline churches, including First Baptist Church.  The theme of the lectures has been “Living Religiously in a Pluralistic Culture,” a very timely topic given the signs that religion can either be a force for good, or can turn evil, even lethal, in the words of Charles Kimball.

            After hearing a panel comprised of a rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest, a representative of the Islamic society, and me, a young woman asked: “But how can I know which one is the truth?”  She voiced what many ponder, which makes the issue of faith all the more central.  Humans cannot be absolutely certain of their claims, but live in faith and dependence upon the mercy of God.  Her question also assumes that only one of the sacred stories contains truth.

            God has been at work through the whole of humanity’s religious history through God’s Spirit.  God is drawing persons to the righteousness of faith, even though “we see through a glass darkly.”  Christians cling to the story of Jesus as God’s word of grace to us; others follow pathways only God can judge.

            As I have listened to the religious “other” in recent years, I have felt that some of the most important work in our time is interfaith dialogue.  Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng has suggested that there will not be peace in the world without peace among the world religions, and there will be no peace among the world religions until there is a concerted and sustained effort at dialogue.  I think he is right.
            Dialogue does not mean that we ignore our differences or make some conclusions about a coherent vision of God and what promotes human flourishing.  Gaining interfaith competency is crucial for Christian ministers, for we live in a religiously plural world.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church,  and serving humanity.

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