This week I started a Bible study at my church. I am teaching Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. As part of the introduction to the letter I discussed the significance of the document. The main question raised was “What was at stake in the theological landscape of the Christian movement?”
As always, I am amazed at the conversation that begins to surface. Paul’s reaction to the concept of grace and the indoctrination of new believers into the Jesus movement addressed a major crisis confronting the young religious order. The issue was how to validate both Jewish and Gentile experiences of faith in the risen Christ.
While my initial question may at first appear to have a simple solution, through a first century lens it was a very different story. How were these two radically different worlds, Jewish believers and Gentile believers, brought together? Eventually, Paul’s answer was to focus on the most important thing. That is the faith as demonstrated in Jesus. Faith can overcome difference.
This is still a relevant question in the religious landscape of today. There are so many faiths which make the claim of absolute truth that the mysteries of God are put in a box. God, according to some, must be completely figured out. Where is the faith in the kind of religious model which claims absolute truth?
Someone once told me that faith occurs in one of two ways. In both scenarios, one comes to the edge of a cliff. At the edge of the cliff God will either build a bridge to the other side, or give us wings to fly. It is important to note that neither the bridge nor the wings are defined. They are simply provided at the right time to get to the right place.
It is my belief, and I know at this point I have veered far from any image given in the Bible, that each bridge and each wing that is created as faith in action is characteristically special to each person and each event. Each experience is real unto itself. Who am I to say that one journey of faith is the same as the other? That is far more than has been revealed about the God of my understanding.
And how does Paul fit into this image of faith? Paul concluded that the Gentile believers need not be concerned about the law. Why would the law matter to someone who never lived under the law? His answer was to embrace Jesus. In this faith there is change, there is healing, there is new life. My hope for today is that we, as the body of Christ, may make room for a faith which is more concerned with the love of God than we are about claiming to have all of the answers. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6 NRSV).