Nick_A wrote: ↑Wed Aug 07, 2019 4:44 am
I don’t understand the logic here. Jesus is referring to John as an individual.
Well, let me try to put it more concisely, to help. He is claiming that this individual is greater than others
. That's present-comparative
, not progressive.
He is saying that his being is greater than that of all others born of women.
Right: "than all others born of women," as you say. It's comparative of John and them
in the present
, not comparative of John to himself over a time span.
In that sense, all Christianity is "esoteric," (to borrow your word). Jesus said, "You must be born again." That's individual. There is no corporate, social or political salvation...just individual.
Secular Christianity isn’t concerned with being born again.
"Secular Christianity"? That's a wording like "new antique," two words that make nonsense of each other by contradiction. In truth, no such thing exists. By definition, if one is a Christian, then one is not secular, of course. And someone who is not "born again"? Jesus Himself said that such would never see the Kingdom of God. That's not "Christian" in anything more than as an unearned name.
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29) That's the starting point, and the very first "work" or "deed" God expects of mankind.
But the problem is that we don’t believe. What we do defines what we believe. We are hypocrites.
You've got a point. What we do does not constitute
belief, but it certainly shows
what we truly believe. What it "shows," though, is the belief itself
; one believes first, then one's actions attest to
what one has believed, because one then acts on that belief.
23 Jesus said to him, “If[a] you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Welcome to the real world. We don’t really believe.
That's not quite what's said there. The father is not saying, "I refuse to believe," and certainly not "I cannot really believe," but rather, "I DO believe, but I need help with struggling to make that complete, and to overcome the part of me that still isn't believing enough." Fair enough: we all do that.
Let me suggest something, if I may: faith and doubt are not opposites. The true opposites are faith and heard-hearted, willful unbelief, with no smattering of faith in it; or better, faith is the opposite of indifference
to belief. Faith and doubt, though, coexist in every mere mortal. For everything we know, there is some element of the yet-to-be-known, the not-yet-known, that makes faith waver.
We have a measure of faith -- let us say even that it's 90% -- but always there is the possibility we have overlooked something. After all, we are all limited in our knowledge. So that 10% of uncertainty still puzzles us, and causes us to think again of what we really believe. We all have a measure of belief, but like the father in the incident, a measure of unbelief still dogs us.
In that sense, faith and doubt are a dialectical thing: there's a back-and-forth struggle between what we truly believe and the uncertainties that remain; and overcoming these uncertainties strengthens faith. 90% certainty becomes 91%, and doubt about that particular issue reduces to 9%. Then, perhaps, it's 92% and 8%...and so on. Every trial of our faith helps us sophisticate and complete our faith. We come to believe more firmly and intelligently -- or else, we learn that what we thought was true was not as worth believing as we formerly thought. In that way, doubt tests and refines faith, making it truer, deeper and more committed, or showing where it has gone wrong. So the two are companions, in a sense, and will be until we see Christ face to face.
To be afraid to doubt is to be afraid of faith. If one will not struggle with what the father in the above passage calls "my unbelief," then one cannot grow in faith. Moreover, we have to be watchful for that hard, sclerotic, obstinate belief that will not even consider doubt: it means the person in question has stopped thinking and growing. He thinks he's arrived, and can get no better than he is.
Ironically, some measure of uncertainty is essential to faith. Here's what the Bible says about that "Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." That doesn't mean, as the skeptics would want to say, that "faith means believing what you know ain't true." Not at all. What it means is that faith is that step between the 90% certainty you may possess, and the fact that you still haven't seen the 10% remaining.
Let's take two analogies from the rest of life. Faith the confidence that lets you say, "Well, most airplanes don't crash -- and though some do, I don't think this one will," and then to get on board and fly. Honestly, you don't KNOW the plane won't crash in a horrible ball of fire, but you're still not irrational to get aboard: people do it safely almost all the time. The doctor who prescribes a drug does not know that it will not produce some unforeseen and fatal reaction in a patient; but he thinks it won't, and he sees no reason it will, and he trusts the tests done on his behalf by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, and he's perhaps seen it work on other patients -- but bottom line, he does not KNOW. He must have faith in his remedy, and the patient has to have faith in the integrity of his doctor. But they don't know for sure.
The important difference between this analogy and the father's case is that when one's confidence is in God, one actually has 100% reason to trust, though one can only feel
like it's maybe 90-something %. Still, that doesn't change the fact that God is 100% reliable, 100% truth.
But our lack of certainty is why we need faith in order to relate to God at all. He may be perfect, but we are not. And so long as we are not, belief and a measure of unbelief will be our companions until we meet Him. It can be no other way.
So, in sum, Jesus says, "This generation of people is too mistrustful, too doubting." And the father hears this rebuke as directed to him: which means, HIS lack of faith is the problem that is keeping his son suffering. That's why the father cries out, "Lord, I DO
believe." Period. He does. But he's also saying, "Help me with that part of me that is not finding it easy to believe my child can be delivered from his suffering by anything. I want him to be free, and if I'm part of the problem, I want to stop."
That's the tension between faith and doubt that lives in everyone. Well, everyone except those who have killed doubt by pretending
there is none, and those who are so hateful of the whole idea of faith that they will exercise
none (or at least, who think
they have none, though they actually have faith in things all the time, just not in God).