Faith, Theology, and the Question of Truth

So, the bottom line is, that —first of all—no amount of theology can substitute for faith; second, no amount of theology is prerequisite to faith. How then does hearing come by the word of God?  Simple:  the word of God is the word that God speaks, which is personal and immediate, rather than the words spoken about God, which are general and to some degree impersonal.  What value is there then in theology?  That is like asking what value there is in breathing.  The man of faith can no more avoid doing theology than he can avoid breathing.  This is no more than to say that man is a rational creature and by nature applies thought to all his experiences.  But one cannot gain an experience by thinking about it; nor can he think about an experience in a full and meaningful way until he has had it.  Certainly he can talk of it, based upon the testimony and experience of others who have had it (or claiim to have had it), but he can in no way speak, as we say, with any kind of authority concerning it.  In other words, if we may be as blunt as possible:  Faith happens when one encounters God, and such an encounter can be described (in some measure), meditated on, discussed, used as a basis for all kinds of logical conclusions; but none of those descriptions or discussion or conclusions can produce faith.  Only God meeting man can do that.

On Faith and Understanding

“Faith is a present awareness of the living Reality of God. It is not an intellectual assent, based on the reasonableness of an argument; it is not a willing suspension of disbelief, despite the unreasonableness of an assertion. It is possible to exercise faith in the absence of any understanding of it; but to seek in faith to understand it, to give it reasonable expression, does not destroy it. But to imagine that the understanding of faith will do for faith itself is to destroy it, for this involves reliance on the understanding, not on God. To speak of faith at all is in fact to risk being misunderstood, to risk misunderstanding oneself; to remember faith also is not faith, for faith is the encounter with the eternal, which can never be removed from the present moment. Nevertheless, to remember in faith one of faith’s experiences is to bring that event, which belongs to eternity, into the persent moment; so it is that the command to “do this in remembrance of Me” can be obeyed in faith, for in faith the remembrance becomes the present experience…”

—R. Buehler 12/4/84

The paradox of man

The following fragment is transcribed from yellow notebook paper and was probably written in the early 1980s…. I’d guess at around 1984.   Hence it is backdated here accordingly.

Man is an amazingly paradoxical creature.  Sin and holiness, greed and generosity, covetousness and contentedness can seemingly coexist within the individual.  A man can speak of sacrificial love while neglecting his family — of brotherhood while tolerating all kinds of prejudice — of respect and virtue while lusting after the body of a young girl….

If it were not true that Love covers a multitude of sins, then there would be no escape, not for a moment, from all kinds of sinfulness…. it is obvious that Grace, Mercy and Peace must needs be multiplied toward even the best, the wisest, the holiest of people…. or even they would destroy each other with Law, Severity, and War.

The only possible source of real joy is a living God … for it is only with such a God that all things are possible… and the gates of hell can only prevail when there are no possibilities….

(I cannot help but hope that in the heart of God there remains yet a mystery, an enterprise of Love more costly than yet has been imagined, to bring a light to the outermost darkness and sanctify the flames themselves, so that wrath and judgment will themselves be seen to be vehicles of grace and works of redemption.  Not that I imagine these things to be less terrible for all that… but if my heart can hope against all hope, then the God of hope himself must be (I hope) the source of that.  At any rate, we’ll see.)

Another modern prophecy

Thus says the Lord:

Why do you multiply arguments and opinions
and neglect my clear commands?
Surely I have indulged your willful blindness
and your excessive self-importance. Do not presume upon your Father
that his love extends to you only
and not to those whom you oppress by your negligence.
Are you here to no purpose
But to grow fat and comfortable
And play games with your knowledge about God?

But you have not yet known me,
or you would follow after me.
As it is, you cannot distinguish my voice,
though it be like thunder,
From the confusion that surrounds you:
because you do not want to hear it.

Let me tell you simply:
He who strives to preserve his life at another’s cost has killed himself.
But I want you to know that if you follow me,
you are already dead
with regard to those things that could have threatened your life.

An attempt at a narrative Style

An attempt at a narrative Style

We took the night train from Edinburgh to Birmingham, on our way to Stratford-upon-Avon. One encounters an interesting class of people in an economy car at night. Some read, many sleep, a few write furiously in their notebooks. Others talk loudly and carelessly, with no apparent concern for anyone but themselves. A group of these sat across from us, drinking beer and playing cards, and I watched them through the reflection in the window.
They were soldiers, obviously soldiers. They wore no uniforms, but by their haircuts, their careless, worldly manner, and the duffle-bags each had slung on the rack overhead, it was impossible to mistake them.  Probably they were on leave, on their way to the city to spend their money in whatever wild ways they could find.
And, they were young.  Nineteen, I guess, or twenty, not more than that. I rather doubt that most of them had to shave yet every day; probably all of them did anyhow. One I watched for a long time who seemed younger than the rest.  All I could see in my window was the reflected image of his profile, the right side of his face. From that profile I gained the impression that he still retained some of the happiness of childhood, ready to talk and listen about any subject, not questioning what was said to him and taking genuine pleasure in the fellowship of his companions, and seeming unaware of their worldly-wise coarseness and cynicism. All this was communicated to me by the smoothness of the right side of his face and forehead, his right eye which was wide open, and the simple upward curve of the right side of his mouth.
Only once or twice did I glance at him directly across the aisle, and saw his other profile in the window to his left. Here his mouth was still curved, but with a slight wrinkle to it; his left eye somewhat narrowed with the eyebrow tilting toward the nose; his forehead slightly lined. How subtle the difference, yet how total the change! If I had met that right profile at a party, I would have instantly recognized a friendly, open person, but young and perhaps in need of some protection and encouragement; yet that left side revealed a suspicion, a cynicism, a self-sufficiency, a youth not untouched by the rough edges of the world, but on his guard and hostile to my strange and prying eyes.

The Anabaptists

The first real academic research paper I ever wrote, as as undergrad in 1977. For what it’s worth, the subject matter has helped shape my understanding of history and is important today for the public discourse about separation of church and state, among other things. Continue reading “The Anabaptists”

Living Water

June 13, 1976, 12:42 AM, Anderson, Indiana

 To meditate on God, His Word and Wisdom, is more rest to me than many hours’ sleep.

 O God, sleep has left me tonight.  Yet weariness, also, seems far away.

 My thoughts have been of you.  Oh, the books of theology, the hours of sermons, I could write & preach, from these nocturnal meditations!!  Yet let me not grasp at them like Alice at the reeds, lest I too find the loveliest just beyond reach, and those that I collect melting away in my hands.  For if these thoughts must go in a book, I think I can trust You to give again what I have lost…. and if indeed I must preach on these same topics, still must it not be Your Word, fresh and new, and spoken to me just as freshly by your spirit, lest I give, instead of the Bread of Life, stale crumbs from my own attic?  How easily is Living Water transformed into a stagnant pool!  One has only to stop its flow and try to store it for later (as with Midas and his gold, or even certain Israelites with their manna).  

Witness the miserly one going daily to drink of his little pool, finding it daily more stale and muddy and distasteful…. till he complains against the One who first promised him and gave him that Living water which… if he would but turn and look…. is still springing from the Fountain, free for whosoever will.

 What needs to be destroyed is the work & labor of his own hands… namely, that dam he has built that would keep the water from flowing where and as fast as it would.

This is the parable.  If I have eyes to see, when I read it again, the interpretation will need no explanation.  1:17 AM