The Church and the Genie in the Bottle

(This is the article that prompted my friendship with Dave Price who died in July 2012. 

What is a Paradigm?
A paradigm is a philosophical or theoretical framework of thought. The word is most commonly used in science to define theories or principles which appear to be irrefutable. A paradigm shift, then, is a framework of thought which challenges the previously accepted standard and proposes a new paradigm. The best example of this is Einstein’s work on relativity, which challenged the previously accepted paradigm of Newtonian mechanics. To make a long story short, Einstein proved that Newtonian mechanics, a principle used to measure the movement of a body under the exertion of force, was accurate but only capable of measuring movement below the speed of light. Thus, Newtonian mechanics was the paradigm, and Einstein’s theory of relativity was the paradigm shift. This also had the unexpected result of producing the term “paradigm paralysis”, which is described as the inability to see beyond the current model of thinking. You should understand that what follows would not generally be accepted within the scientific realm, but I hope it proves to be a useful exercise nonetheless.

The Paradigm of Faith
The Christian realm is quite familiar with the phrase “the just shall live by faith”, a verse in Habakkuk which is quoted by the apostle Paul in Romans. What is this thing called “faith”? The paradigm of faith in the Christian world today relegates faith to a thing which can be acquired and accumulated. Just listen to the way Christians talk of faith. “God will heal you if you have enough faith.” “God will change the circumstances of your life if you only have enough faith.” “God will give you everything you desire if you only have faith.” Want that new car or that big house? All you need is faith. If you are unemployed or you haven’t been healed, you just don’t have enough faith. Faith becomes nothing more than the Genie in the Bottle – rub it three times and you’ll get everything your heart desires. Better collect as much as you can so that you can trot it out in the midst of your next crisis. If you are Catholic, say a few more Hail Mary’s. If you are Protestant, put a little extra in the offering plate and do a couple good deeds. Then you’ll have all you need when you need it the most. This is the paradigm of faith in the church today.

The Paradigm Shift
The idea that faith is something I “acquire” is as misguided as the idea that I own my wife. I may have a marriage certificate which would imply a certain set of beliefs and expectations, but unless I cultivate an active relationship with my wife I have nothing but a piece of paper. Marriage, and faith, is found not in the declaration, but in the action. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the words translated faith in English are words which imply the utter truthfulness and faithfulness of one, in particular God Himself. Faith is an action based entirely on the truthfulness and the fidelity of God in the face of any circumstance. Faith is action based on the understanding that God is always faithful, that God is always loving, that God is always working for our good, despite the attempt of circumstances to prove otherwise. This is the paradigm shift which must occur in the church today. Faith is not a commodity to be acquired and possessed like stocks, redeemed when we need the interest they have accrued. Faith is a relationship. Without the relationship there is no action – I can only act in my marriage according to the depth of my relationship with my wife. I can only act with faith according to the depth of my relationship with God.

Paradigm Paralysis
How much faith do I have? How much faith does it take to please God? The most insidious question today is, which political party is my faith affiliated with? At best, questions like these reduce faith to an ineffective document stored in the vault of our logic. At worst, they reduce faith to the idolatry of the Genie in the Bottle. I am not convinced that the Church as a whole can recover from the adulteration of the meaning of faith. The question is whether individuals can propel themselves out of the church’s paradigm paralysis, the inability to think outside of the babbling puppets in the pulpits whose only goal is job security founded on the gospel of fear. What is faith? Faith is the sum of actions founded on the absolute trustworthiness of God which are derived from a direct and active relationship with the only One who can be trusted completely. God does not grant faith, He infuses it in the spirit that abandons itself in Him. From God’s side of the equation, there is nothing that impedes faith.

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