Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

A heavyweight ‘on faith’ is Paul Tillich and any serious faith based theological study must take into account his work “Dynamics Of Faith”. In his introduction he writes, “There is hardly a word in the religious language, both theological and popular, which is subject to more misunderstandings, distortions and questionable definitions than the word “faith.” It belongs to those terms which need healing before they can be used for the healing of men.” “… the only way of dealing with the problem is to try to reinterpret the word and remove the confusing and distorting connotations, some of which are the heritage of centuries.” “… more far-reaching aim to convince some readers of the hidden power of faith within themselves and of the infinite significance of that to which faith is related.”

This estimation on the misunderstandings and questionable definitions of the word faith can be readily seen in the ‘pat’ answer given historically by the Christian Church and most every church member. It is a simple recitation of Hebrews Eleventh chapter — “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” It was not until I studied Hebrews as a course in Seminary under Dr. R. C. Briggs that I came to realize how little the church has transmitted from this book. Most all sermons preached from Hebrews are ‘stuck in the Eleventh chapter’! Our knowledge of faith is indeed ‘the heritage of centuries’ that leaves us with little more than a ‘testimony to faith’.

Tillich, in his ‘re-interpretation’ of the word ‘faith’ opens this hallmark writing with the definition: FAITH AS ULTIMATE CONCERN! Yet more than this— “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned!” The discussion of ‘ultimate concern’ moves beyond food, shelter (and clothing) to enter the social and political and religious life. Further, that ultimacy .demands surrender and sacrifice to ‘the concern’. Two examples are given: one—the religion of the Old Testament; and two—the ultimate concern with “success, social standing and economic power, ‘the god’ in the highly competitive Western Culture”. Once the ultimate concern is identified, it demands that all other concerns be sacrificed.

I continue to be at a loss as to why the future of children in the Black Nashville community (and Cleveland, et al) continues to be in question. School systems are no longer prepared (or are preparing) to meet the needs of this population who remain heirs of genocidal systems. Such a large portion of this population in preparation for penitentiaries— the ‘modern American system of slavery’. Ultimate concern for the social life which effect the whole of life!

“Some of these concerns”, Tillich writes, “are urgent, often extremely urgent.”

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