Faith of A Mustard Seed

Barbara Woods Washington

Barbara 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.

Coming into the realization of just how divided and compartmentalized life and people have become in what history is recording as a “2020 Covid Pandemic World”; I am drawn to the Text that “A House divided against itself cannot stand”…which gives cause of ‘Ultimate Concern’.  Looking at these divisions, I have begun weekly Thursday evening dialogue on “Facebook Live: Divided We Fall-Dialogue on The Great Divides”.  This ‘Purpose Driven’ consciousness in identifying the ‘Five Great divides’— East/West; North/South; Male/Female; Black/White and Rich/Poor; is a view towards a definitive knowledge of Ultimate Concern for clear and present direction into this 2021 Post Covid Life.

Now, after six weeks into this Dialogue, original thought has emerged in thesis: that “every life is an Original Theology”.  So much easier said than done!  But the understanding lying in parallel to the question raised by Langston Hughs’ reference to ‘a dream’— “What happens to a Life’s Theology Deferred?”

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

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