One of my favourite stories is told by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie was a Dutch woman, a woman of great faith and a woman who spent much of the Second World War hiding Jews from the Nazis. She and many of her family were sent to a concentration camp where her beloved sister Betsie died. Her father also died in a camp and others of her family too.
After the war Corrie wrote books about her experiences and also about her journey of faith. Her words carry authority. She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to faith in difficult circumstances. She gave many talks.
One such talk was at a theological college where the students spent a lot of time analysing the Bible’s words. It got to the point where Corrie was listening to them dissecting it down to the last degree. She didn’t argue with them. Instead she brought them some chocolate. At the time chocolate was rare and much appreciated by the students.
After they had eaten it, she remarked they’d not said much about it. Slightly indignantly, the students said that they had thanked her for it. She shook her head. She remarked that the students hadn’t asked what the chocolate was made of, didn’t look at the list of ingredients and argue about their individual merits and whether that’s what the manufacturer originally intended them to be.
And then she added – probably with a twinkle in her eye – ‘You just enjoyed it as a whole.’
They took her point.
Theology isn’t a bad thing. The study of why you believe what you believe is important when it comes to understanding. But when a discussion about religious dogma takes over from the practical application of faith, something has gone wrong.
I have some great friends who I enjoy talking about my faith with. Some are Christians, some are not. It’s interesting to talk faith and what lies behind it with others in a respectful listening way. I don’t have to agree with my Buddhist friend but I’m interested to hear what he has to say about what he believes. I recognise a sincere belief and faith when I hear it. I don’t actually agree on some points of theology with my Methodist and Anglican friends, but it’s interesting to hear why we believe what we believe.
However. Just talking ‘don’t butter no parsnips’ as one of my friends would say. It doesn’t get stuff done. This morning I saw a post on social media from one of my other friends of faith, a man whose words are wise ones and always worth listening to. He posted a picture which had these words on it: ‘Let us feed the hungry, house the homeless, stop the killing and provide medicine for the sick. When we have accomplished that, we can sit around and argue about religion.’
I’m always struck by the fact that Jesus was always incredibly gentle in his encounters with those who struggled on their journey of faith. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, brought love into loveless lives. He showed how we should live as people of faith.
Interestingly, he reserved his most scathing words for the religious who’d got tangled up in their religion and ritual, completely missing the point and failing to apply the principles to the practice.
By all means, study theology. By all means get a better understanding of what it’s all about. But take it as a whole and apply it to the world around us. A world desperate for light and love and life.
They don’t stop to ask those people where their passport is, who they voted for in the last election, whether they’re hyper-Calvinists, postmillennialists, whether they believe in infant baptism or whether they go to church twice on a Sunday. They see people who need help and they help them.
There are too many religious people rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. We need more of the people of faith who are quietly manning the lifeboats.