Religion: The Same And Changing
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
2nd Sunday in Lent
When ancient Hebrews told the story of how God used Abram to sire their nation, they used language and customs of their time. To guarantee that his gift of land would be perpetual, God followed a common contract ritual. Jews of that era found it natural. We find the story exotic.
We face a similar situation. To maintain a united and orthodox understanding of God and our relationship with him church authority has enshrined language and images from centuries, even millennia, past. Much of it is foreign to us.
Democracy, facile communication, universal education, the equality of all people and individual rights are fundamental realities for us. Advances in the sciences have fundamentally changed the way we perceive reality. In addition, many possess an unprecedented amount of power for controlling their daily lives. These facts make our world drastically different from the world that gave rise to our religious language and imagery.
There are those who say that “everyone knows” what the prayers and rituals are saying. Sometimes people do. But the language of faith is becoming more and more remote from everyday existence. Consciously and unconsciously we find religion in an increasingly isolated corner of our lives.
Theologians work on this problem. They search out ways of making faith understandable to us. In the nature of things they bump heads with the bishops whose job it is to make certain that our ancestors’ experience of God is fully handed on. It’s a messy process that never stands still and is never finished.
As profound change chases profound change today, nothing substitutes for deepening our faith knowledge. We can’t wait for someone to hand us a new dictionary that translates what we hear in church and read in scripture. We need to grow more confident in pondering our faith and making sense of it ourselves and in conversation with one another. The doctrine that the Holy Spirit guides all baptized people will become a practical reality for us or our faith will end up in the attic of our lives.