The jewels of wisdom I keep finding in The Meaning of Faith by Harry Emerson Fosdick continue to dazzle! (By the way, it’s taking me a while to go through the book because Fosdick divided it into daily readings over a course of twelve weeks, and that’s how I’m proceeding.) In week nine, he addresses “Faith in the Earnest God.” Fosdick speaks of God as “earnest,” that is, serious about calling us to certain tasks—to join us as co-creators and co-workers on earth.
Part of that means God is earnest about social justice. (Please excuse the lack of gender inclusive language in this text.) “To believe in God, therefore—the God who is fighting his way with his children up through ignorance, brutality, and selfishness to ‘new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness’—is no weakly comfortable blessing.” (p. 215) What a phrase: “the God who is fighting his way with his children up through ignorance, brutality, and selfishness”! God truly has to fight through the blankets of resistance with which we wrap our spirits.
Fosdick includes part of a prayer by Walter Rauschenbusch. “Smite us with all the conviction that for us ignorance is sin, and that we are indeed our brother’s keeper if our own hand has helped to lay him low. Though increase of knowledge bring increase of sorrow, may we turn without flinching to the light and offer ourselves as instruments of Thy spirit in bringing order and beauty out of disorder and darkness.” (p. 216)
He includes a prayer by W. E. Orchard to rouse us to action, which gives us surer knowledge than if we stop at theoretical reflection: “Eternal God, who hast formed us, and designed us for companionship with Thee; who hast called us to walk with Thee and be not afraid; forgive us, we pray Thee, if craven fear, unworthy thought, or hidden sin has prompted us to hide from Thee.” (p. 217)
One is reminded of the age-old temptation of humanity, to hide from God. (Think of Adam and Eve recognizing their nakedness.) From the beginning, however we envision it—perhaps the first proto-humans to achieve sentience, perhaps feeling alone in the universe—there has been the desire to flee responsibility and to create our own fictitious world.
It takes courage to act on this prayer: “We ask for no far-off vision which shall set us dreaming while opportunities around slip by…We ask Thee not to lift us out of life, but to prove Thy power within it; not for tasks more suited to our strength, but for strength more suited to our tasks.” (p. 217)
I have often felt that we’ve been given just a taste of certain things, certain experiences—or that we’ve dabbled just enough—to get a sense of understanding. Or maybe I just need to speak for myself! Maybe I’m the one who holds back, who lingers at the threshold of life.