The life of faith — not complicated at all

By  REV. DR. HENRY FRENCH,retired, Little Falls

Sometimes we make the life of faith far too complicated, which is a shame, because it is not complicated at all. All too often the life of faith has been reduced to complex theological doctrines that we are supposed to understand and believe. The life of faith, then, is reduced to believing the “right things” about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.

Alternatively, the life of faith has often been reduced to a list of dos and don’ts. You know how it goes. Do the dos and don’t do the don’ts and you’re OK, but don’t do the dos and do the don’ts and you are not OK. This, of course, reduces the life of faith to soul-shrinking moralism.

If you are looking for a vibrant, living life of faith, the Prophet Jeremiah’s advice is a good place to start: “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (6:16).

Good advice, but it begs the question — What is this “ancient path where the good way lies?”

Hillel, a Jewish rabbi living in the time of Jesus offers one answer to this question. When asked if he could teach the whole Jewish Law while standing on one leg, he immediately began standing on one leg and simply said: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to other people. That is the whole of the law …. Go learn it.”

Jesus also taught this “Golden Rule,” although he put it more positively: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mathew 7:12).

Not to belabor the point, but let me tell the story of a young woman who wanted to follow God, but wasn’t quite sure what to do. She went to church and listened to ser­mons, but they didn’t seem to help. She went to Bible studies, but got confused.

So, she began buying books about religion and spirituality. But the books were hard to understand and so she put them in a big chest and began to think that she would never know the way of God.

One day she heard about a wise religious teacher who might be able to help her. So, dragging her chest full of books behind her, she went to her house. The teacher asked her, “How can I help you?” She opened the chest and said, “I want to learn the way of God; please teach me everything that is in these books.”

To her surprise, the teacher slammed the chest shut, and told her, “The way of God is this: Love God who made you, and love your neigh­bor as yourself. All the rest is mere commentary. Now, go into the world and learn what love means by loving.”

And that, of course, is the heart of Jesus teaching about the life of faith. Once when a teacher of the law asked him which commandment is the greatest, he said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-49).

That’s it. Love God. Love yourself. Love others. No tricks, no secret wisdom — love is the ancient and modern path that leads to both the good life and to God.