Fr. Scott Lewis writes that faith is more than just a warm feeling, it is a powerful tool that a righteous person lives their life by. Graphic by David Chen

The righteous person lives by faith

  • September 23, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 2 (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10)

Habakkuk could have been written yesterday — in fact, it could have been written at almost any point in history. It describes events and situations that humans have always faced: violence, destruction, fear and injustice. We are not sure when the prophet Habakkuk lived and exercised his ministry. The best estimates are the very late seventh century B.C., possibly during the reign of Josiah the King.

The aggression and violence of the superpowers had swirled around Habakkuk all of his life in the form of the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. Warfare and destruction were nearly constant in the first millennium B.C. The sacking and burning of cities, deportations of populations and the enslavement of peoples occurred with depressing regularity.

Habakkuk asked the question that we all ask when faced with similar situations today: Why did God permit it, and how long before God does something about it? Embedded in the question is the assumption that God is supposed to be the divine fixer and the one to bail us out of our collective disasters.

In the last hundred years, with the horrors that we have faced, this view of God has been shaken and in many quarters has disappeared. Unfortunately, it is often replaced with cynicism, hopelessness and atheism.

It sometimes seems to people that God is absent from the world, doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.

God’s answer came to Habakkuk, and it is a message that we all need to hear and take to heart. The world will not be as we would have it, and we do not have much immediate control over events.

All human creations — governments, institutions and societies — are shot through with human sin and weakness. Sooner or later, all fail us, sometimes in spectacular ways. We should not put our faith or hope in them. God insists that everything adheres to a divine plan, but this is not immediately evident. There are often deviations and setbacks. God’s solution is very clear:

The righteous person lives by faith. As we journey through the chaos and struggle of life in a very scary world, our primary and constant response should be absolute trust in the providence and care of God, the divine purpose and meaning of our lives, the primacy of spiritual values and our ultimate destiny with God. That is what faith is, and it is the one thing the world cannot take from us.

The gift of the spirit helps us in that endeavour, and it is not the spirit of cowardice, but courage and faith. The author of 2 Timothy urges his readers to remain faithful and centred on Christ. We should guard our faith and love, along with the Spirit, as our most precious possessions. If we lose them, we have lost the very heart of our lives.

True faith is more than warm feelings or profound thoughts; it is a powerful tool. Jesus insisted that if we had even a small amount of pure faith, we could uproot trees and plant them in a sea at our command. It’s a metaphor — don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t immediately work!

The point is that faith focuses on the path ahead with laser-like intensity and refuses to be knocked off course. Faith is focusing on God and enabling God to focus on us in return.

Living by faith, guided by spiritual values expressed in love and service, is merely an expression of the image of God imprinted on our souls. It is who and what we are, at the deepest part of ourselves that is untouched by fear, doubt and sin.

We should not be smug or proud about it, nor expect a “reward” for rightly-guided behaviour. A good life is far, far more than a free pass to Heaven after we die. It is a rich, blessed and fulfilled life — its own reward.

The troubling image of slaves or servants used in the parable is understandable given when it was written. But the principle remains the same — we are servants, servants of the word and of the light. We have done only what is right. There is much time later on for being invited to sit with the Master at table.

The righteous indeed live by faith, along with all that is packed into that deceptively simple word.