Faith on Earth by Richard Niebuhr (Yale University Press, £16).
Sr Miriam ODC
"WHEN the son of man comes, will we find faith on earth?" (Luke 18.8) Asking this question in the context of the parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow, Jesus could have meant "will he find belief or trust in God?"
He may also have meant "will he find any faithfulness among men?" Faith in God is a theological virtue; faith in each other is the ground of our interpersonal existence • as human beings, the place where the psychological, moral and spiritual energies of our social worlds converge.
In the Creed christians profess belief in God, but also in each other — in the church and in the communion of saints. But as we know only too well the fragility of our faith is constantly threatened and betrayed.
Lurking behind every protestation of faith, trust, loyalty to God or to an ideal, cause, group or person, we are aware of mutual disbelief, distrust, disloyalty and suspicion. We have even to admit that while we assert our faith in God, our heart tells us that we constantly doubt his power and his love. Little wonder then that there is scant faithfulness among men.
It is opportune that these essays should be published at this critical moment. Barriers are being broken down, covenants sealed, but always with the fear of other more dangerous walls arising, and of broken promises. The question remains: will there be found the necessary faith among men?
In what has been described as a "phenomenolgy of faith", Richard Niebuhr enquires into the phenomenon of human faith with its attendant shadow, disbelief. Faith has many forms — notional and real, dogmatic and subjective; but there is always the apparent irrelevance of faith to action. We all say one thing and do the opposite.
The cause of this general distrust is the latent fear of God due to the sin so graphically imaged in Genesis. Having failed God, we cannot but fail each other. Destined to be loyal and to live by trust, our loyalty appears only in the corrupted form of broken promises, and our trust in the great suspicion that we are being deceived.
The resolution of this dilemma is proclaimed in the chapter The Reconstruction of Faith. The Jesus Christ of faith, the subject of betrayal, from whom on the cross was wrung the uttermost cry of faith at the edge of nothingness, is the one who has opened up for us the way by which we come to say to the God who is the ground of our being, "Abba, our Father".
It is only after our faith, personal or social, like that of Jesus is brought to the brink of annihilation, that with Jesus and in the spirit of the Father will snatch us from selfdestruction and rebuild us into a community of faith, of which the earthly symbol is the church. Church.
Then the great triadic interaction of self, companions and cause, on which the harmonious interpersonal relationship in faith depends, will be restored, and the abiding peace of Christ, gained through his cross and resurrection, will be realised.
We have far to go, but this book gives us the confidence to seek after peace in faith in the ultimate goodness of God and his world and its inhabitants.