“Read the book before you watch the movie.” We heard and probably even gave this advice to others many times. This is good advice because a great piece of literature, when adopted into a motion picture, has to be heavily edited and reduced to a narrative that fits into the framework of a movie lasting an hour or so. No matter how great the film is, how professionally and creatively it is directed, scripted, edited and played, it can never quite capture the elegance and depth of the story found in the book. I think the same is true for our faith. Faith is often reduced to a religion, ideology, tradition, ritual or a mystical and symbolic spiritual experience. However, faith is something much bigger and more profound, far more beautiful and meaningful.
Today’s Scripture reading from the first letter of St. John contains a perfect description and definition of true and pure faith in Christ.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” – 1 John 1:1-4
What a tremendous outpouring of genuine joy radiating from the intimate knowledge and relationship with Christ himself. This is faith, true faith. This is the very reason God created humanity – to know and be known by us through a loving relationship and friendship. This is what distinguishes faith from religion and Christianity from all other major religions. For instance, in Buddhism and Confucianism, it does not really matter if Gautama Buddha and Confucius actually lived and were historical figures or not. The focus is entirely on their spiritual teaching rather than on the person, let alone a living relationship with that person. Christianity is nothing but an invitation to meet and know Christ closely and personally and venture with him on a lifelong journey of faith to the loving heart of God.
Every Sunday, we recite the Nicene Creed during the Badarak. It includes a long list of historical events from the life of our Lord where we recall his incarnation, conception, birth, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. Why? Why do we recite this long list of historical events from the life of our Lord if not to remind ourselves that our faith is not about abstract and mystical concepts and ideas but a real person and our relationship, communion with him.
The Bible opens with the story of Adam and Eve and how God walked with them and talked, cared for them and sought their presence. There is nothing symbolic, allegorical or mystical about such biblical depiction. That is all that God wants – to walk with us, talk to us, and be with us.
The only mystery here is why would an omnipotent and holy, holy, holy God, in whose presence the heavenly hosts of cherubim and seraphim cover their eyes, desire to know me, spend time, walk and talk with me and seek a relationship and friendship with me if not for love.