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On a Saturday after a week like this one, its good to remind myself that some in my family of churches still ascribe and have committed themselves to the delicate but hopeful vision of a secular society in which all people no matter their religious affiliations or even lack thereof are treated equally well by the officers of the State.
Baptist Faith and Message — Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
“Let there be light.” With those words God turned thought into reality. The Apostle
Paul writing to the Corinthians attributes the power of a mind grasping the knowledge of God in the Gospel of Jesus to the grace of God saying once again “Let there be light.”
1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
When God sparks the realization of “who He is” the understanding ushers people into a brand new world. I have appreciated Carolyn Weber’s confession, a memoir of discovery and faith, Surprised by Oxford, because of the beautiful way she expresses her journey from Canada to Oxford, and her journey from unbelief into vibrant faith. In the text below she recalls a moment when the words out of her own mouth gave surprising form to the faith forming in her mind and heart. Her class was discussing Milton.
“I think Milton is trying to feel his way through the dark.” It just came out, as I had just done from the wardrobe. Obviously it, too, within me had been grappling for the surface. I tried not to look surprised. Professor Nuttham stared at me intently. “Go on,” he said. Linnea and Fred looked at each other, and then at me, nervously. Again Dr. Deveaux’s image came to mind. I realized that the answer swelling up in me came from a very real, very personal place. “He is going blind on one level. I can only imagine how particularly horrendous that would be, especially for a writer. But does he fear going blind, being blind, on another level even more so?” I heard myself saying, “Why, exactly, is he ‘justifying these ways of God to men’? For whom is he writing? God doesn’t need justification. He certainly doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need anything.”The room stayed quiet. “Yet, it doesn’t make us superfluous or unimportant, the fact that God doesn’t need us,” I rushed on. “Actually, quite the opposite. It’s because He loves us in spite of not needing us that makes His love so, well, awesome.” Dr. Nuttham raised his eyebrows; slang was not encouraged in tutorials. “In the original sense of the term,” I quickly clarified. He lowered his brows in acceptance. Inside me lights began to go on, an electrical surge; though out of habit, I checked the swell in my heart. “Yes, I see what you mean,” ventured Linnea. “I tend to confuse what I desire, what I think I need, with what I love or pretend to love. Even with the best intentions, everything, at some point, gets muddled. Can anyone love perfectly?”
“For man,” I replied, “the trees grow so close together! I know I can’t always tell the vines apart, especially in the dark. But there is no pretense in a love that is not based on need of the giver, that is not based on consumption of the other, but only on magnification.” Everyone stared at me with that initial Yeatsian silence. I surprised everyone, including me. Where had all of that come from? I paused, collected my nerve, and then threw caution to the wind and added, “I think Milton is trying to show us the difference between Eden and heaven. Like the rest of us, he’s trying to feel his own way along that continuum.” Everything in the room stayed very, very still. I willed the clock to chime, but it didn’t.
“Despair is the greatest sin,” Dr. Nuttham finally responded slowly. “It involves forgetting that God is there. Forgetting that He is good and that all He is and does extends from and works toward this perfect goodness. That doesn’t mean that He allows evil, or creates it, or perpetuates it. That’s our entwinement. Rather, He uses even our evil toward His good. We all need forms of remembering this first great love . . . writing, reading, creating, being.” He paused, looking surprised too. Then he added, “I see,” and smiled at his own inadvertent wording. He continued smiling softly as he rose to make tea. Linnea leaned in and whispered, “Whoa.” She put her fingers to her mouth and puffed, as though to sign that I had been smoking the funny stuff before class. I made a face back at her. But I had to admit, I did feel a little high.
Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber