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When faith is little more than intellectual interest

By AL EARLEY

Religion Columnist

Are there questions about faith and scripture that one should not ask? Is there a place for skepticism in our religious lives? I do think such questions and skepticism can be healthy if they lead to a deepening of faith. But so often they become an excuse for keeping God at a spiritual distance, thus committing the sin of intellectual interest.

The Pharisee, Nicodemus, gives us a good picture of what this looks like. In John 3:1-10 we read about his coming to Jesus in the night, alone, and in secret.  He wants Jesus to know he thinks there is something to all this talk of forgiveness and love, just in case it might matter, as it pertains to his eternal destiny.  He had no more than intellectual interest in Jesus’ preaching.  Jesus saw right past Nicodemus’ sin. He basically tells Nicodemus he doesn’t want admiration, respect and least of all, intellectual interest.  He wants Nicodemus to be born again in his faith.

Today, the sin of intellectual interest is committed when we look skeptically at all the things of faith that don’t fit into our scientific world view and reject them.  If it can’t be proved, then throw it out.  What is left is valid.  Faith is safer that way, because then nothing escapes our intellectual control.  There is only one problem, as Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

     When there is no room for the spirit’s mysterious and elusive movements through our lives, then love becomes a nice concept, sin becomes an inconvenience, God becomes a cosmic curiosity, and salvation is reduced to some shallow idea of living a good life, doing good things and being respectable.  Jesus wants to be our Lord and savior and does not care about our intellectual interest. 

Being born again in Christ can be illustrated humorously with a look at the American refrigerator-freezer.  Usually we see good things in our refrigerator like milk, fruit juice, vegetables, etc.  But there are always curious things in a refrigerator.  Have you ever found an empty plate?  Such a find reminds us of the confusion we find in our faith at times.  That empty ice tray must be lonely, like we become in our lives.  Have you ever opened a bowl lid and found week old pudding, with a crater running down the middle?  Have you ever asked someone if they want that dried out old pudding?  We don’t offer our loved ones the best we’ve got too often, do we?  Have you ever put the lid on the bowl, and put it back in the fridge?

A week later we pull out that pudding, and I will spare you the description.  When our faith is like two-week-old pudding, we’re in trouble.  But we’re in bigger trouble if we look in the refrigerator that is our lives and there is nothing there, and it smells bad, like having no more than an intellectual interest in Jesus.  It is time for a change.

If you will grant me the literary license to push this metaphor further, Jesus is the Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.  Like the baking soda removes the odors from an empty refrigerator, Jesus is sweet-smelling and energizes us to clean out our lives. I challenge you to reject the notion that you can show an intellectual interest, and still have a clean refrigerator.  When was the last time you changed the baking soda in the refrigerator of your life?

     Christ wants us to be born again each new day and accept him as the Lord and savior of our lives.  There is no better time to take inventory of your life and make some changes than the beginning of a new year.  Here are a few inventory questions to think about. 

Do you gather with God’s family to worship and praise God often enough?  Do you read your Bible and pray daily?  Do you give your money away or do you worship it as an idol?  When was the last time you did something compassionate for someone else, that wasn’t a family member?  Do you spend too much time at work?  Do you spend enough time with your spouse and children?  Do you love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength?  Do you love yourself?  Do you love your neighbor?  What in your life indicates these last three questions are true?  That ought to get you started.  Have a Happy New Year.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see www.lagrangepres.com.