Character + Faith

8:26 AM

John Henry Newman said that character predetermines what you believe. That's the connection between what faith assents to and how your life reflects that assent.


It's the missing key in my journey back to loving God again. I feel like I know all the answers -- not that I know them right off the top of my head, but spending your youth studying theology in your spare time does make it easier to judge the rightness and wrongness of random little heresies that float by. 

I sat twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my reaffirmation of what I believed what I had said I believed way back when to suddenly grab hold of my life and change me back into that Jesus-obsessed sixteen-year-old. 

Not much happened.

See, my entire Christian life I struggled with looking for the motivation to change instead of just changing. I was never the girl with the messed up life upon whom God pointed His finger and said, "Let there be unending enthusiasm for Jesus Christ" and that was that. I was the girl with the messed up life to whom God reached out His hand and said, "Take another step of faith. We're going to have to crawl out of this one." 

I've been thinking a lot about what Newman said -- that character predetermines what you believe. It's true. Because I let myself grow cold to other people, rebellious to God's law, self-absorbed in my own misery and interests, I put less and less stock in this whole Gospel thing. It didn't fit the living space of my soul -- not because I didn't believe it was true but because I lived a life predisposed against wanting that truth to come anywhere near me. 

Those meditations here and there -- standing in the lunch line, falling asleep, daydreaming in class -- got me thinking about how I needed to clear out what sin and selfishness took up and allow the Spirit to come in and transform.

Little things. Like praying before I send off an email to someone instead of rattling off my wisdom-accumulated-over-the-years. Like spending that time right before I fall asleep where I usually think about my own desires and fears to list off what I'm thankful for. Like reading my Bible during breakfast. Like framing the answer to the "how-are-you?" question within an understanding of God's sovereignty and goodness: "I'm stressed but blessed." (Okay, I literally just coined that right here and now, and it's so corny that you should never say it ever.)

It's not about racking up Christian points. It's not even really about doing the actions themselves. I just want to recreate my character, open up some spaces, so that when that obsession for Christ grabs hold of me again, the tenor of my soul can deal with it. If I'm living a loving life in the light of the Gospel, I won't need to continually question whether it's true or not.

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11 impressions

  1. I'm drawn to your last 2 paragraphs where you speak about "little things" that remind us to look up to God in thankfulness and dependence, because we humans can be really forgetful and/or apathetic of God's presence and goodness if we don't train our minds to look heavenward often during the day.

    These Scriptures come to my mind:
    "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (Col. 3:2)
    "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.( Romans 12:2)

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  2. Miss Bailey,

    Who is John Henry Newman? Is he a Christian? I cannot tell. What you claim he said does not sound Christian. But you didn't even bother quoting him, I don't know if something is lost in the retelling, or not. I just don't know.

    Here is a thought: Instead of meditating on you and your character, meditate on God and his character.

    The problem with all this "I need to do this and that" is that I can't. God can, if he is willing. If he wills, he can make me whole.

    I have seen (with my own eyes, not somebody telling me) people finding God and the 180 degree change in their character. It is not their character that determined their beliefs. It is God.

    The little character changes over time in the Christian are just as much God as the big and abrupt changes of the most ardent God hater.

    Your desire to change to please God is from God. Such desires do not originate in us.

    Just so you understand, Atheists teach that everyone believes as his or her character predetermines. It is possible that my recent experiences and conversations are very different in perspective, than perhaps your conversations and meditations.

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  3. Tragedy101,

    Please don't talk down to me. We've had many, many misunderstandings due to the lack of tone internet writing inevitably lends, and I wish you would strive to give me the benefit of the doubt instead of shutting me down immediately. Perhaps I'm misreading your tone, too (and do correct me if I am!).

    To address your questions:

    Yes, Newman is a Christian -- a very prominent Christian thinker, especially on the relation between faith and reason. I was summarizing on argument of his about faith as a moral principle founded in character discussed in Lecture X of his faith and reason lectures. It was not possible for me to merely quote him without going into a long explanation of his points, so I tried to encapsulate his argument via paraphrase. Here are some actual quotes from Lecture X that hopefully make sense out of the full context:

    "Again, it is scarcely necessary to point out how much our inclinations have to do with our belief. It is almost a proverb, that persons believe what they wish to be true. ... Such are the inducements to belief which prevail with all of us, by a law of our nature, and whether they are in the particular case reasonable or not. When the probabilities we assume do not really exist, or our wishes are inordinate, or our opinions are wrong, our Faith degenerates into weakness, extravagance, superstition, enthusiasm, bigotry, prejudice, as the case may be; but when our prepossessions are unexceptionable, then we are right in believing or not believing, not indeed without, but upon slender evidence. ... The natural man has no heart for the promises of the Gospel, and dissects its evidence without reverence, without hope, without suspense, without misgivings; and while he analyzes that evidence perhaps more philosophically than another...he rests in it as an end, and neither attains the farther truths at which it points, nor inhales the spirit which it breathes. ... A mutilated and defective evidence suffices for persuasion where the heart is alive; but dead evidences, however perfect, can but create dead faith."

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  4. I'm not meditating on my character. I'm meditating on the command God says to be holy, to be sanctified. I obey Him knowing that He is the one who ultimately brings change. As you said, this desire to change is from God, so I CAN do things to please Him and to change because He's actually the one motivating and perfecting me.

    The point of this post was that I'm learning how to make what I believe real to me. That doesn't come from pounding theology into my brain. It comes from letting that theology soak into my soul and change me -- change my character. That character change will in turn make me more willing to accept beliefs that otherwise seem silly or unreal in the context of pure reason apart from faith.

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  5. Miss Bailey,

    Yes. I can see how you could perceive what I wrote as demeaning. What I cannot see is how I could write anything that you could not believe was demeaning.

    If your character is such that you believe I am "talking down to you," can a change of phraseology change your character?

    ***

    On Cardinal Newman's observations:

    What do you suppose he means by "the natural man?"

    Assuming the ellipses do not indicate a change in argument, your post is about your natural man learning to make what you believe real to you.

    Does the in dwelling Holy Spirit need to learn this? I think not.

    It is a good desire that we be complete in our beliefs, nothing doubting. But to rest in the perceived reality of one's beliefs as an end... That by having a changed character one will believe all that is true without nagging doubts and fears is a dead faith.

    Until our faith is replaced by sight, we will have things we do not understand and don't know the truth of.

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  6. Tragedy101,

    That's a low blow. But I cannot change your mind about my character, so I will leave it at that.

    I'm quite certain I did not change Newman's argument. You're welcome to look up his lecture if you're interested in verifying that; it's a good one, very challenging.

    The natural man is the "old man," the unredeemed man. This post was not about my natural self. It's about my redeemed self striving to obey Christ. I'm afraid you've missed the point of what Newman was saying and what I'm saying, and I'm at a loss at trying to convince you that I'm not saying what you're saying I'm saying.

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  7. Miss Bailey,

    Here is a "low blow":

    "Please, do not talk down to me."

    What was your purpose with that statement? Do you think I don't have feelings? That your accusations don't hurt? That your opinion of me, means nothing?

    "If" does not mean "since." I don't think you believe it, at all. I think you said it to throw me off, because you don't want to discuss the issues you have put forth.

    You know that Cardinal Newman is not defending a Christian's justification by faith, but the Roman Catholic Church. And the perverse teachings of that church, which contradict the Bible. In Lecture X, Cardinal Newman attempts to claim the Roman Catholic teaching of salvation for infants by Baptism (of water) is commanded by the apostolic church. There is no such support in apostolic and early church writings.

    In so doing, he attempts to assert that Baptism (of water) is the first, and primary, means to justification, which it is not. This is not a Biblical position, nor does he claim it to be, but rather asserts the power of the Roman Catholic Church to "bind and loose."

    I would suggest: Read the Bible. It is profitable. Do not allow another to prevent you from seizing the good and not releasing it.

    I understand you love a man who is a Roman Catholic. Can his faith save you?

    I care about you. And I will not stand idle and watch without trying to reach out to you, as it is within my power to reach out to you, now.

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  8. Tragedy101,

    I am sorry I offended you. I said, "Please don't talk down to me" because *I* felt you were doing so, and it hurt *MY* feelings. I wanted to let you know so that if that wasn't your tone, we could simply move on from that. I see that I overreacted to what I perceived to be your tone in that comment, and I apologize for that.

    Regarding your other comments that weren't as innocuous:

    Let me be blunt: your comments above and your comments in the past do not understand what I'm saying. Even when I clarify, you still do not understand. Your comments are not helpful to me as a person or to the general conversation. I could try to explain that, but you would not understand my reasons in the same way you have not understood most of the blog posts you commented on. Until your comments change in tone and address what I've written instead of what you imagine I believe, I will no longer be publishing your comments. If you truly care about me, you will respect this decision.

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  9. Good call, Bailey. I support your decision and am glad you made it. I know you don't want commenters to criticize or attack each other, so I will just say I perceived the tone of Tragedy101's comments in much the same way you did, and it was making me uncomfortable.

    Adele

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  10. You've always had the right, and even the responsibility, as moderator to publish only that which you believe is "inoffensive."

    In that I hurt you, I am sorry. And I would like your forgiveness for that. However, I am not in the least sorry for my intentions of my words, because the application of a malicious intent is another's "character" flaw.

    And in as much as your post claimed it is our character that affects our performance of our beliefs; The carrying out of our beliefs establishes our character. We do what we believe, and those actions are the basis of our character.

    I would suggest, again, looking outside of the loop of an improving character and firmer beliefs, to find the impetus of this.

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  11. * thumbs up to article*

    *facepalms comments*

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