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The Rev. Gemechis Desta Buba The Rev. Gemechis Desta Buba

The Rev. Gemechis Buba is the director of African National Ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, headquartered in Chicago, IL.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Faith and Knowledge

John 6:56-69

12th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 16)

August 24, 2003

For many years both faith and knowledge were portrayed as if they were mutually exclusive. They were seen as if they were incompatible. People were told about the disparity and polarity between the two rather than the relationship between the cognitive knowledge and nature of faith. God since creation has used the human mind and will continue to use it. Nevertheless, he is not bound by our intellectual capacity; he can stretch our capacity for imagination and allow us to probe things of heaven and the spirit.

God speaks to our mind through our natural senses. This is through our eyes, ears, taste, touch, and smell. These natural senses were created by God for us to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. As we do those things, we communicate to our brain and build on consolidating our cognitive knowledge about things at our disposal. These senses are limited by space and time. They have limitations and demarcations on where to stop. They are bound by the law of nature by which they are created to operate. Nevertheless, God sometimes breaks these boundaries and stretches them into a supernatural realm. That takes place through supernatural manifestations and experiences.

God speaks beyond our capacity to comprehend and understand by revealing the hidden things of God and by dealing with the mysterium tremendum, the tremendous mysteries of heaven. When nature fails to comprehend what God is doing in our life, the only option we have left on our hands is nothing other than taking a leap of faith. Faith is a bridge built by God for us to please him and make a transition from where we were to come to where he lives. Every step of faith comes as a result of an extension of God's Word working in our life. Therefore, the coming of the Word into our life brings faith; and as faith develops, knowledge comes along and gets developed.

About some 50 years ago, my father was sent into tribal community in the Eastern African region by the Swedish evangelical mission stationed in the western Ethiopia. This African tribal community was called the Gumuz community. They were very communal and traditional in their overall system of living. One Easter morning my father went to a gathering of the Gumuz people in the house of one of the tribal chiefs. It was in the morning where the community comes together for the village get-together. In the meantime, they were eating, drinking, and having a very heated conversation about their lives.

By the gracious permission of the chief, my father stood in their midst to share with them the good news of the Gospel. The message of Christianity was completely new and absolutely unheard of in this community. When my father started talking about the love of God revealed through his Son Jesus Christ, this tribal community heard the news with a great interest, but putting the whole thing in context was the hardest part. When he told them there was a man born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem for their sin, and rose from the dead to give them the hope of eternal life, the room was put in turmoil with the multitudes of questions raised from all corners. They were asking:

Who is this Jesus?
Where is Bethlehem?
Where is Jerusalem?
How does it relate to us?
What is sin?
What is eternal life?

They questioned the authenticity of the whole thing. They couldn't comprehend the message; their brains were not prepared to entertain the story as a truth; therefore, they started wrestling with it. Regardless of the turmoil, my father was pleased with the fact that they were at least talking about it. When people engage God's plan of salvation critically and strive to make sense out of it, the Holy Spirit may use that as a moment of leap of faith. As my father went around that ethnic community for over a year and half, the news was being spread, but there was very minimal visible fruit to be counted. Though there was no formal education within the community, the people had their own tribal culture, tradition, and religion. The message of the Gospel was not easily settling within the setting. Nevertheless, God was building a bridge to connect the gap between the people and his plan of salvation.

He was building in his own pace --

cautiously, not to damage any essential element in the process;
convictingly, because when the word comes, the Holy Spirit takes that word and convicts us of our sin and brings us to repentance; and
convincingly, for us to be convinced with it and believe in it without any doubt and remnant of doubt within our spirit.

Once this delicate process is complete, faith is realized as a foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. After two years of ministry among this tribal community in the valley called Didessa, my father harvested 28 adults for baptism. They were brought forth as they publicly and boldly confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ. Today that region is one among the major areas of evangelical church presence with more than 40 organized congregations and with close to 50,000 believers. They all openly and boldly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Thank God for what he has done through his powerful word and through life-giving Spirit.

This faith is not brought about by our effort, but faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God. According to Romans 10:17-18, faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God.

Prior to giving faith God heals our hearing. Without healed hearing and transformed mind, it's absolutely impossible to gain faith. It's, of course, remarkable that the essential concept of salvation both in Greek and in Hebrew is healing. That healing is a gift of God. Therefore, the process can be displayed as follows:

1. The Word of God comes from God.
2. The Word heals our hearing.
3. Our hearing listens to the saving Word.
4. Faith is born when the Word is heard through the healed hearing.

Within this process our Gospel message establishes one remarkable fact about the relationship between Jesus and the apostles. John 6:69, is a very classic and remarkable essence of an apostolic commitment made by the disciples when they almost vowed to indicate that they will never leave him because he has the words of eternal life. And they further told him that they are following him by faith and understanding.

According to 1 John 1:1, John clearly states that this message that is preached was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and which our hands have touched.

This we proclaim concerning the word of life. Therefore, there is no doubt in our mind because we know and we believe. It's built out of the combination of both faith and knowledge.

Segregating faith and knowledge has been taken as a viable trend of explicating and explaining the Gospel in the post-Enlightenment era by many, thus the precious stories of Christ's miraculous actions, including his resurrection, have been displayed as if it was myth built by desperate disciples. Downplaying or eradicating anything that is not subject to our cognitive intellectual capacity is not a trend of building our faith. It's almost impossible to bring our God under the scrutiny of scientific theories and methodologies. We cannot put everything in a test tube and strive to prove it. Knowledge on the basis of empirical facts and measurable methods will take us but this far. To transcend those boundaries and limitations, we have to walk on the word because as it has been said within the avowed confession of the Apostles given within our text:

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, we believe and know that you are the holy one of God."

In this case, faith precedes knowledge because as we are enclosed and enfolded into the kingdom of God, we grow in the knowledge of the will of God and in the knowledge of God's mysteries. Life with God through Christ is characterized by growth in knowledge and wisdom in the things of God.

May God bless the preaching and the hearing of his Word. Amen.


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