The Content of Christian Faith

When a few months ago (on July 12) Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931) was commemorated in the liturgical calendar – the Primate of Sweden, world-renowned religious scholar, theologian and ecumenist – we wanted to commemorate him somehow also on our blog. Unfortunately, the beginning of the summer was too busy for us to realize these plans. But Archbishop Söderblom is worth reading even without a special occasion, in particular because, unlike his academic works and addresses given on various special occasions (as when he was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize), his pastoral and spiritual reflections are much less known. But it is in them that we encounter not so much a great historical figure, but a living man who follows the same path of faith that we too follow in our lives: marked by doubts and dilemmas.

Since Pradusz is the lucky owner of a collection of Söderblom’s reflections many years ago published in Dutch, “Een jaar. Een woord voor elken dag van het jaar”, we translated a fragment of one of the pieces (in the collection it is meant for October 9). Of course, it is a translation of a translation, which doubtlessly distorts the thoughts of the author, but unfortunately neither of us speaks Swedish and we do not have a copy of the original collection. Their content seemed so inspiring to us, however, that we decided to share it with you on the blog. Under the text we posted, as a sort of vocal-musical illustration, a rendition of the well-known hymn “Nearer, my God, to Thee” in Swedish. (You can find the text of the hymn and read more about it here.)

Faith, the true content of the Christian faith,  is not a greater or smaller number of claims; the content of faith and trust is God himself. Faith lives in God with Christ and does not depend on rationed food. Faith is overwhelmed by the fullness of God in Scripture, in history, in the life of an individual, in – sometimes very intimate, then again so difficult – prayer relationship with the Most High, in community with the living Savior who speaks and acts in the Gospels, suffers, dies and who is glorified among his disciples, in the works of the Spirit both in the community and in our hearts. How can faith express the whole richness, how can it express the revelation, the ceaseless acting of God, which breaks through the bitter tragedy of human life and is to be heard in our weak, splintered life as a mighty organ chord? His thoughts are not our thoughts.

When the human being puts this all together as beautifully as he can, through which the whole world and everything that happens in it becomes  beautiful – a (if sometimes slightly distorted) – harmonious whole, reality emerges and destroys the whole harmony. We have to acknowledge painfully that our capabilities are not sufficient. Sharp contradictions manifest themselves as towering mountain peaks on the horizon. We will not overcome them. But amidst this painful chaos, where nothing is clear, we encounter God’s love which gives us the sense of higher coherence and deeper meaning than the coherence and meaning we are able to see and comprehend. It is God that we have to take account of in our lives and in the wondrous world events. The mystery of salvation penetrates, no, actually brakes through our existence. If we are granted to take part in it, will we argue about this or other formula, allowing our attention to be turned away from God in Christ himself without our noticing it? Making compromises with violence offends the one who in his mercy granted us new life and who, through suffering and ordeals, through various sorts of intellectual activity, through people and circumstances, have revealed himself and his work in our times in a manner only rarely encountered in the past. We have to describe and praise the work of God so that eyes may be opened and see the miracles which God made and continues to make. In this movement of the Spirit everything finds its place, not as boards in a fence, of which one is sometimes torn out in order to gain easier access to the garden, but as those from which a ship is built – the ship of faith. For there is no doubt for me that the Noah’s ark of faith is to be made of this, which will rescue souls from the flood and will get them out of the swamp called “Hopelessness.” This is the mystery of the cross.

For me everything is absorbed by the one big question – the question of reconciliation and healing [restoration.]  Do we see God’s way in the terrible chaos of this world; the way which for the human reason is a source of offense, but remains the only possible way? This way does not avoid the tragedy of human life but goes through the very middle of it.

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