Thought for the Day: Faith & Jonathan Sacks

Yesterday Jonathan Sacks gave his last Thought for the Day he’ll be giving in his present role as Chief Rabbi in Britain. Stepping down from his role, at the end of this month, he shows a keen eye for the role of faith in society. Thank you Lord Sacks for your contribution to the clarion call to love others with the love that God has for each one of us:

This is the last thought for the day I’ll be giving in my role as Chief Rabbi. On Sunday I induct my successor, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and before then I wanted to say thank you for the privilege of serving as a religious leader in a society where there’s genuine respect for other people’s religious beliefs or lack of them; that understands what I call the dignity of difference. And if you were to ask me what I have cherished most these past 22 years, it’s been the chance to see the difference faith makes to people’s lives.

I’ve seen it do its work in Jewish communities throughout the Commonwealth, moving people to visit the sick, give hospitality to the lonely and help to those in need. You don’t need to be religious to be moral, but it makes a huge difference to be part of a community dedicated to being a blessing to others.
I’ve seen faith help holocaust survivors to survive and not be traumatised by their memories. I saw it help my late father survive four difficult operations in his eighties, so that he, who had come to this country as a refugee, could be there to see his son inducted as a chief rabbi. It was the faith I learned from him that kept me going through some of the worst crises of my life.

Faith brought our people into being almost forty centuries ago when Abraham and Sarah heard God’s call to leave home and begin a journey that is not yet complete and won’t be, until we learn to make peace with one another, recognising that not just us but even our enemies are in the image of God.

Faith isn’t science. It’s is not about how the world came into being but about why. I believe that God created the universe and us in love and forgiveness, asking us to love and forgive others. And though that’s often very hard, I believe faith still makes it more likely than if we think that the universe just happened, that humanity is a mere accident of biology, and that nothing is sacred.

And yes it seems as if sometimes we have just enough religion to make us hate one another, and not enough to make us love one another. But the answer to that is more faith not less. Faith in God who asks us to love others as he loves us. That’s faith’s destination and there’s still a way to go.

Make the Bible your native tongue

I distinctly remember there being times at school when I spent more time reading the ‘Cliff Notes’ guide to a book in my English Literature class than I spent reading the book in question itself. Not that I do things last minute or anything, but I remember watching Richard Brannagh’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ the night before an exam, as a quick way of getting a basic understanding of the plot. It never occurred to me to read the play through for myself!

The point is that we can all too easily rely upon the helpful, but secondary, sources for comment and understanding rather than go to that which is the subject of the commentary.

When we have questions of faith and practice, do we go first to google, our favourite celebrity pastor or twitter to find answers when we should be putting in the hard work of going to the Word of God ourselves? Listening in on what God is saying to others through his Word is no replacement for developing our own listening ears for what The Lord is saying and sitting under the authority of his written Word.

Tim Kimmel on reading the Bible as a second language:

With tweets, blog posts, predigested podcasts, and fingertip access each week to downloads of some of the most engaging Bible teachers in the world, it’s tempting to develop an on-going input of the Bible at the hands of others that overshadows, or even eclipses, input from personal time spent pouring over it on our own.

The drive-by options we have to phenomenal biblical insights can easily meet our need for spiritual satisfaction. Forget the possibility that much of it may be the equivalent of spiritual junk food — great insights and observations that feel good being consumed but can’t possibly provide a well-balanced biblical diet. Throw in some white noise from our preferred theological hot buttons, and the evangelical celebrity status of our favorite Bible teachers, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our primary connection to God becomes one or more steps removed from God himself.

There are some fantastic tools for Bible study and interpretation out there today, but they should compliment and not replace a vibrant personal commitment to hearing God speak daily and personally to us through his Word.

The biblical narrative should be our native tongue, not a second language. I want to know and be familiar with the cadence of scripture – to let it shape my life not sit on the shelf referred to but unread.

Healthy is messy

Sam Rainer on healthy churches necessarily being messy churches:

If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re doing something right. Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong. In fact, a church full of “mature” believers is quite immature because it means no one is reaching outward.

Healthy churches are messy. It’s easy to look in from the outside and claim, “Half that church is immature!” But such disdain could be misguided. While a state of perpetual immaturity is a recipe for disaster, a constant movement of many immature people being discipled is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.

“The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) – “continuous outreach into the community seeking to bring people into Christ and his community.”

Healthy churches grow – but growing churches can look ‘unhealthy’ if spiritual maturity is the only metric used.

Respectful attentiveness

Adam Siegel on his eight month old daughter and the temptation to pull out the iPhone:

The other day, I planted Margot on the floor with some toys and she happily began playing. In an almost unconscious habit whenever I have a short moment of free time in between tasks, I took the brief respite to pull out my phone and check my mail. 60 seconds later after reading a couple messages and deleting a few more, I looked up from the screen to see that Margot had stopped playing and was staring at me. “This is how it begins,” I thought. I’m showing her my screen deserves my attention at the moment more than she does.

How we direct our time and attention says something powerful about what we value in our heart of hearts.