Thursday, January 08, 2015

Logic and Faith: How to Judge Value?

Romans 11.29 For who has known the mind of the Lord?  

[Image: It seemed like a good idea at the time...]
On July 14 in 1789 a mob of men and women in Paris freed prisoners from the Bastille, a royal fort.  The French celebrate this as the root event of their republic, a triumph over those born to privileges by supposed divine right.  Thomas Jefferson saw this also as a triumph of rationality over superstition.  But the logic of radical equality led shortly to a period known as "the Terror," persecution and total war against all perceived enemies of "the people."  Anglican eyewitness Edmund Burke saw the French Revolution as the grim triumph of "economists and calculators" whose rationality denied the "super-added ideas" that brought beauty and "unbought grace" to life.

So it's fitting that our reading in Romans today is about rationalizing God's "unbought grace" for people of privileged bloodline.  To us, that doesn't make much sense.  Why should one group get preference, in spite of its actions, just because of its ancestry?  Yet to some in Paul's audience, it didn't make sense that God might accept, by faith, people who were not of the chosen bloodline. After a few stunted arguments, Paul gives up on logic:  God's reasons are unsearchable and inscrutable.

Much of what we do at St. James' has value beyond logic.  Try explaining why we read aloud the same words every week, sing Psalms, ring bells, or light candles.  What's gained by sending Pastoral Care volunteers to visit shut ins or by hosting luncheons for mentally challenged people who aren't even members?  What's the logic behind communion or prayer?

Useful for analyzing data, logic has nothing to say about value.  An economist friend of mine, being logical, deplores the use of Americans' sympathy for needy children to promote policies that inhibit economic development for all.  He has many examples to prove his point, but Jesus counters in today's reading that whosoever fails to assist anyone sick, naked, or imprisoned has failed to serve our Lord (Matthew 25.45).  On this Bastille Day, let's remember that logic is only one tool for understanding our world; faith is another.

[This essay was first published in a booklet of daily meditations on the lectionary.  This one covered scripture assigned for July 14. Find links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians! ]

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