Showing items filed under “The Rt. Rev. George Sumner”


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Our understanding of ourselves as creatures is inseparable from our being a part of the created order around us.  Now our responses to that surrounding world are many: awe at its’ beauty, a desire to dominate it, the sense that we could speak on its behalf, a wistfulness at its wholeness, and shock at its brutality. We, like it, are contingent, fragile, passing. We, embodied, are blessed with fruitfulness in bearing children.  So we are a part of it, yet these reactions themselves set us apart.  Each description mentioned impinges somehow on the question of faith.

We humans have been tempted to worship the creation, to mistake it, and so us, with the Creator, in idolatry, as we mentioned above.  Though we should identify with and, ideally, steward creation, Christians have had a major role in ‘desacralizing’ the natural order.  When we note the corruption of creation, we ought, in this age of ecological awareness, to see our own guilt.  We also realize that the realms of creation and redemption imply one another. Creation cannot save, but it can whisper to us of the Creator. 

If we consider the first chapter of Genesis, we can see the rich pluriformity of creation,  the diversity and distinctiveness of its forms.  This bespeaks the generosity and endless creativity of the Creator.  There is a side of creation which reveals in sheer ‘difference,’ though the believer can perceive them all inarticulately praising the one Creator. (e.g. Psalm 148)    

Is a belief in creation something then we share with those who follow Eastern or indigenous faiths and with secular people?  In part, for they and we appreciate its beauty and should have a concern for its protection.  This ‘overlap’ in commitments is valuable: ‘who is not against us is for us.’  However, in light of the question of faith, the things that we as monotheists believe also come to stand out.

Romans 8:22-24

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Augustine’s Confessions

And what is this? I asked the earth; and it answered, "I am not He;" and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, "We are not thy God, seek higher than we." I asked the breezy air, and the universal air with its inhabitants answered, Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God." I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: "Neither," say they, "are we the God whom thou seekest." And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, "Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him." And with a loud voice they exclaimed, "He made us.”

Robert Browning, ‘In Memoriam’

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

How We Really Decide

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There are people who spend their lives thinking about the questions about God, either as theologians or philosophers.  We should add that these people are as divided in their conclusions as people in general!  But most people do not have this luxury or inclination.  But just the same they do make decisions about whether to be Christians, and furthermore how seriously to take their Christian life.  Everyone has that question before them, and the opportunity it presents (as well as the demands):  ‘everyone who seeks finds; knock and it shall be opened to you’ says Jesus (Matthew 7:8).  How then do people with ordinary obligations in the world make such decisions?  Some actually decide based on other factors: for example, social pressure or conformity, the desire for a moral upbringing for one’s children, a political preference, ethnic affiliation.  God can use these too, but they are incidental to the decision whether or not to become a follower, a disciple.

It is the whole person who is summoned by God in and to faith.  By a convergence and an alignment of what we think, feel, will, and hope, we make the great decisions of our life.  Something similar could surely be said for deciding to take up some challenging work, or to marry.  Philosophers talk of a ‘cumulative argument,’ the way the pieces come together for us and reinforce one another. We meet  someone who impresses us, wrestle with grief in the face of a loved one’s death, we regret things, read something that opens a vista, are troubled by evil in the world, and are built up by the community we find in Church. At the intersection things come together.  One dimension may be most important when we begin, but over time another may rise to greater significance.  The great Anglican (and then Roman Catholic 19th century theologian John Henry Newman said we had an ‘illative sense,’ a kind of collective intuition based on just this kind of conglomeration of senses and judgments.  The mind, heart, soul, and will in concert can make deep judgments.

Let’s be clear what we aren’t saying, especially in relation to reason.  We aren’t saying that reason doesn’t matter because the world is utterly irrational, or because religion is just a matter of personal feeling.  But we are also not saying that you could simply deduce your way to God, nor that your faith can be proven.  Rather we are saying that thinking, questioning, and testing are part of the picture.  But our reasons are of many kinds.  By analogy people nowadays speak  for example of ‘emotional intelligence.’  In short, people do make informed decisions, but of a unique kind, because the question being answered is distinct indeed.

One last point: what, you might add, about the power of the Holy Spirit in all this? Precisely so - faith is a gift, and so the work of God and not of ourselves.  But God does this work through many avenues in our minds and hearts, the conjunction of which I have been describing.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might 

Newman, ‘An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent’: "The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out, and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation.  It passes on from point to point, gaining one  by some indication; another on a probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back on some received law; next seizing on testimony; then committing itself to some popular impression, or some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends, how he knows not himself, by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another."



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