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Crosfigell

Dark Counsel

Faith first, then reason.

Peter enters first, and John only enters after him. For if Peter symbolizes faith, then John signifies the intellect. Therefore, since it is written, “Unless you believe you will not understand,” faith necessarily enters first into the tomb of Holy Scripture, followed by the intellect, for which faith has prepared the entry.

  - Eriugena, Homily on John 1.1-14, Irish, 9th century[1]

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

  - Job 38.1, 2

Eriugena attached spiritual significance to the order in which the two disciples entered the tomb of the risen Jesus. Peter, symbolizing faith, plunged ahead, while John, representing understanding, followed as he led. Thus, Eriugena explained, when it comes to understanding God and His ways, faith goes first, then “the intellect, for which faith has prepared the entry.”

OK, Eriugena stretched the exegesis a bit, but his point is well taken: When it comes to understanding the mysteries of God’s Word and ways, you put intellect (reason) in the back seat and let faith (trust and obedience) do the driving. As Augustine insisted: We believe in order to understand, not the other way around.

Reason is important in knowing God and His ways, of course. But reason works as God intends when it follows the guidance of faith, rather than trying to dictate to it. Faith understands mysteries as they are plainly revealed – He is not here, He is risen – and embraces them gladly (Peter rushing into the empty tomb). Faith does not wait for reason to figure out all the details and provide a logical explanation of everything before it says, “OK, now I believe.”

That was Job’s big mistake. He wanted to trust God and to believe all the good things about Him. He rejected the counsel of his friends, who insisted that God was punishing him, an innocent man. But Job had no better explanation for his suffering, though he was certain one must exist.

As his faith in the Lord was gradually whittled down by the relentless badgering of his friends, Job became confused, and in his confusion, presumptuous. He insisted on understanding why he was being made to suffer before he would trust God and rest in His good and perfect will. He demanded that God, Who is in all things wise, come down and explain his situation fully. Then he would be satisfied.

Job kept saying, in effect, “I must understand this according to what my mind can grasp, and it’s God’s duty to fit Himself and His ways into my rational and emotional demands.”

Of course, we never do anything like that, right? Never hold off trusting in God and resting in His will and joy until after we’ve sorted everything out, or had our wellbeing restored, or got that apology we’re sure we’re due? We’re always quick to give thanks, to praise the Lord in the midst of adversity or trials, to seek in Him and the presence of His glory the peace and wellbeing our upset circumstances threaten to deflate.

Right.

When we insist that God “fix it,” whatever it may be, before we’ll be able to be at peace, we’re demanding that He operate on our terms, that He fit His ways of working for our good into our prescriptions for happiness. We’re in effect insisting that God honor the idol of circumstance which we look to for our sense of wellbeing. We’re advising God to let us be God, and this is very dark counsel, indeed.

Well, He’s not going to do that. Faith first, then understanding, even if only limited understanding. Faith brings rest, peace, restored joy, even while difficult conditions persist, even though understanding may never quite catch up.

In the face of come-what-may, faith nestles into the seat of privilege next to Jesus (Eph. 2.6), looks up into the glory of His radiant face (2 Cor. 4.6), leans into His everlasting arms (Deut. 33.27), breathes a sigh of relief, and says, “It is well with my soul.” Thus faith teaches reason to focus on the real source of our peace and joy, and not any pretenders.

Job got it right in the end, though, and he found peace with God despite His circumstances. God never explained His purposes to him. Instead, by means of a tour de force of familiar aspects of the creation, God reminded Job how great, powerful, wise, and altogether holy and good He is. He taught Job to trust in Him, in His power, wisdom, and goodness, and to find his peace in the Lord, and not in his circumstances, or even in fully understanding the reason for his trials.

We walk by faith, not by sight. And we reason by following faith, not by telling faith how or what or under what conditions we will decide to believe.

For Reflection
1. Why should we not look to our circumstances for the peace and rest we require?

2. What is the role of prayer in finding peace amid trying circumstances (Phil. 4.6, 7)?

Psalm 22.23 (Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King)
All you who fear the Lord, now praise His holy Name!
You children of His glorious Word, declare His fame!
We stand in awe of our eternal God, and on His mercy call.

Lord, teach me to trust in You, hope in You, and allow Your Word to shape my life, so that I…

Still on the throne
We can find peace in any situation by remembering that Jesus is Lord and King. Our book, The Kingship of Jesus, can help you focus more consistently on Him, exalted in glory. Order a free copy by clicking here.

Personal Mission Field

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Thank You
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T. M. Moore
Principal
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All Psalms for singing from
The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

[1] Bamford, p. 73.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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