Are My Beliefs Paramount to the Lord?
by Mike McKinniss
I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night, at times intense, sensitive and personal. We were talking about things that mattered deeply to us about family and trauma, about healing and God.
And we disagreed. She, on the basis of her reading of Scripture and her experience, believed one way about the Lord and his work in the present. I, from similar grounds, believed another.
Sola fides. We’re only now a week past the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s epoch-altering convictions. His ideas he hammered to the parish door, then into the minds and hearts of generations of Protestants, and chief among these is the notion that it is through faith alone (sola fides was his Latin term for it) that we are saved by God. He got his cues from Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8a, ESV).
This is no small matter. The Protestant tradition has held from the start that our belief in God and his saving work through Christ rescues us from the chains of sin and death. It likewise follows that what we believe about the Lord matters too.
The content of our faith is not simply integral to our eternal destinies, but weighty in the day to day, as well. My beliefs about God and his nature will inevitably impact my outlook toward this world and my place in it, toward those around me and the degree of compassion I may display toward them, and what I may expect from the Lord in prayer for myself and others.
Over the last half-millennium, the church has in varying degrees waged war—sometimes literally—over the content of people’s beliefs. So central have we viewed issues of orthodoxy (right belief) that disagreements have precipitated hangings, beheadings and burnings at the stake.
Should my friend and I have come to blows over our differing views of God?
I think of Job. That’s right: Job.
You know the story. Satan approaches God on his throne and points out the incomparably righteous Job. The only reason, complains Satan, that Job remains faithful to the Lord is because he’s got it easy. Everything turns up roses for Job, so of course he’s in God’s camp. A little calamity, contends the enemy, and Job will prove as feckless as a stray cat. The Lord disagrees, but permits the evil one to do his worst, save harming Job himself, to prove the point. This Satan does, and Job’s entire life turns to absolute garbage.
Then follows a series of lengthy reflections on Job’s state of affairs by his acquaintances and by Job himself. Each proves to be a theologian, and each, in their own way, pin Job’s sudden misfortunes on the Creator. Who else could have done all this? Though they disagree on whether the tragedies were a result of Job’s sinfulness (his friends’ contention) or some unjust judgment by the Lord (Job’s thought), they all effectively agree with Job’s oft-quoted quip: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 2:21).
But here’s what gets me. This intriguing book closes with God denouncing Job’s beliefs about the Lord and the conclusions both he and his buddies had drawn from the poor man’s circumstances. Still, God doesn’t really correct Job, other than to say the world was too grand to decipher the whys and wherefores.
Nevertheless, Job is commended—not because he was right in his beliefs, but because he refused to “curse God and die”, as his loving bride had encouraged him (Job 2:9). No, Job remained steadfast to the Lord, despite the afflictions of the enemy, and God honored him for it.
Another central tenet of the Protestant tradition (at least, the Evangelical wing): It’s our relationship with God that matters. Job is a prime example. Job did not ascribe to the “right beliefs” about God—he effectively saw the Lord as a capricious monster—yet he maintained his commitment to his Creator. For this Job is elevated.
Now, replaying the debate with my friend the other night, was I wrong and she right about the Lord? Was it the other way around? I don’t know, and I may never fully know. But I’m confident we’ll each go on loving our Creator and declaring with the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever” (Psa. 118:29, ESV).