More on Sofie’s Faith
Another post on Douglas’ blog, set me to thinking about Sofie and our raising her in the Faith, and what the differences would be between where I was in my faith a few years ago and now.
Previously, as a Restoration Movement Christian, my faith revolved around two things: right belief and right behavior. (It was the same for me during the relatively short time I was an Episcopalian, though that may have been a reflection more of my Restoration Movement background than the Episcopal Church.) I believed that it was God who saved me, not I, myself, through my own efforts. But I believed that salvation was synergistic: God worked and I cooperated with him. It was important, then, that I believe rightly and live rightly. God would take care of the rest.
What was missing out of all that, however, was the heart.
By that I do not mean the emotions. Nor do I merely mean the will. Though both the emotions and the will are certainly part of it. Rather, I mean the biblical and patristic center of human personhood. And that missing element, the heart, left me divided. I found the more correct were my beliefs, the more I knew my behavior was wrong in so many ways. The more correct I tried to be in my behavior, I found myself subtly shifting into legalism, and thus false belief. If I failed to focus rightly on my behavior, I found my beliefs shifting as well. Clearly the two were interlinked, but I could not discern how.
How would I have then raised Sofie–and our soon-to-come child–in the Faith? Especially now as an almost-sixteen month old? I could speak to her of proper Christian dogma, indeed, I must, but that would not be something she could even begin to grasp for many years. I could teach her proper behavior, but how to communicate the content of that behavior (i.e., love of Jesus)? Discipline is certainly an essential aspect of Christian catechesis, but how to transmit the essential content of the catechesis, the heartfelt devotion to the Lord?
I would have had a daughter who may well have believed the right things, and even done the right things. And she may well still go to hell, if these two essential components are not united by faith in the center of her being: her heart.
Here is where a growing realization has come upon me as a parent. And it is Sofie who has taught me this. Belief and Faith are not necessarily the same things. James says that even the demons believe in God, but they do not have faith. Paul says not all our righteous acts can do a thing to save us. What we need is faith. And faith is a unique property of the heart.
Faith encompasses belief and behavior. But ultimately it is a stance of trust. A recognition that God is who he is. That we are incapable on our own merits of abolishing the curse of mortality, or healing ourselves of the passions with which we have chosen to be infected, of acquitting ourselves of the guilt of our sins and saving ourselves from their consequences. I know this sort of trust, because I see it everyday in the upraised arms of my daughter, as she stretches out her entire body, standing on tiptoe, communicating with every cell of her being that she wants me to hold her, and trusts me to hold her safely. It is the trust she expresses as she lays back in my arms when we sing hymns as I put her to bed. It is the trust she communicates when she takes my hand and we walk to where I want to lead her.
Sofie has no right belief yet, because she has no intellectual or analytical content to her thoughts. Sofie is only now learning right behavior. And this is a very challenging thing to teach with the right balance and direction.
But Sofie has faith. And right now she lives by her heart. As I remarked to Anna several weeks ago, Sofie doesn’t really know what she’s doing when she tries to cross herself. She couldn’t tell you what it means for her to kiss the icons or the prayerbook. When she grabs the blessing cross for me to bless her with, she’s pretty much doing it because it’s what we do. She is imitating us, for the most part. And this is precisely why the Church does not, and should not, baptize children who are not being brought up in Christian homes.
It may not be theologically correct to say that faith comes naturally to Sofie. But because faith is of the heart, I think it safe to suppose that faith comes readily to her, since we, her parents, are trying to guide her in the Faith of the Church. Sofie loves and lives by her heart. And so Sofie has faith. As our priest said of her a few weeks ago: “Now there’s a little girl who loves Jesus.”
If I were still under the belief-behavior paradigm, as a parent, my daughter would still be living and loving with her heart. The trouble is, I would be steering her away from that. And that would be catastrophic.
Our Lord himself said that we should not hinder the little children to come to him. If we cause one of these little children to stumble, it were better for us to be cast into the sea with a millstone around our neck. Indeed, we all must become as little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We only do that through the faith which lives and acts in the heart.
God grant me to be a father who unifies belief and behavior in the heart by faith. God grant me to be as my daughter Sofie, that I may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.