Today I was reading a book about Matthew, called "The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew" by Ulrich Luz. One part I was reading talks about true faith being characterized by understanding--over and over throughout the gospels Jesus says, "Those who have ears to hear, let them hear," basically meaning that those to whom the Spirit opens up Jesus' words will understand. So faith is about hearing and understanding, but Luz says, "understanding is not just an intellectual act." It's not enough just to hear the truth and understand it intellectually. It's not enough just to think something's a good idea. Instead, true faith shows that it understands by acting on its knowledge.
I think this is really true. It made me think of learning new things, and how I can understand them as I learn them but then completely forget them. It isn't until I have to do something with that learning that I know whether or not understood it fully. For example, learning Hebrew. I understand the lectures as they are given, it makes sense. But then when I go home and try to do the homework I have to check the book over and over to figure it all out again. I've understood, but it hasn't become a part of my life, of who I am. I currently can't form a Niphal (a Hebrew verb form) participle and show its differences from a Niphal perfect, and until I can I haven't truly understood the Niphal paradigm.
It's the same with faith. I think nonviolent resolution to conflict is the best way. I talk about it a lot. I support groups that work on nonviolence. But how much do I actually DO to work for nonviolent resolution to conflicts?
Luz also says of Matthew, "Faith is mingled in doubt....Faith is expressed in prayer. Prayer is a cry for God's help, at once encompassing trust and desperation. Faith, for Matthew, is not simply a permanent possession...." Here he is talking about Peter's attempt to walk on water with Jesus in Matthew 14. Peter has the courage to attempt this crazy thing, he steps out of the boat, he walks a few steps--and then he freaks out. Suddenly he realizes what he's doing, that this is crazy, that it's impossible to walk on water, and he starts to sink. But he cries out, "Save me, Lord!"
I like this depiction of faith. It's kind of scary, because it's not the nice little neatly packaged "salvation" that sounds so easy--say a prayer and you're in--but instead it's a daily, moment-by-moment struggle to stay focused on God. There's no assurance that at any moment I might not start to sink. But there is assurance that I can cry out to God in my moments of doubt--and this is what faith is all about. It's about living out the things we're called to, even when they're scary and crazy, and being willing to admit our doubt and fear.
I want to be the kind of person who hears and understands--truly understands, by putting my faith into practice. I want to be the kind of person who responds with honest prayers of desperation and doubt. I want to listen well--which we as Quakers definitely try to do--and then go out and act, continuing to listen all the way.