October/November 2016 - Vol. 88

 Doubting Thomas meets
                  the Risen Christ
Faith in Jesus Christ

by Charles Malik

Charles Malik was a distinguished Lebanese diplomat and one of the drafters of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He served as president of the thirteenth session of the UN General Assembly in 1958. From 1966–1972, he served as vice president of the United Bible Societies, and from 1967–1971 he was president of the World Council on Christian Education.

The following article is a meditation on faith in Jesus Christ. It is excerpted from the book, 
Christ and Crisis,Chapter 5, by Charles Malik, written in 1962. It is lightly edited to include some helpful paragraph headings and some light updating of modern English usage. 

“Lord, increase our faith”
Nothing is closer to our life than faith in Jesus Christ. If we have it, we know how crucially important it is in our lives; if we do not have it, we live estranged in a state of permanent torment. If we have it or if we do not have it, faith in Jesus Christ is the first and last meaning of our life. I do not care who or what you are; I put only one question to you: Do you believe in Jesus Christ? If you believe in him, then even though you are slandered and abused and misunderstood and miserable, even though you are dying, even though you are in hell, you will shed a few tears on your knees and, arising, you will gradually mount to heaven where the angels sing. And if you do not believe in him, then even though you are in heaven, even though you are the happiest and most secure person, I am afraid for you.

In the anguished cry of the father of the child with a dumb spirit, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24), we have the perfect expression of the dialectic of faith. For faith in Jesus Christ is not something we acquire once and for all and then carry for the rest of our lives in the manner in which we carry our bodies or the color of our eyes; faith in Jesus Christ is being constantly put to the test; it is daily under trial; we have perpetually to reacquire it again and again. Thus we cannot take pride in our faith as though it were thanks to us that we had it or continue to have it; we must always turn to him and say with the apostles: “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). For without his faithfulness we will forthwith become faithless.

The trial of Christians being a minority
One trial of our faith is when we consider that after two thousand years the world is still so much unchristian and the Christians themselves are so faithless and so unworthy of the glorious name they bear. In their protected sentimental complacency people do not know what I am talking about. They must come out of their comfortable shells into the wide-open world to get the shock of their lives. The world with which we have to deal is largely unchristian and even anti-Christian.

Our faith in Jesus Christ is very childish indeed (would that it were childlike!) until we find ourselves in the position of David who tells us that after God had “looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God,” he found that “every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:2, 3).

Our faith in Jesus Christ is very rudimentary indeed (would that it were primary!) until we find ourselves crying with David, “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men” (Psalm 12:1); with Isaiah, “Lord, how long?” (Isaiah 6:11); and with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

We should first absorb the shock that the Lord is somehow tarrying, that the world will always be largely unchristian, that the faithful will always be a very small minority, and that none of us can be absolutely sure that he belongs to that minority, before our faith is truly confirmed in us. Our faith must predicate itself upon and accept these four facts before it becomes real faith, before it begins to merit any reward.

Faith lives on the radical trust of God's mercy
When we really take in the radical character of this situation, we can then only trust the mercy of God. Faith is to live on this radical trust of his mercy. The problem of the election and the remnant and the Church becomes then a burning issue in our life. For all their obscurity, pitfalls, and dangers, these matters must be fearlessly faced. Paul and
Augustine and Calvin and Karl Barth were not talking nonsense when they had to wrestle with them, however we may agree or disagree with some of their conclusions; yet of the four, with Paul at least I cannot say that I am in a position or ever shall be in a position to “disagree.” Man is free, yes; but God is even more free; and it seems to be his pleasure to hold some men captives for him more than others. There is an unfathomable mystery here, very much like the “unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthian 12:4) which that strange friend of Paul’s had heard in the third heaven.

To live in a modicum of peace in this world, a Christian, for all his zeal, for all his missionary drive, for all his burning desire in obedience to the Lord to convert all men and all nations, for all his kindliness and gentleness and piety, must nevertheless accept the sad lot of belonging to a permanent minority. Did you hear?!—I said permanent minority! This should not disturb him because the possession of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit compensate for the loss of the whole world. His deepest joy and sorrow at the same time is that the others do not have the vaguest idea what they are living without. Faith must undergo and survive this bitter test. And when we affirm with Paul from the bottom of our heart, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11), we do so in humble but certain faith.

Loosing oneself in the cares and worries of the world
Unless we pass this fiery test and hold fast to our faith, we might fall into another temptation which could fritter away all our faith or whatever of it was left in us. We might become too much preoccupied with the world and its problems. Christians at times get themselves overworked about the state of the world. This is not a sign of faith but of the exact opposite. They should relax and trust Christ more. And so we set about, with the best of intentions, no doubt, and calling upon the power of Christ, to save the world from prejudice, ignorance, backwardness, corruption, injustice, war, sin: in short, from the grip of the devil. Christians in a position of responsibility, whether civil or ecclesiastical, must certainly try to do all this; they cannot face their Lord in his day having been unprofitable and delinquent in their tasks. But it is one thing to go about saving the world, or the humblest of situations in it, in our own human power, and it is an entirely different thing to trust that act of salvation to God, while meantime doing everything we can in obedience to his will.

It is one thing to be nervous and worried and concerned and unsure, and it is an entirely different thing to let Christ himself accomplish his work in us and through us—calmly, quietly, surely, and almost without giving his using us a thought ourselves. But it is eminently possible to lose oneself in the cares and worries of the world and therewith to lose Christ. The cry of “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41) keeps ringing in my ears when I behold people, including above all myself, busy day and night trying to save the world; especially as I am not sure that in our business we are adoring Christ enough; and our adoration of him is the most important thing possible.

Trust in God's justice and pray for his mercy
Moreover, there are cases where, no matter how much we may fret and fume, we can really do nothing ourselves, or what we can do is exceedingly limited in efficacy. Things as it were must take their own natural course, which might include the possibility of the manifestation of the judgment of God. We can then only ardently pray for his compassion. History is full of instances where God had to manifest his wrath despite every human effort and good will. This is Paul’s verdict on paganism in Romans. We can only trust God’s justice and pray for his mercy. And where that is obviously the case, we are only frittering away our energies and wasting our substance by worrying too much or smiting our breast too severely. There is a divine economy whereby we may conserve our resources for the most telling impact, upon the most promising soil, at the most opportune moment.

It is perfectly clear that we can save nobody and nothing if we are not first sure of ourselves. In these matters we can never bluff, we can never hide away our truth. To have the world maddeningly on our mind all the time is not the way to be sure of ourselves. It is rather the way to be distracted, to be unsure, to be impotently spread all over, for the world is completely uncontrollable and there is absolutely no end to what can and should be saved.

The dike of corruption cannot be plugged at every point, because the points are infinite. It is enough if an oasis of health here and another there can be secured. And so to be busy at this point and that point and that other point is often the way of escaping and fleeing from ourselves and therefore from Christ. It appears that the contemplative method of Mary is preferable. When I meet a soul hailing from a life of profound contemplation and prayer I immediately feel that the whole world is being there and then saved at his or her feet.

I think it is the Marys more than the Marthas who are going to save the world, although the Marthas are indispensable in the process. Only those who stay very close to Christ can help others who are far away.

Only those who prefer him to everything else, even to the call of the needy world, can be used by him for the need of the world. Only those who are not lifted by pride to suppose that they must carry the whole burden of the world will be pitied by him, who does in fact carry the whole burden of the world, and [they will be] given a humble part of that burden to carry with him. Only those who go through one hell after another without losing sight of him—because even “if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Psalm 139:8)—will be granted the power, not in their time, but in his time, to help the world out of the several hells in which it finds itself.

The victory of Christ in our lives is the greatest thing, and in the end, the only thing for which we should be thankful. Our faith is never more keenly tested than when, thinking we are going to save the world, we really set about—whether seriously or half in jest—to save it. A sense of humor is of the essence of faith, and the deeper the mystery of faith, the more refined and lively the sense of humor. And we are quite without humor about ourselves when, forsaking the way of Mary, we readily follow in the footsteps of Martha.

Trials facing Christians in different parts of the world
And yet Christians live in the world and Christ never meant them to live out of it. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). In the world, they must work out their own salvation and as much of the salvation of the world as possible. They cannot wash their hands of what is going on in the world. On the contrary, they must take the most active interest in it. Of none has this been more true than of American Christianity, with its wonderful missionary epic, ventured forth and accomplished purely in the name of Jesus Christ. What a crown of glory has this Christianity laid up for itself as a result of its prayers and exertions and vision and loving sacrifice and service all over the world!

Now the importance of the emergence of Asia and Africa from the Christian point of view is threefold. First, it is good and proper that these nations take their destinies in their own hands. A Christian can only rejoice at the sight of people realizing and exercising their dignity and independence. Second, new perfections of the spirit are called for to work out the proper creative fellowship between equals. The fellowship of equals is the end of all fellowship, and therefore it should be looked upon as the norm and rule. Once perfected it becomes far more stable and enriching. Third, Christians under the new conditions will have to demonstrate their faith in Jesus Christ in the teeth of five trials. (1) They have to stand firm as they face the resuscitated tribal and national deities. (2) They have to stand firm as they see old great religions rediscovering and reasserting themselves. (3) They have to work out new creative dialogues based on our common human nature and need. (4) Their own governments often find themselves embarrassed by them and by Christ. Now, the Church should never meddle in political affairs; she should never make the truth of the Gospel dependent upon the fortunes, which are more often misfortunes, of systems and regimes and persons. But in the impersonal formal order of international relations, Christians could find themselves a cause of embarrassment to their own governments. This is their trial and their cross, and they should bear it courageously, keeping in mind that governments and politics and cultures come and go, but Jesus Christ endureth forever.

Facing alien anti-Christian movements
And (5) alien anti-Christian movements also have to be faced. It could be said a hundred years from now, it might be said in heaven right now, that the Christians, whether by default or by folly or by sheer stupidity or because they were comfortable and relaxed, lost in the competition for the soul of Asia and Africa in the sixties of the twentieth century. For this is a most crucial decade. We can only say with Paul, God forbid! But let me tell you, there are situations in which the issue is very delicately poised. The Christian debacle in China is a sobering warning. I am not thinking of competition between political systems: that is an affair of governments, and that is a realm completely other than what I am here thinking of, a realm with its own honorable rules, rhythms, and laws.

I am thinking of the competition for the soul and mind of the people. I am thinking of whether Christians, not governments, can relax if the mind of the people is poisoned with respect to the name of Jesus Christ. Mighty forces are moving fast into whole spiritual vacua. Surely history will say a hundred years from now—in so far as there will be true history then—surely heaven is saying right now, what was the matter with the Christians, where were they? Nothing therefore is more necessary than to arouse responsible Christians from their lethargy and slumber into both the infinite dangers and the infinite possibilities of the moment.

We worship a person - not an idea
At the heart of the whole matter is faith in Jesus Christ. Do we believe in him as passionately as others believe in their own ideas and systems? If we do, then we ought to do better than they. For we worship a person, they worship an idea. We worship life and strength and love and victory; they worship negation and hatred. Christ can do without us; he can raise up children to Abraham from these stones; he may be secretly doing so already in the vast spaces of Asia and Africa. And so if we fail him, it cannot be that he failed; we will only have proven that we are unprofitable servants. Nothing puts our faith to the ultimate test more than the concrete challenge facing us all in Asia and Africa today...

The ecumenical movement and testing of faith and unity
The ecumenical movement provides another field for the testing of our faith. There is the National Council of the Churches of Christ in this country. There is the World Council of Churches. There is the pope’s announcement in 1959 that he would call an Ecumenical Council to examine, among other things, the question of unity, and now 1962 has been set for the convening of this Council. The Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I has been working hard to see how the Orthodox Churches may be brought together and how the cause of general Christian unity may be furthered. Important discussions have been going on lately, in books, in magazines, and in private circles, on this theme. There is therefore an apparent urge among the Christians everywhere to see if they cannot come closer together.

Side by side with this there is an evident withdrawing of each communion into the sources of its own independent strength and belief, a tenacious if not a violent holding to what it knows and has received. A sincere urge towards unity, yes; but also a desperate clinging to your tradition lest you let go some truth that Christ has vouchsafed you. I myself can bear witness that I never was so conscious of the infinite wealth of what has been handed down to me in my own Orthodox tradition as I am now; and yet I pray day and night for the unity of those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now this is a dialectical situation: in wishing and seeking unity we at the same time become exceedingly jealous of the trust which Christ has been pleased to commit to our keeping. I myself believe this is exactly as it should be. No unity based on sentiment or compromise or politics or human considerations is worthy of the Lord we know and worship. Besides, such a unity will never come about. We may seek and accept only the unity he wants. And therefore we cannot and we should not lightly yield on any matter that we honestly regard to be central to his will.

When such a dialectical situation arises, it is then that there is lots of hope. For the unity that is going to come about is not our making but his making. And God breaks through only in crisis; he speaks and acts only in tension. When all is smooth and well and there is no problem, why should he intervene? Herein comes our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a fact which will control all our further strivings that we were one up until 1054. We must therefore have faith that unity is his will and that he will consummate it in his own way and his own day precisely through the tension arising from each one of us holding firmly to what he knows and yet all of us yearning from the bottom of our hearts for the unity of the body of our Lord. And I sometimes have the feeling that some people do not want unity, do not really believe in it, but rather feel that disunity is a good thing. What is needed therefore is faith, faith in unity, and I am sure Christ then will intervene....

The greatest trial of our faith is ourselves
Of course the greatest trial of our faith is we ourselves. We are trying God all the time. And his long-suffering is simply incredible. They talk of proofs for the existence of God! We need no proof save the simple fact that nobody and nothing can stand us; therefore, since nevertheless we are, there must be an infinite Being who does. We exist; but we are impossible; therefore a Being must exist to bear our impossibility for us; that Being is God. The impossibility of man proves not only the possibility but the absolute necessity of God. And, what is more, our impossibility would have remained hidden from us (as theirs is indeed from all those who do not know him), did he not choose to die, and nowhere save on the Cross on a hill just outside Jerusalem, in order to reveal our impossibility to us, and, in freedom, to make us possible and bring us back to himself.

You know how it is that in crisis the best in us and the worst in us comes to the fore at the same time. Everything in us makes itself felt, the good and the bad. We are like an undeveloped film, and a crisis is like the sun bringing out every little shade and light in our character. It is when we see ourselves that we may lose our faith. It is not that we would then cry with David, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Would that we did that! Would that we also added, “For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou has lifted me up, and cast me down” (Psalm 102:9, 10). It is that we might then cease to think of God altogether. This is our greatest temptation, not our sin, but that the devil, obsessing us with our sin, might succeed in making us forget God and his infinite compassion.

Shall we then lose our faith in Jesus Christ because the worst in us has made itself manifest together with the best? What pride! Shall we lose our faith in Jesus Christ because our total personal truth has become crystal clear? I can only say with Paul, God forbid! I can only say with him, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

Only Christians can say "Jesus Christ is Lord"
Frustration because of imperfection and sin? O yes! But thank God, Jesus Christ is without sin and he is our Lord. Only the Christian can say this. All others are just as sinful as, or they may even be much less sinful than, the Christians, but they do not have somebody to look up to who is without sin. It is not sin or sanctity that differentiates a Christian from a non-Christian; it is the Lord Jesus Christ whose mercy the poor Christian trusts. And you and I have known his power, how in the twinkling of an eye he is able to change everything and make us into a new creature. And then, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

And so faith has been tested and through God’s grace it has emerged triumphant over hell and the devil, when it can say with Paul, simply, quietly, and without guile: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

[This article is excerpted from Christ and Crisis, Chapter 5, by Charles Malik, and was first published in English in 1962 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. A new English edition was published by Acton Institute in 2015, with a forward by Habib Malik, son of Charles Malik. Quotations in the author’s text are from the King James Version (KJV). Public domain.]

Charles Malik was a Lebanese diplomat and one of the drafters of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In 1949, he was one of the signers of the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. A decade later, he served as president of the thirteenth session of the UN General Assembly in 1958. He held professorships at Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Harvard, and the American University in Washington, DC. He was awarded over fifty honorary degrees in his lifetime. From 1966–1972, he served as vice president of the United Bible Societies, and from 1967–1971 he was president of the World Council on Christian Education.

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