Facets of Faith in Crisis

I recently saw a funny post on Pinterest entitled "Response to Coronavirus Threat by Enneagram Number." Apparently a Four “broods over indignity of possibility of getting the same illness as everyone else,” while an Eight is “annoyed by CDC updates. Washes hands less in defiance.”

Funny as they are, these entries are good reminders that people with different personalities respond differently, whether in a crisis or in any other situation. People are wired differently, and that is part of the joy of diversity that God has instilled in the world and in His Church.

So, amidst school closures and work disruptions, it may not be a matter of faith or wrong theology that leads a person to react one way or another; it may be different personalities. And if so, this should give us reason not to judge, but rather to capitalize on diversity.

To continue the Enneagram comparison, a Nine is described as someone who “can’t decide if they should be worried; takes a nap instead”. This could easily be interpreted as strong faith, since they are not panicking like others, panic-buying supplies. They are trusting God. In this they might even point to the Westminster Confession for support, wherein it speaks of the sovereignty of God:

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence (WCF, 5.1)

Meanwhile, a Six “buys 150 lbs. dried beans while wearing a gas mask. Texts friends 'I KNEW IT!'” Yet they might also argue that their response is one of faith since, as James says in chapter 2, faith works. In faith, they are trying to be responsible. And they could likewise point the fifth chapter of the Westminster Confession, where it explains how God works through secondary causes:

Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (WCF, 5.2)

In this sense, buying extra supplies may actually be a step of faith. God wants us to be responsible. Only the foolish or fatalistic person would be unprepared!

My point in this article is not to answer all questions of where and when it is right stock up, and where and when this is an overreaction. Rather I would like to point out what the Bible says on judging another’s faith in disputable matters, and how instead we should look positively to learn from the faith of others: 

"One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:2–4).

In many ways this section of Scripture speaks for itself. One person’s faith directs them to one course of action and another to another (Rom. 14). But what is most emphasized in this passage by Paul is that we should mind our own business, since we are not the other person’s master. God is. And it is to God that the other person stands or falls.

Now someone might complain that Romans 14-15 is a section about “weak” and “strong” faith, such that there is such a thing as inferior faith, just as there is superior faith. So surely it is the responsibility of those with strong faith to correct the weak, for the good of the body. This is exactly the kind of thinking that is in play when the person buying no supplies speaks against the person buying lots—faith up! But here too is the reverse. The person buying up could just as easily speak out at the other person—stop being a fatalist! Have real faith!

But actually the answer is right at hand when we read the text. Paul does not say to the strong (whoever they are), “correct the weak”, or visa versa. This is actually the point of the whole passage: On disputable matters, like these, we should mind our own business. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (14:4).

In fact, as Clarence Glad has helpfully pointed out in his excellent book of 1995 (“Paul and Philodemus”), it was part of the way pagan philosophical schools thought that “the strong” were obliged to correct “the weak” for the greater good. I submit that Paul was responding to exactly this kind of worldly thinking. He believed in God’s sovereignty even when it came to Christian growth! God is big enough on disputable matters (like this) to correct Christians. We can leave things to him!

But this then brings us to another important passage:

"For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Rom. 1:11, 12).

There's not time to look at this in detail, but only to say that we should take it at face value and even think of it as Paul’s preparation for Romans 14, by way of modeling a right attitude. Paul is saying that he hopes to see them soon to give them a spiritual gift. But ultimately his hope is that he might come to them to not only give them something from his own faith, but also to gain something from their faith! What a marvelous response this is from the great apostle to the Gentiles. The apostle wants to grow from their faith!

What would it look like if we put this into practice when it came to above issues? Those not panicking could be a reminder to those buying big to always have the Lord first in their confidence. But maybe too the faith of the person buying up should speak to the other, challenging them to take stock of responsible. What is at stake here is really attitude. Are we trying to arrogate to ourselves power over others—impose our positions, as if my faith is bigger and better than yours? Or are we trying to learn?

It is the posture of humility that wins, a posture that looks not to correct each other in disputable matters of faith, but learn from each other’s faith.

Bruce Lowe (PhD) is Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta.

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