Faith vs. Knowledge
Why is it so challenging sometimes to have faith?
What does worldly knowledge
have to do with our lack of faith?
Let’s find out!
I am so inspired about our podcast today! When my husband read Homily 52 by St. Isaac the Syrian to me about a year ago I felt as if the Lord had given me an answer to multiple pleas and prayers. I had been struggling for years to understand how to have faith – especially with regards to my health issues and my spiritual life. Reading and re-reading this homily has changed my life!
Wonderful is God in his Saints! Let us begin our study of Faith vs. Knowledge from St. Isaac the Syrian…
“It is well known that knowledge cannot exist without investigation… But faith requires a way of thinking that a single, limpidly pure and simple, far removed from any deviousness or invention of methods… This should be a clear tip off to us that we are not in the right frame of mind, not present to faith when our thinking becomes too complicated, worldly solution oriented and logical. The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart.
Knowledge keeps within the boundaries of nature (St. Isaac is referring to our earthly/scientific nature here) in all its paths; but faith makes its journey above nature. (Faith is part of our spiritual nature.) Knowledge (what we understand in a worldly context) does not allow itself to experience anything that is ruinous to nature (this means anything that is a leap of faith, requires stepping out of what we know and putting our faith in the providence of God), and it keeps far away from it; but faith readily submits itself to this and says, ‘Upon the asp and the basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and the dragon.’ Faith is fearless!
Fear accompanies knowledge; but confidence accompanies faith. The more a man journeys in the pathways of knowledge, the more he is shackled by fear and cannot be found worthy of freedom from it; but he who follows faith straightway becomes a free man and a ruler of himself, and as a son of God he freely wields all things with authority…
When I read this for the first time how my heart leapt! Of course we can surmount our earthly sorrows and struggles if we put our faith in Christ! I understood that my fears are based not only on my past, but, in what I have learned in the world to survive, which does not support the life of my spirit.
But knowledge can do nothing without matter. Knowledge is not so bold as to attempt anything that has not been given to nature. How so? The liquid nature of water cannot support upon its back the footsteps of a body; the man who comes too close to fire burns himself; and whosoever should rashly oppose nature in this fashion brings himself into peril… But faith transgresses them with authority, saying: ‘If thou go through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, and the rivers shall not overflow thee.’ Faith has many times worked such things before the eyes of all creation…
Christ walked on water, He and is Saints have healed countless people, Christ fed 5,000 with only a few loaves and fishes, and more… He fed and healed their soul.
If knowledge were given the opportunity to attempt such things, it would in no wise be persuaded. (This is where I hear myself saying, “You cannot do this Veronica because of this and that…. Just what the devil wants me to think and believe, but it is not true. I can choose to not listen to this voice that has spoken to me for years.) For it is by faith that men have entered into the flames and bridle the burning power of the fire, walking unharmed as the midst thereof, and they have trodden upon the back of the sea as on dry land. All these are above nature and opposed to the ways and means of knowledge….
Do you see how faith has shaken the foundations of knowledge and proven it futile in all its ways and laws? Do you see how knowledge keeps within the limits of nature? Do you see how faith passes above nature in traveling on the pathway of its journey? Yes! This is why Christ came to earth!
The ways and means of knowledge governed the world for a little more or less than 5000 years, and man was in no wise able to raise his head from the earth and perceive the power of his Creator. For this was not until our faith shone forth and freed us from the gloom of earthly labors and futile slavery that seeks fruitless distraction.
How much time have I spent in my life with fruitless distractions – to take me away from the pain of my seeming failures or disappointments in life? Am I not ready to focus my mind and heart on something higher? Yes!
There is no knowledge that is not needy, however rich it might be; but heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith. The man whose heart is upheld by the confidence of faith will never be in want; and when he has nothing, by faith he possesses all, as it is written: ‘All things whatever you shall ask in prayer, ye shall receive’, and again, ‘The Lord is at hand, have care for nothing.’”
So let us now go to Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom to further help our spiritual understanding of what St. Isaac is saying to us…
Let us return to our starting point on faith, the fear of the Lord….
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, says the wise Solomon, and the Fathers agree. And I say to you, ‘Blessed and thrice blessed is the man that fears the Lord.’ (Ps.111:1) (When a person truly fears God and has dedicated his life to God – he knows that God is capable of working anything in his life, especially that which is beyond our understanding, for that person trusts and knows God in his heart. He believes that God is greater than his mind. I am still working on this one!)
From this divine fear, faith in God is born. Then a person believes wholeheartedly that since he has completely dedicated himself to God, God intern assumes all solicitude for him… So when this faith takes root, that kind of knowledge is completely abolished which gives rise to doubt about everything, decreases faith, and many times eliminates it (for it has nature on its side, since we were brought up with it). But once faith is victorious after many trials, it turns and gives birth to spiritual knowledge, or rather is given as a gift, which does not oppose faith, but flies with its wings and explores the depths of the mysteries. And these two: faith and knowledge, knowledge and faith, are thence forth inseparable sisters.
Elder Joseph is reminding us that we have many trials to endure for the acquisition of faith – so take courage – our sufferings have a purpose!
If you leave everything to God, behold that you have acquired faith, and certainly, without a doubt, you will have Him as your helper. So even if you are tried 1 million times and Satan tempts you in order to dull your faith, choose death 1 million times and do not comply with human knowledge. And in this manner the door of mysteries will open. Then you will marvel that although you were formerly bound with the chains of human knowledge, now you fly above the earth with divine wings and breathe another air of freedom, which others lack.
Conversely if you see that human knowledge reigns in you, and if at the slightest danger you lose your head in despair, know that you still lack faith. Therefore, you do not yet have all your hope in God, and do not yet trust that He is able to save you from every evil. Take care to correct yourself here, as we have said, so that you are not deprived of such a great good.” Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom
May we pray to St. Issac and Elder Joseph to help us learn to surmount our worldly knowledge and acquire faith!
God bless you,
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