… But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? … – James 2:14-26 (NIV)
* * *
I’m nodding in agreement with James right up to the point where he invokes Abraham, and then I hit the stone wall. I’m of the camp that sees offering Isaac on the altar as a horrific violation – the act of a zealot. Rather than defending his son in his innocence, Abraham betrays him. Only at the last minute, when God is so disgusted with Abraham that he sends an angel rather than speak with him directly, does Abraham finally act in true faith. He acts by not acting! Yes, God has been testing Abraham, who fails every step along the way, except that last one.
But Isaac is traumatized. God stops speaking directly with Abraham. And Sarah dies soon after.
So acts alone are not sufficient; they must be rooted in a living faith, and must have a connectedness with what Friends termed “the everlasting Gospel, the power of God.” The implications of such total obedience are profound. First, obedience itself means “listening” and then “taking action.” Even “right action.” The Quaker way of worship itself encourages a listening for the voice of Christ in our midst, that we might then act faithfully to the divine leading. Second is the concept of immediacy in our communion with the divine: no one stands between us and the Spirit of Christ. Third is the role of the faithful community – the “People of God” George Fox envisioned, or the City Placed on a Hill as an example to all. Fourth is the linkage of faith with action: the deeds that reveal our faith — hopefully bathed in love.
* * *
But then it must be a living Faith, according to the Definition of the Apostle James in the second Chapter of his Epistle. And it must be such a Faith as purifies the Heart, and is held in a pure Conscience, and is manifest in the Life by Works of Love, and gives Victory over the World. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)