Salvation By Works

Now, a cute kid story.

My daughter asked me why some people used to wear hair shirts and the like. I tried to explain about mortification of the flesh as a way to improve the spirit, how people tried to ignore their physical body to pursue a closer relationship with God. This naturally led to a discussion of the difference between salvation by faith and salvation by works. I’ve been reading a world history book to her (A Little History of the World, by E. H. Gombrich). We recently covered the Reformation and the associated religious wars. I explained that one of the key doctrinal differences between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church was the idea that faith is what matters, not good deeds.

My daughter said that she felt that God would favor good deeds rather than faith, so I asked why. I thought she would say something about how it’s good to make other people happy, but what she actually said was that if you only focus on faith you will serve as an inspiration to other people to only focus on faith, and that that will lead people to using the aforementioned hair shirts, and that God would surely not want you to encourage other people to hurt themselves. I’m not sure this entirely holds up, philosophically speaking, but it was a very interesting idea for me because I would never have thought of it myself.

While I am often surprised by what other people think, I have after all spoken with my daughter almost every day of her life. While I often don’t know what she is going to do, this is probably the first time she has surprised me with a truly new thought, one that I would not have thought myself. It’s a strange feeling.

Later, in discussing the way that Martin Luther advocated removing the priesthood as an intermediary between people and God, she said that evidently Luther was the inventor of the phrase “Oh My God!”

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