Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

In my last post, I thought about a parable of Jesus via two New Testament scholars, Eugene S. Wehrli and Joachim Jeremias.(1)  This evening I turned to another parable, the Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16. Wehrli draws several meanings from this parable. One is that we don’t earn God’s grace! The laborers who toiled all day and the laborers who toiled a comparatively short time all receive the same pay. This is according to agreement---and as the householder is free to pay as he wants (because it’s his money and his field), God is free to provide freely because the Kingdom is his, not ours (p. 38).

Of course, the laborers grumble because they feel this is unfair. And yet they were paid the wages they expected, so it’s not that they were shortchanged! They just thought it was unfair for the short-time workers to be paid what they received. It’s a typical kind of jealousy, though, when we chafe that people whom we consider “undeserving” receive more than we think they should. Similarly, we might praise God for unexpected blessings for ourselves but fuss when we see others receive blessings (pp. 38, 40). Wehrli compares the grumbling laborers to the elder brother, who had always been loved and cared for but hated the fact that his useless brother was an object of the father’s wonderful love (p. 40).

Wehrli clarifies that this parable “does not teach that it is never too late to repent. ...Furthermore, the parable makes nothing of the idea that it is never too late to begin work... Neither is the parable an analogy for employer-employee relationships as if it were trying to picture the ideal business behavior” (pp. 40-41). I had thought of the parable as story of God’s welcoming the repentant, but Wehrli notes that the focus is the generosity of God rather than human behavior, and that our ideas about dessert and merit are irrelevant because God gives freely in God's own kingdom (p. 41).

He also notes that verse 16 actually fits better with Matthew 19:30 and Luke 13:30, rather than with this parable, since in the parable the first and the last are paid equally (p. 41).

Turning to Jeremias’ book (p. 37), I found that he adds another dimension to the story. “[The vineyard owner] sees that [the servant who worked an hour] will have practically nothing to take home; the pay for an hour’s work will not keep a family; their children will go hungry if the father comes home empty-handed. It is because of his pity for their poverty that the owner allows them to be paid a full day’s wages. In this case the parable does not depict an arbitrary action, but the behavior of a large-hearted man who is compassionate and full of sympathy for the poor. This, says Jesus, is how God deals with me. This is what God is like merciful. Even to tax-farmers and sinners he grants an unmerited place in his Kingdom, such is the measure of his goodness” (37).

I wonder how many of us completely miss that aspect of the vineyard owner; we focus on the mercy of God, which is Jesus’ point, but we think that the owner is indeed being arbitrary in his goodness. Even though the parable is not about human business practices, we can certainly be inspired by the vineyard owner's compassion and sympathy.

(1) Exploring the Parables by Eugene S. Wehrli (United Church Press, 1963), and The Parables of Jesus by Joachim Jeremias (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican

The other day I picked up (from a shelf of free, used books) an old copy of Exploring the Parables (United Church Press, 1963), by Eugene S. Wehrli. He was a professor at and former president of Eden Theological Seminary, where I teach some semesters. Then I got down from my own shelves a book I’ve had since college, The Parables of Jesus by Joachim Jeremias (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972).

In the chapter “Relations of the Kingdom,” Wehrli writes this about the pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). “The Pahrisee does not see his life in relation to God and in dependence upon him, but rather compares himself with other men. This precludes a true relationship with God” (p. 87).

Of course, this is Jesus’ story about one of his own people, but we distance ourselves from the point by thinking this is a problem with this particular religious group, rather than a serious temptation for any religious person!  “See, I don’t sin like he or she does.  I’m a wonderful churchgoer in all this ways.” Jesus identifies a way of thinking that’s common among many of us.

I was thinking, though: what about those of us who compare ourselves to others----unfavorably. What about the times we become blue because our achievements, our “breaks” in life, seem less impressive than someone we know. I play those kind of “tapes” in my head an awful lot, and then I feel down on myself. But why? It strikes me that this kind of comparison is also a way we don’t see our lives “in relation to God and in dependence upon him,” as Wehrli puts it.

Wehrli also writes that the Pharisee’s “very goodness becomes his downfall” (p. 88). We’re accustomed to thinking of downfalls that result from moral lapses and critical errors. But in the Kingdom preached by Jesus, the recognition that one is, indeed, far from God is actually an indication of closeness to God! But the goodness, uprightness, and clean record of the very religious person becomes, paradoxically, a chasm of separation----because if you’re good and know it, you have no need of God.

Jeremias finds a prayer in the Talmud that sounds much like the Pharisee’s prayer, thus letting us conclude that Jesus’ story is drawn from real life (pp. 142-143). But there, the prayer is a thanksgiving to God for helping the pray-er be guided to a righteous life, unlike the unrighteous ways of others. Still, even in that thanksgiving is the temptation to compare oneself favorably to people who think are undeserving. Jeremias also notes that the Publican’s despair may be partly due to the difficulty he faced in truly repenting: he must not only give up his way of life but also restore fraudulent gains. But how will he now support his family, and how will he ever know exactly whom he defrauded? (p. 143). (Publicans were Rome-employed public contractors who also collected taxes.) But a person at the end of his or her rope is exactly the person whom God favors!

One clue to the favor of God in this story is the fact that the Publican evokes Psalm 51: God does not despise the broken heart of a sinner. In fact, “He is the God of the despairing, and for the broken heart his mercy is boundless. This is what God is like, and this is he is now acting through [Jesus].” (p. 144).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Don't Blame Science

A "Journeys Home" post from 2009.... Recently I read a news story from a Midwestern community. The high school band had designed tee shirts that featured an image of a primate moving through stages until it becomes human: that famous illustration of evolutionary development. Each figure held a brass instrument. It seemed a clever way to encourage band spirit for their fall program. The tee shirts were banned, however, because of parents’ complaints that the shirts promoted evolution. The article reported that an assistant superintendent said that the school district must remain neutral about religion.(1)

I'm religious and I love science, so this kind of story distresses me. But I want to respect the people in this story and think a bit about the issues involved. The school official and the complaining parents apparently consider evolutionary theory a “religion” or, at least, a philosophy that competes with traditional religious belief.

If one understands certain distinctions, aspects of this issue may fall into place. A hypothesis is an assumption that something is true, but that assumption is still undergoing experiments, discussion, and testing. A theory is a “model” of reality that has stood up under many experiments over many years, has been discussed in peer-reviewed journals, is compatible with other theories, and can potentially anticipate other observations and theories.

Evolutionary science is a theory in this respect: it is a sound scientific model that explains data in many different fields like biology, paleontology, and others. Evolutionary theory is science. There are no alternative theories that are accepted by a majority of those in scientific community; this is not because scientists are closed-minded to other theories but because this model has been studied and refined for years and is viable. No other scientific models make as much sense and explain as many phenomena, from an empirical standpoint.

Science concerns the observation and explanation of physical phenomena. Although science does address questions of cognition and behavior, science does not answer questions of theology and spirituality. Science is “methodologically materialistic,” that is, its procedures and methods are aimed at physical phenomena.

But at this point you can take at least three philosophical positions. The first, which I hold, ais that science and religion are complementary sources of truth. The invisible world exists but it is approached through religion, faith, faith-encouraged reason, certain kinds of experience, and tradition rather than empirical examination. Science can describe phenomena according to empirical methods, while religion can declare truthfully that "God created the heavens and the earth."

The second position is “epistemological materialism”; there may be a spiritual world, but since we cannot know it through science, we cannot know anything meaningful about it. Religious belief is a matter of faith but not reason.

The third is “metaphysical materialism”: we cannot know the spiritual world through science, therefore the former does not exist. We can explain everything meaningfully through science, including the reasons why we’re religious, moral, etc.

I think many people become upset about evolutionary theory because they believe it necessarily falls under the third position and, therefore, is an atheistic philosophy which is being taught to our children. No, evolutionary theory, properly speaking, is a scientific theory that explains physical phenomena. But among scientific theories, evolutionary theory seems the very threatening to theological doctrines like the image of God in humanity, sin, redemption, and the inspiration of the Bible. Somehow even the antiquity and vastness of the universe do not make people as theologically anxious, even though astronomical science could equally threaten a literal reading of the Bible.

Public schools should offer traditional science as proper science but also find ways to introduce some kind of non-sectarian religion courses for students--and then students can get a more full religious instruction in other settings. There are suitable ways in which religion can be brought into public schools without violating church-state separation. My daughter’s schools in Kentucky and Ohio did a good job of striking these tricky balances.

Shameless commerce: I discuss these issues in a study book that I wrote for the United Methodist Publishing House: What about Religion and Science: A Study of Reason and Faith, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007. But I’ve also been re-reading Huston Smith’s Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions (New York: HarperOne, 1992, originally published in 1976), where he comments:

“With science itself there can be no quarrel. Scientism is another matter. Whereas science is positive, contenting itself with reporting what it discovers, scientism is negative. It goes beyond the actual findings of science to deny that other approaches to knowledge are valid and other truths are true. In doing so it deserts science in favor of metaphysics--bad metaphysics, as it happens, for as the contention that there are no truths save those of science is not itself a scientific truth, in affirming it scientism contradicts itself. It also carries marks of a religion--a secular religion, resulting from overextrapolation from science, that has seldom numbered great scientists among its votaries” (p. 16-17).

Smith's words shed light upon some the issues raised by the critics of the band tee shirts. These folks were concerned about a secular religion being promoted (scientism, or metaphysical materialism). But they confused scientism with science. Science is a wonderful, vitally important thing that should be taught in public schools and more widely appreciated and understood by the general public. (In fact, the tee shirts don't even represent current science, which no longer posits such a linear progress of species development.)

1. Although the article now requires a subscription to read it, I first accessed the then-free and -current article at: http://www.sedaliademocrat.com/articles/0px-18740-span-font.html


A few more thoughts concerning science and religion. My aim of these thoughts is to give assurance and some ideas to people who struggle with the tension between religious belief and scientific discoveries, notably evolutionary theory.

People who worry about the contradiction between science and the Bible usually focus upon Genesis 1. But actually the Bible has numerous “unscientific” words about the nature of reality. Exodus 20:4, for instance, depicts a three-tiered cosmos; Ps. 24:2 and Ps. 136:6 depicts the earth as founded upon seas; 2 Samuel 22:8 says that the earth is set upon foundations; 1 Samuel 2:8 talk about the pillars on which the earth is set. Leviticus 11:13 and 19 lists bats among kinds of birds. Must we assume all these images are literal truth? If we defend them as metaphorical, well … we’ve immediately acknowledged that the Bible contains passages that are not literal but metaphorical and poetic truth.

Scoffers at biblical truth would zero in passages such as these in order to discredit religious belief. But religious people, too, must defend the truth of the scriptures in spite of the ancient world view that the Bible reflects.

Both defenders of biblical inerrancy and scoffers at biblical truth make a similar mistake in reasoning: if the Bible has errors, then the whole Bible is discredited. But God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2) and the whole Bible is true.

That is a false choice. We don’t typically make such distinctions. For instance, I made an unintentional error in a history book that I wrote back in the 1980s. I made an informed conclusion but new information emerged later. I made the mistake because my human knowledge is incomplete, but that doesn’t mean my whole book was a lie, or that I’m a liar, or that I need to explain my error through artificial arguments.

The Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer argues that we shouldn‘t confuse error in the sense of incorrect knowledge, and error in the sense of deception and sin. Limited as they were by their historical and cultural circumstances, the biblical authors has far less knowledge of science than we do. But we cannot thereby call them "liars" or deny that the Holy Spirit inspired them. As Berkouwer notes, when the definition of “error” is so formalized, “the relationship of the organic, God-breathed character to the organic unity and scope of the total testimony of Scripture is almost totally ignored.”(1)

Berkouwer, a conservative and very biblically-based Calvinist theologian, writes that we can safely recognize the historical development and time-bound character of the Bible writers. Therefore, when we encounter in the Bible ancient and “outdated” views of the cosmos, we shouldn’t worry that we’re “selling out” the Bible to science when we recognize the Bible’s ancient cultural origins, nor do we have to declare the Bible wholly false if the scientific discoveries do not conform to biblical details. What is needed, he believes, is a “naturalness” on our parts to witness to the reliability and authority of the Bible in its overall purpose as a God-breathed witness to God—not a science book.

Berkouwer cautions that ideas of biblical inerrancy shouldn’t be ridiculed, only that its application be examined so that the sincere desire to uphold scriptural authority should not damage that authority rather than advancing it.

See my site http://www.theloveofbibletudy.com, chapter 6, where I get into these and related issues more fully.

1. G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1975), pp. 181-183 (quote on p. 182).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

God Brings About Good

There is an entertainment/literature trope called "Put on a Bus," in which a major character disappears in such a way that the character can be brought back.  At the end of Men in Black, agent K retires (and is deneuralized), and then a large portion of Men in Black II is devoted to his restoration. Similarly the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where Jack Sparrow goes down with the ship in II and then is located and returned in III. This is a very common trope in soap operas: for instance, when I was a kid, the character Stephen Frame in Another World was presumed dead, reminisced about for over a year, and then reappeared.

I don't care for this trope in movies very much. But then I realized that the Bible has an elaborate "story line": the family of Jacob settles in Egypt via the complicated circumstance of Joseph's "disappearance" from Canaan, and then God rescues the Israelites in order to return them to the land where Jacob and his family had left!  Not only is this a "story line," it comprises nearly 90% of the Torah (the most precious part of Scripture for Jews), contains the covenant and mitzvot foundational for the Bible and, as I discuss in another post on this site, the Exodus story is next to Jesus' resurrection as key for the whole Bible.

You may wonder about God's strange ways, as I do. Why such an elaborate, centuries-long plan, just to get the descendants of Abraham back to the place from which they started? To prove God's saving power? To create a "community" of God's people through misfortune, salvation, covenant, and memory? To show God's faithfulness and righteousness in and among unfortunate human circumstances? Yes, yes, and yes.

I thought about all this while we were on vacation as I read the July 21, 2011 piece in the Lutheran devotional Portals of Prayer. The piece noted that God used the sin of Joseph's brothers in order to establish a plan to save God's people: "God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive," declared Joseph (Gen. 50:20).

The piece notes that many of us suffer because of the sins of others. Certainly, we're not spared that kind of suffering, a fact which can put a strain on our faith if we're struggling to understand why things happen generally, or why God allows terrible things to happen. (In fact, the July 22nd devotion concerns Mary Magdalene, who stood heartbroken at the empty tomb and, in her distress, could not recognize the living Jesus in front of her.)

The devotion writer notes that "In any terrible circumstance, even physical death and the pain and loss it brings, God can and does work good things. We can count on it." The stories of Joseph, the Exodus, and Christ's resurrection are great benchmarks of God's love and salvation among the difficulties we face.

We must remember that God didn't work in Joseph's life just for Joseph's sake! (Why did God allow Joseph to "rot" in prison for two years, for instance? His betrayal and exile were compounded with still more betrayal and distress.) When we personally are in crisis, we're naturally thinking of the resolution of that distress whenever we pray for divine help. But God worked in Joseph's life not only for his sake but also to achieve a greater good---several greater goods, in fact. Although our own circumstances are not on par with the biblical events, we can take comfort that God may not only be involved in our personal situation but possibly also, through us, the difficulties of others.


While I don't mean to distract from my devotional thoughts above, I browsed a bit through the addictive site, tvtropes.org, as I looked for that phrase "Put on the Bus." I noticed a few other tropes that reminded me of some Bible stories. This is just a bit of daydreaming about the Bible's content, not intended to be irreverent.

"The Can Kicked Him," or incidents when a character is injured or killed in the bathroom. Pulp Fiction is an example. In 1 Samuel 24, Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and David could've killed him there---but did not.

"Stuffed in the Fridge," incidents when a character is killed in a gruesome and horrifying way. Certainly the gang-rape, death, and dismemberment of the Levite's concubine in Judges 19 is one of the Bible's most awful passages.

"Chuck Cunningham Syndrome," when a character (like Richie's older brother in Happy Days, or Carrie's sister in King of Queens) disappears without explanation and never again referred to.  Zerubbabel figures notably and hopefully in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah and in the first part of Ezra (the story of the post-exilic restoration) but then ceases to be part of the story! His name is mentioned, though, once in Nehemiah and in the Matthew 1 genealogy of Jesus.

"Sobbin' Women," a pun on the Sabine Women: women who are kidnapped for companionship, as in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and an episode of Gunsmoke in the mid 1970s. Another horrible Bible story is the rape of the women of Shiloh by the Benjaminite men at the conclusion of Judges.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Floating in God's Tide

A post from my "Journeys Home" blog.... There are several good Bible verses about following God's will, like Philippians 2:13, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. A beloved pair of verses are Proverbs 3:5-6,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
   and do not rely on your own insight. 
In all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make straight your paths.

Both of these imply a degree of trust in God. While the Proverbs passage draws its key metaphor from traveling on land, a book that I like draws the key metaphor from floating in water.

Thomas H. Green, S.J., is the author of When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1998). He notes that learning to float on water is surprisingly difficult. “[M]any people never learn how to float” because they “never learn to relax, to let their head be pillowed by the water” (p. 142). He lives in the Philippines and observes that even natives of those islands have trouble floating. “Learning to float is counterintuitive; we have to do the very opposite of what our self-preserving instincts urge us to do” (pp. 142-143). Also, floating is “essentially to learn to trust,” which is also difficult (p. 143).

Floating makes for a thought provoking metaphor. We must decide to swim or float, and we would prefer to do both, writes Green, because we want to make our own way through life but to call upon God for help when we feel out of control. But God, rather, “wants us to have as our goal our total surrender to the [God’s] tide” (p. 144-145). Floating is when we “are totally secure” in God’s love and can thus “float free” and allow God to guide us (p. 145).

Thinking along with Green, I wonder if we should think of floating, not as a way to go through life in a passive way or a victimized way, but as a way of thinking about Romans 8:28 as we pursue our various responsibilities and follow our dreams. That Philippians verse implies a mysterious relationship between our actions and God's grace; we make our way through life while all the time calling upon and relying upon God for guidance and providential leading.

For instance, floating reminds me of the numerous turns and paths of my vocations (to focus on just that aspect of my life). I’m very proactive in my career, seeing and creating opportunities, and staying open to professional avenues---while I’m also praying to the Spirit for guidance. Several times over the years, opportunities that I thought were wonderful were not or did not develop, while other, unexpected ones appeared and were amazing. I’m sure it’s been that way for many others, too; one's life does take unexpected twists and turns. I’ve even praised God for answered prayer for circumstances, only to find those circumstances fall apart and lead eventually to something better.

If you can be a “floater” who is anxious and fussy and uncertain while floating, that’s me! Green assures us that it's not easy to trust God. But as we grow in our trust in God, we can see many ways that we and our loved ones have been guided.

Green also evokes the example of Ignatius Loyola, who spent a good part of his career in one role (administration) when he would have preferred other kinds of work (teaching, visiting the sick, etc.). If we're in a situation in life where we'd rather be doing other things, the idea of "floating" can help us stay on track as we look to God to see how we can thrive in this situation and also to keep our dreams alive.

When I talk to people about prayer (often, these days, via Facebook conversations), I prefer to emphasize this aspect of faith and spirituality: prayer and faith puts one within God’s “tide,” and we can trust God to guide us, but we may not immediately perceive that guidance. I don’t want people to feel disappointed if their prayers don’t get answered right away, or if “the peace of Christ” they felt in their hearts doesn’t last, or if (like me) the prima facie answer to prayer doesn’t necessarily work out. To me, it’s more honest and helpful (and more biblically, really) to assure people that God guides us over the long haul, and the wonders of God’s “current” may become obvious only after a period of years.

“Floating” also gives us confidence when we’re amid people who are single-minded (and possibly simple-minded) about ways to approach life. There will always be people (Christians included) who think everything has to be forced and pushed; that nothing good happens except through hard work and use of personal power. And a lot of things do happen through hard work and effort!  But you wish such people acknowledged prayer and surrender more obviously: you can be a Christian and still be very atheistic in your everyday attitudes. The idea of “floating” reminds us that there is a far greater power at work than our small efforts.

“Floating” reminds me of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

We’ve no problem embracing the part of that prayer that reads, “put me to doing.” But what if the Holy Spirit wished us to trust that the unproductive times, the times of disappointment and uncertainty, and even the dark nights of the soul, are ways by which God leads us? We might discover that our “doing” is a subtle way we try to control God's guidance. (I think churches try all the time to control God’s guidance.)


Another reason I like to think about this subject, is what I said above: like many of us, I become anxious when I’m in situations where I’ve limited or no control. A minor example is airplane travel: how long is that delay going to be? Will I miss my connection? Illness is a more serious example. All of us have different things that push our anxiety buttons more than other things. What makes you afraid and out of control?

In my ongoing efforts to be less anxious in stressful circumstances, I’ve been borrowing a little bit of Buddhist teaching (accepting situations as they are and feeling peaceful in them) with my faith in God’s providential help. As Green writes, God wants us to trust and "relax," and then God can lead us effectively.

I thought of another book I like, by Simon Tugwell, O.P., Ways of Imperfection: An Exploration of Christian Spirituality (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1985). His chapter on Francis of Assisi is interesting. Tugwell notes, “The monastic tradition had assumed that the development of a proper spiritual life depended on the monks being protected against disturbances and temptations; but the Franciscans made it their boast that their enclosure was no other than the whole world. If this is God’s world, ruled by his providence, we ought not to have to protect ourselves against it. Whatever happens is God’s gift to us" (pp. 129-130).

The author concludes that the source of Francis’ love of nature--for which we think so fondly of the saint--is this belief in God’s providence. But though we think sentimentally of Francis’ love, he was no armchair lover of the outdoors. He actually wanted to be completely unprotected as he faced nature. He even tried to prevent a friend from extinguishing the fire that had caught his habit: “Dearest brother, do not harm brother fire,” he said (p. 130). “The whole point of Franciscan life is a radical conversion away from a life of self-will to a life of submission…The heart of conversion must accordingly be the disappropriation of your own will” (p. 131).

The point is not to be obedient on principle, but to follow Christ and to be like Christ. Christ himself went through life obedient and unprotected. Francis did not sentimentalize this approach to life: Christ was obedient and because of it was cruelly killed, after all. But if we follow Christ in this way, we discover “a new way of relating to other people”; vulnerability and disappropriation of one’s will (as well as voluntary poverty, another Franciscan ideal) leads to love of others (p. 133).

It also leads to personal happiness. Francis told the story of a traveler who, on a rainy and cold night, would not be accepted into a place of lodging for the night. “I tell you,” says Francis, “if I have patience and am not upset, this is where true happiness lies, and true virtue and the salvation of my soul” (p. 132).

To put it in terms of my own anxieties: if I have patience and happiness when I’m stranded in an airport, or when many things are stressful in my life, then I’ve reached a very good stage of inner peace rooted in trust in God. (You can also see how Francis’ parable traveler could be praised for his Buddhist-like sense of non-attachment.)

I’m SO not there yet! But to turn back to Fr. Green’s image, I think his notion of “floating” corresponds well with the inner freedom Tugwell finds in St. Francis: a willingness to relax as one goes about the day’s work and travels, a willingness to believe that God “current” will carry us, and an ability to relax in that “current” even when circumstances are difficult.


As I reflected on all this, I also thought of Hebrews 2:1. In that letter, the author warns people about abandoning their newly-found Christian faith, but he is also concerned with people drifting away from faith, like an unsecured boat. “Drifting” in this sense is different from the “floating” which Fr. Green intends. You drift when you’re careless about your faith and don’t maintain your side of your relationship with God. “Floating” is a serious process of surrendering to God’s help and guidance, especially in times of distress and uncertainty.