I have friends who not long ago risked all on the call of God, and lost everything. Let’s call them Seth and Emily. They clearly heard God call them to give up all they had and move to another country for a specific task. (I’m sorry I can’t be more detailed, but this is their story to tell, not mine, so I can only sketch it for you.) They sold or gave away most everything they had accumulated over the years, packed up what was left, and went with their four young children to a country half way around the world.
At first they hated everything about where they lived. Oh, they put on a brave face and tried to find the good, but it was so different from what they were used to, so strange and hostile that it took all of their emotional strength to make it through each day. After a few months they had made some friends. Then they became connected to a group of believers who helped them in the transition. Several months later, they were starting to feel settled–a bit–in their new home.
Then the roof caved in. The task they went to accomplished turned out to be a poison that infected their entire family. Not a real poison, but it might as well have been. It was devastating. Why would God call them to such a place when it was doomed from the beginning? Seth and Emily went about the task of giving away all they had accumulated in this land and returned to the States. Their lives were shattered. They went in faith, faith in the God who called them, and God let them down. When Seth came home, he thought, Maybe I’ll check out what these neo-atheiests have to say. So he read Dawkins and Hitchens. After coming to the conclusion that they were clouds without rain, Seth turned his eyes warily back toward God. This couple now limps through their days, wondering how they will make it.
If you expected me to start this last essay on the topic of faith off with a cheery story of someone who trusted God and everything turned out sunshine and roses, sorry. Most of life is not like that, is it? And yet we are told to believe God, to live by faith. We have all seen the “Miracle Rally” on TV where people line up to testify how God has healed them of blindness, deafness, shortened legs, halitosis, and other ailments. And yet just down the street we know of the wife and mother of three young children who lies in bed, withered up from the cancer that is killing her. And no matter how many people pray and fast and claim her healing, she will die. It gets to the point where we ask, Why bother believing at all? Why have faith when it doesn’t seem to do any good?
The only answer I can give you is this: Because it is the way God has commanded us to live. We cannot come before him in any way other than by faith. We cannot please him except by faith. And we can’t be his friend unless we believe him. So if this is how God wants us to live–a life marked by believing even when it seems ridiculous to do so–then why is faith so hard? Here are a few reasons I can see.
We need proof before we believe. We are still very modernistic people. We can explain everything, and if we can’t, we take it apart and reduce it to small pieces until we can explain each one. If we can take the universe apart so that we can give it an age and explain how it all began, then certainly we can do the same with God. The church is not exempt from this. We spend so much time trying to prove God exists that we are defeating ourselves. Sermons will be preached all across the nation this weekend attempting to “prove” how God created the world, “prove” that God kept the sun from moving and parted the Red Sea, “prove” that God still heals today. Here is a suggestion: If you find yourself in one of those churches this weekend where the speaker is attempting to prove God, grab the hymnal and read the words of some great hymns. Make a to-do list on the back of your bulletin. Or check football scores on your phone. Any of these will be of greater value than listening to someone once again try to do for God what God refuses to do for himself. God does not want to be proved. He wants to be believed. Until we stop trying to prove God exists, we will not believe he exists.
We are sleeping with the whore of reason. Everything must be sensible to us before we embrace it. We have to understand before we commit. If it does not seem reasonable, then certainly God does not expect us to do it, right? I want to repeat a quote from Martin Luther that seemed to upset a number of people in my previous post. Luther, never one to mince words, was not too keen on human reason.
Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
â€”Â Martin Luther
If Luther had been reasonable, he would have known there was a better way to present his thoughts to the Church. He could have applied for an audience with his bishop, then his cardinal, then the pope. After sharing his thoughts, a committee might have been formed to consider them. A report would be drafted. Discussion groups would have popped up. Eventually, after the necessary back-and-forth and give-and-take, a version of Luther’s ideas would have been submitted to another committee and…you get the idea. Fortunately, Luther was just crazy enough not to bother with being reasonable. He didn’t wait until it made sense to present his theses. If he had given way to reason, we would not have seen reformation come through the crazy German monk.
Yet before we will believe, we want to be sure it all adds up. We want it to make sense. It must pass the budget approval process, the building committee, the staff-parish committee. Where are the Martin Luthers today who say, “Here is what God told me to do, and now I’m going to do it”? Where are the bold, crazy people who believe when it doesn’t stand up to reason?
We think faith is for a specific incident or task. Yes, there are examples in Scripture where God requires a person or a nation to believe him for some specific thing. Yet more often we hear God commanding us to simply believe. “He who comes to him must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” Faith is not for us to get anything other than a deeper, more intimate awareness of the One who wants us to believe for the sake of believing. Â The primary reason we are to exercise faith is to please God. What other reason do we need?
Now, we do this believing in specific ways. And yes, in our faith we often receive what we are believing for. But our joy is in the fact that God Is, not that we have. Does that make sense?
Faith-talk has been corrupted by the prosperity-Gospel crowd. Yes, it has. They have said and done some of the wackiest stuff imaginable under the guise of faith, and then written books about it and talked about it on TBN. My question to you is this: So what? Just because someone believed God not only for an Audi 8 with gold rims, but also for a favorable parking place every time he went out to eat, and then formed a church around this belief, does that negate the fact that God calls us to believe some wacky, crazy things? And—this will irritate a good number of you—who is to say God didn’t want that person to believe for those things? And who cares? If he wants to settle for a piece of metal that gets horrible mileage, let him. The Lord has me believing for something so ridiculous, so implausible right now that it would be easier for me to believe for my own Audi dealership.
Look, people do stupid things in the name of God all day long. Most of them, at least most of the ones I know, are sincere in their stupidity. They are really trying to follow the Lord the best they know how. So what they’re believing for something you don’t think they should believe for. Get over it. If God isn’t getting worked up about it–and by the number of prosperity preachers publishing books these days, it seems he isn’t—why should we? Didn’t someone in the Bible somewhere say, “I don’t care what their motives are, as long as Christ is being preached”?
We haven’t been taught to seek God in the impossible. Our churches don’t do this too often, do they? What pastor wants to say during a funeral, “Time to get crazy, folks. This brother who is in the coffin isn’t dead, he’s just resting a bit.” Where are our spiritual leaders who believe Jesus can raise the dead today as he has done in the past? Yes, I know. This is not reasonable, and now you are flipping through your dog-earred copies of Lewis to quote to me from my favorite writer how all Christians must bow to reason, etc. Sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m listening to the disciples tell me how they saw Jesus raise a little girl to life. And Elisha the widow woman’s son. And Paul the guy he killed with his longwinded sermon. And … ok, did you find the passage you want to share with me? No. Keep looking. And while you’re at it, re-read the Narnia series, then come and tell me what Lewis thought about believing the impossible.
Look, I am not some great man of faith who never wavers or doubts. I stumble through this most of the time, taking two steps forward and three back on my good days. I want to believe, but find myself crying out to Jesus to increase my faith. But I want to believe. I want to trust him in impossible things. Our God is beyond time and space and the impossible. The possible and the impossible are alike—both are smaller than God.
This is not the last word on faith. This is just an encouragement for you to jump in the water and start to swim with those who are also dogpaddling in the waters of belief. But even your small beginnings are pleasing to our Father. Here is what you can believe to begin with: He Is, and He Is a rewarder of those who give faith a chance.