December 22, 2014

Why Is Faith So Hard?

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.”
— 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.  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.

Comments

  1. Buford Hollis says:

    Wasn’t somebody just quoting Fr. Brown the other day? (“You denied reason. It’s bad theology.”)

    Reason does not mean “proving” everything–only being open to persuasion by, well, good reasons. It seems to me that when things don’t go as planned, reconsidering one’s decision-making process is only prudent. And why not bring the same approach to religion in general? Are we that wedded to beliefs we suspect of being irrational and/or authoritarian social structures? (Luther was one of those people who have firm convictions about everything.)

    A good place to start would be with your friends’ belief that they knew what God wanted them to do. That’s actually quite a remarkable notion. Choosing to rely on reason (and conscience) over the voices in one’s head would be a sign of humility, not infidelity to God. Not that one should never take risks (such as moving overseas), but without knowing what it was that they found themselves getting involved in, it sounds like it could have used a little more hard-headed investigation.

    • I agree. And this post has been kind of discouraging for me. I don’t know what to think when people say they know that they know that God is telling them to do something. I’m sure that happens, but I don’t think it’s the norm. At least, I don’t hear from God like that. I don’t think I ever have. I’ve wanted to hear from God in that way. I’ve thought He spoke to me in that way, but when I look back at it, I see that I was just listening to some voice in my head that I doubt God wants to be associated with.

      I had faith when I asked God to keep my parents from getting divorced. I prayed that their marriage would get better for years. And guess what. They got divorced. I believed God and asked for what I wanted (and what I wanted wasn’t a bad thing). Does that mean I didn’t have any faith? Does it mean that God isn’t real or trustworthy? I don’t think so. Jeff, I like a lot of what you write, but I think you’re pretty far off on some of the faith stuff.

      Now I trust that what God does in my life is for my good instead of trusting that what I pray for is for my best. I hope that’s faith.

      • Grant wrote, “Now I trust that what God does in my life is for my good instead of trusting that what I pray for is for my best. I hope that’s faith.”

        Grant, I think this is wonderful! I am going to print this out and stick it on my computer where I can read it often.

        Praying FOR things to happen confuses me. I am OK in terms of praying in a centering/contemplative kind of way, but when it comes for asking for things, even healing, I am never sure what is “right” to do. I am thinking that it is fine to ask for health for people and to believe that God can do that and will do that, but when it doesn’t happen, we get faced with all those questions of “Why not? Were we not faithful enough? Did we not pray enough? Did God really want this child to suffer? Was it God’s will that this baby died?” etc, etc, that we don’t know the answers to. I will continue to pray for good health for people anyway, but ordinarily I do that in a private way and they don’t even know I am praying for them. Is that better? Is that less helpful? I don’t know.

    • If you have been born again there is only one part of you that is new, that is your heart. Your mind, which “reason” requires is not new, and is only in the process of being renewed. It is most certainly possible to know exactly what God wants you to do. Scripture is very clear that His sheep will hear his voice, and that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. If you have been born again it is not remarkable that you would know what God wants you to do. The desires of your heart, not the best ideas of your mind are in fact what God wants you to do. Christ is not something to be “approached”, He is a person. I don’t recall Christ reading any books, attending seminars, or thinking things over, He acted on what He knew He wanted to do.

  2. I think most Christians have had similar “crash” experiences. The reasons behind them vary. Many aren’t as extreme as the one described. Some are worse.

    I can only speak from my personal experiences. I relate the crashes to the wind and waves beating against the house Jesus speaks of in Matt. 7. For the Christian, in the end, the roots go deeper into the Rock.

    • Many have, indeed. It’s so easy to want to give up on faith, based on our circumstances, but we must always remind ourselves that faith is the hope for the unseen. Even when the church wounds us, we must remember that Christ loves her, and gave Himself for her.

      I’ve been wounded in the past, but I’ve learned that if I want to be an active part of the amazing book God is writing, I must be willing to allow him to turn the page. Eugene Peterson described the attitude as an anxious anticipation, a “What’s next, Papa?” mindset, that carries us from one moment to the next…whether that moment be the greatest sensation we can fathom, or feels like the world is crumbling upon us, we must press forward in faith.

      These types of stories always bring Joseph to mind for me…no matter where he was, no matter how dire his situation seemed, even in jail, even at the bottom of a pit, he was always dreaming, waiting for what was to come. Joseph wasn’t naive tor ridiculously optimistic. He was, frankly, quite screwed at many different points in life. He had to have been devastated when his own brothers rejected him and sold him into slavery. The pain had to have piled up when he worked so hard in Potiphar’s house, then was falsely accused and imprisoned.

      But he had faith. He believed in God when there was no reason to hope in anything.

      So, despite history and even current circumstance, we move on in faith. We hope things will get better, but if they don’t , we have no need to fear. St. Bernard wrote that if God is the thing we place our hope in, then God will be our reward. That, friends, is pretty cool.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My first crash experience along those lines was when my mother died of cancer back in ’75. All the prayers, all the fasting, all the intercession, and she still went out moaning through enough morphine to zonk out a blue whale, sixty pounds max, with visible tumors the size of tennis balls.

    • Chance, Heart means mind or reason in Greek. Jesus was always fully God and fully human. AnneG

  3. Wow, Jeff, you are very quotable in this post:

    “Until we stop trying to prove God exists, we will not believe he exists.”

    “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.”

    “The possible and the impossible are alike—both are smaller than God.”

    Excellent! I will call these….Jeffisms.

    I want to believe all that you say here, becauseI do believe you are correct. But I have to say that every day I fail at this. I fail to trust God.

    • So do I, Joanie. So do I.

      But every day we have a new chance to walk in faith. And each day we do it a bit better and get a little farther. Oh, Joanie, our God is so good, so merciful, so patient with us.

  4. My wife and I were missionaries. We saw crashes; we saw successes; we ourselves went through pain and agony, but also saw great successes and victories. Even now, a decade since we returned to the USA, I can make no fully logical sense of everything that we experienced. But, there are new churches; there is a new orphanage; there is a new school. The price we paid still weighs on us. We own no house; we have no savings; we are still in serious debt from our missionary experience.

    Yet, every time I look back to our missions experience I end up with tears in my eyes. God was at work. People were changed. He was glorified, even in our pain. I know some missionaries who “crashed and burned.” And yet, God was still glorified. Can I explain it all? No, but my experience has convinced me that, like it or not, God knows more than I do as to what is needed for his kingdom to advance, even if sometimes it means that it advances over my pain and agony. Is this unfair of God? No it is not! We are part of an army, and guess what? In war, in armies, people suffer, not every battle is won. But, it is the war we look at, not the battle, even when we are the ones who pay the price of the battle.

    And, sadly, part of the price of a war is that some are indeed damaged by the experience of war. The problem with so much of the “name it and claim it” movement is that they are living in the world in which the war has already been won. But that is not the world we live in. This is the world in which the war is still being fought. There are casualties. There is pain. And, yes, there are those who end up with the Christian version of post traumatic stress syndrome. This is terrible, But, it is the reality of living in a world in which a war is being fought, a war which we will win, but a war which sometimes has terrible consequences.

    • Thank you, Father Ernesto. This is great.

    • Fr. Ernesto,
      Excellent thoughts. I like the battle analogy and how sometimes the kingdom of God advances over our “pain and agony”. May God make us a people who see pain and suffering as a necessary part of the journey.

    • As always, Fr. Ernesto, great insights. I’ve been enjoying your own blog recently. It’s become a part of my daily routine, much as IM is.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      There’s a reason I used to post this link in Christian Monist’s comment threads:

      To all of us walking wounded…

  5. textjunkie says:

    I dunno, Jeff. I don’t think your friends who are having to rebuild their lives would agree with your statements. Maybe a little more dependence on reason would have helped them out a bit. I’m sorry to hear things went belly-up for them.

    I grew up in an environment where people were always “giving their testimony” and telling stories of miracles and miraculous interventions. I noticed, eventually, that these always seemed to happen somewhere else–visions and prophecies could happen here in the pews, but the healings and demonic deliverances always seemed to happen out in “the mission field”, small villages in deepest Africa or South America etc. Here, people die, healings require surgery, demonic possession only occurs in the movies, and the amazing gift that turns your fortunes around doesn’t show up in the mail. Speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit is about the best you get, and even that’s open to a lot of conscious and subconscious manipulation.

    Why is faith so hard? Because we’ve all tried it–we’ve all tried the “Not dead!” response, we’ve all been at that point where we think for sure God will answer THIS prayer; that THIS time, 2+2 will not equal 4. We’ve all struggled with why bad things happen and good things don’t.

    We all start like your son, believing the words at face value, that what we ask for we will be given. And experience beats that out of us. We’ve all flagellated ourselves that it was OUR sin that kept our prayers from being answered, and so our beloved one died because we weren’t strong enough “Christian warriors” and our faith failed the mustard seed test. We all have to balance those verses against the ones that say “seek ye first the kingdom of God… and all these things will be given unto you” and, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God”, not to mention “You fool, today your soul is required of you.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I grew up in an environment where people were always “giving their testimony” and telling stories of miracles and miraculous interventions. I noticed, eventually, that these always seemed to happen somewhere else–visions and prophecies could happen here in the pews, but the healings and demonic deliverances always seemed to happen out in “the mission field”, small villages in deepest Africa or South America etc.

      A long, long ways away where they couldn’t be verified (other than the Testimony’s say-so).

      Just like all those “Hole Drilled into Hell!” or “Ancient Aliens Predict End of World!” or “Incredible Frog-Boy On The Loose!” or “Alien has Elvis’s Baby!” you read about in supermarket tabloids. And pretty much for the same reason.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …not to mention “You fool, today your soul is required of you.”

      I’ve always figured that was just Christ (or the KJV translators)’s way of saying “He Who Dies With The Most Toys Is Still Dead.”

  6. textjunkie…wonderful comments! I think we all could do a lot worse than to ““Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.”

    I just finished watching “Glee” and it was all about faith, doubt, prayer, God, friendship, love. Touching and, of course, funny too. (“Grilled Cheesus.”) I love that show.

    • SO many funny lines in that episode! And…Sue showed some humanity on the subject of faith. It’s silly to say, but she brought me to tears talking with her sister. Remarkable episode. I love that this message can come from the GLBT community to reach so many people who think church people are all haters. I was amazed.

      • There WERE so many funny lines in that episode, Debra. And yes, every time Sue has met with her sister makes me cry. I think I have seen three episodes where she went to visit with her sister. I missed “Glee” the first season so watched the repeats during the summer, but they were all out of order and that was weird. Plus there were a few that I didn’t get to see. I’m glad that they are not making the female football coach to be one-dimensional like I, at first, thought they were going to do. They are letting her get fleshed-out a bit.

  7. “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”.

    I think it is hard to believe in someone you do not trust, and you cannot trust someone you do not love. I’m referring here to the kind of relational trusting that believes and hopes in what it does not see but it sees with they eyes of love (which, like faith is oft occused of being blind). 1 Cor 13 says one of the traits of love is that it “believes all things”.

    I have a relationship with my electric company. They are very reliable in providing me with electricity every day. I also have faith in the electric company to send me a bill every month. This is based on my experience of them. But I don’t love them nor they I. In a way, they seem more reliable than God if my relationship with God was based on this kind of business transaction. But I want to have the kind of faith in God that is rooted in a love for him, and that is able to believe and trust him in all things. I must remember that he first loved me and that he has shown this by giving us his son to die for my sins.

    I know these posts are about faith. And they are good. But I confess I need to grow in love for God so that my faith comes from love. 1 Cor. 13 also reminds me that even if I have all knowledge and wisdom, all faith so as to move mountains, are willing to be martyred but have not love, it is nothing.

  8. I think the two biggest mistakes the Church has made in history has been taking one of two polar failures.
    A. Believing that reason is sinful, worldly and in opposition to faith, or
    B. Believing that reason is infallible, perfect and will always lead to truth.

    • very well said; back to Martin Luther saying christians are often the drunken peasant (takes one to know one ??) , climbing up one side of the donkey, only to fall over the other side. Reason certainly has it’s place…..but often doesnt’ want to stay in that place: head nod to the enlightenment..

      GregR

  9. The problem with taking risks is that it’s, well, risky.

    That’s not meant to sound glib. The nature of faith is that it isn’t faith if we have an iron clad guarantee things won’t go pear shaped.

  10. I think we (especially Christians) tend to think about faith the “wrong way” round.

    We tend to think of heroes who do great things because they have faith in God. For example, Abraham going off on a grand journey, relying on God.

    In reality, especially among us lesser mortals, faith is something we fall back on when things go wrong. When things don’t go the way we expect, faith in God helps us endure our suffering. It’s more like Joseph being sold off into slavery, but still trusting that God will one day put it right. Or with Job, even questioning & challenging God, but still somehow not giving up on God.

    Going off on a mission can be a momentous decision. It’s a decision that we should make having a realistic view of what lies ahead, including the real downside risks. It’s a mistake, I think, to tell someone to discount the downside risks on the basis of faith in God.

  11. I prayed over a friend for physical healing today. No dice. I will do it again and again. I wouldn’t have attempted this even a few weeks ago.

    I don’t care anymore. I have faith enough to know that it is small and weak. So God better do something despite my faith, because if he’s depending on my faith to move something, we’re all hopeless. So he must do it. Himself.

    Is that faith? I think so. It better be.

  12. Please!!! Remember when Luther talks about reason as the “whore”, he is speaking indeed about “spiritual” things and only spiritual things; and such spiritual things which come straight from God’s Word, not our imagination or intuition or faint or fervent hopes. He is speaking about things such as when Christ says: “This is my body”, that indeed it is his body, not “represents” his body. There is salvation there, the forgiveness of your sins. He is talking about knowing that your salvation comes only by God’s doing, not your moral efforts, not your decision, chosing, trying, loving, earning a little grace… all the things that “reason” suggests. Salvation is by “faith” alone, because in every other way–you will fail. Only God will not fail, and His Word is to be trusted, not our own mind.

  13. Luther was paradoxical, not irrational. He stood before the diet of worms and declared that unless he was convinced from scripture and clear reason that he would not recant. You don’t see the Kierkegaard leap-of-faith existentialism in Luther. He knew real truth was too vast for blanket statements, but to call him irrational is to not fully understand him. What the Thomists of his day called “reason” was more or less positivism, not true reason – even by Aquinas’ standard.

    I wish there was a simple answer, but there a lot of things of which to be cautious. Word-faith name-it-and-claim it risk taking is a false security (God doesn’t have to deliver just because someone summoned HIm with a positive confession incantation). One can also “wait on the Lord” until dooms day without accomplishing anything. The fleece or the signs may never give clear direction. Doing something because the bible-tells-me-so is a dangerous path; be sure to stay away from the passages about cutting off limbs and poking out eyes.

    So, what’s the answer?
    1. Plan. Count the costs. Consider the consequences and be willing to accept them. Don’t blame God if the perfect outcome doesn’t materialize.
    2. Think. Does it make sense? (Does God really want me to invite that guy with the hockey mask and chain saw into my house on Halloween night?)
    3. Evaluate emotions. Is how I’m feeling affecting my decision?
    4. Seek counsel. We evangelicals don’t like this one. If I am truly “spiritual”, the only voice I need to hear is God’s, right? Sorry, young Calvinists; make sure your wife is on-board. Don’t just expect her to be silent and submissive.
    5. Consider options. Don’t get trapped into ultimatums (either I do this, or I’m out of God’s “perfect” will).
    6. Make contingency plans. If things don’t turn out as expected, what is plan-B? If you lose your job, how will you pay for that dream home mortgage?
    7. Pray. Seek peace with God before making a decision, not after. Know that His grace is sufficient, no matter what decision you make or what the outcome is.
    8. Make a decision. Take the shot. Roll the bones. Above all, trust that grace is sufficient.

    We don’t take risks because the universe is on our side or because God has destined us to win (there is a deep vein of liberalism which runs through such thinking). Rather, we take risks and perform any good work out of hope and confidence in God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, that God takes our brokenness and imperfect works and makes something beautiful from them. Our hope and faith should be built on nothing less. Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly.

    • 9. Learn from your mistakes…yes, you will make them. What would you do differently next time?

    • Also, before finding yourself in a crisis decision-making position, have a clear understanding of what are your values and goals in life. Discuss these with your family or with the person with whom you are considering to spend the rest of your life. Establish a solid Christian world view which has answers to life questions, such as vocation (many world view teachings out there do not). Consider how you need to be equipped to accomplish these goals. Consider your natural gifting; if you are not comfortable with public speaking or administration, perhaps God is not really expecting you to become a pastor. There are obvious exceptions, such as Moses.

      Defining the goal is critical: is the goal to become a pastor or to see people shepherded and cared for? Is the goal to become a missionary or to see the gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth? If the goal is to see people properly shepherded, and people skills are not your thing, then becoming a pastor will not accomplish the goal. Broaden your view; take the focus and burden off yourself.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Don’t you think some people have a “gift” of faith that is extraordinary? They can almost see something as it should be or as God wants it, and this allows them to act bold ways. By the way, I think your posting here nails down a lot of this issue. It’s very good.

  14. I just watched the movie ‘The Book of Eli’ yesterday, and it’s theme relates to this discussion. Eli walks to the west with the book, because he heard a voice in his head (the voice of God) tell him to do that. He also heard that he and the book would be protected. And he was, all the last 30 years. He is called out on this by his first ‘disciple’ and he tries to explain that ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’.
    Then in the end the promise seems to be broken. His book is taken away from him, and he is left with a, probably deadly, gunshot wound. In his face you see his incomprehension: has God forsaken him? Was it all a sham, an illusion? But later we find him still going on west, though he is severely wounded and from his own perspective surely has no human hope of reaching his destination. But still: it happens as was told to him: he reached the destination and the book will be safe.
    Eli’s last words are the words of Paul: ‘I have fought the good fight. I have kept the faith.”

    It pertains to a situation I find myself in, in which I at the moment find it very hard to keep hope.
    This past summer I tried to act on my desire to initiate something. But despite praying about it, others praying about it, and working up heaps of courage, i found it very hard. I know I want this very much, I long for it, but I just can’t make myself take the risk. I find myself too insecure. So that in the night of sunday to munday last week I slept only for half an hour or something. Just the thought of spending another night in sleeplessness was too much to bear.
    So I had to give up my attempts to conquer myself, and to conquer my insecurity. It’s a bridge too far at this moment.
    I was forcing myself to do something I can’t, and trusted in my own effort. Now I wrestle with accepting my limitations, not berating myself for my insecurity, and how to keep hope that one day, be it in one year, five or ten, I will have the courage to do what I can’t do now.
    I do think the important part is not whether or not I receive what I desire, or whether I can actually overcome my current limitations, or whether I will be happy or no, the important part is whether I still believe God loves me very much, and is glad with me, and will raise me and my dead desires from the dead when his Kingdom appears. Even when I don’t see the way.

    Johan

    Johan

    • Good movie. It seemed it wasn’t until those last words were quoted from Paul that he fully realized he had become the book, or, the book had become him.
      Thanks for sharing your journey. I can relate in my own way. It is hard so difficult to admit and accept our weaknesses. It is hard to internalize God’s mercy-love for us at such times.
      I heard Brennan Manning once say that “faith is the courage to accept acceptance”. Obviously, it is more than that but it is a good resting place, after a long night. Peace.

  15. I am always deeply wary of the ‘God told me thus and so…’ or ‘God has called us to_____’ So often it is a spiritual gloss for something we want to do and use God as the excuse to do it.

    These things call for a good dose of Christian wisdom and godly reason. Faith is not a ‘magic’ that guarantees that all we do in His Name will not fail, or even that we will always be able to discern God’s ‘call.’

  16. There is a reason the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are in the Bible. I think it speaks exactly to cases like this where God calls people to a lost cause, not for their glory, but for His. One of my favorite movies is The Seven Samurai where even at the end, the hero himself is nothing and the mission is everything, where even in winning at what the task is, the hero still loses. Here is how God explained it to His prophet in Ezekiel 3:

    And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”

    Some missions aren’t intended to be “successful” by our reckoning.

  17. I think great advice for any relationship is “pay attention to what he does, not what he says”. So when God uses flowery words of love, but keeps punching you in the face in the meantime, well……..

  18. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    I think the story is an example of how much the prosperity gospel infects the thinking of most Christians. We think that if we’re Christians and follow God’s call that life is supposed to be hearts and flowers and rainbows with no obsticals. Then, when we hit those obsticles we think we either “missed God” or that God somehow failed.

    I remember watching a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer with my son. At the end they said that Bonhoeffer had been hanged in a way that it probably took him 30 minutes to die. My son said, “Boy, I bet he was really glad that God was looking out for him.” I told my son that God didn’t spare his own son from the cross, 11 of the 12 apostles (counting Mathias and not Judas) died a martyr’s death and many of those deaths were way more gruesome than Bonhoeffer’s. So, this idea that we have some how picked up that after we pray the magic prayer that everything’s supposed to be wonderful is bullcrap.

    • I see equal parts of naivete and faith here. Almost reminds me of Jesus’s second temptation: throw yourself down and the angels will catch you. I despair when I hear stories like this. And too many times I have heard what God allegedly told people to do, and it’s absurd. God may call people to sacrifice, but I seriously doubt he really calls people to go overseas and ruin their lives in his name. We need the spiritual equivalent of spellcheck.

      • That second temptation is a good teacher.

        How many times have others used a portion of God’s Word to get us to do something they want us to do?

        If Satan tried this on Jesus, how many times will the strategy be used on us?

  19. What a great piece. I woke up hungry today, and got fed. ( I went to an arson website and merely got annoyed.) Ultimately, as Christians, we do lots of things simply because God tells us to. Thus, faith. I get nervous when some of my fellows rely on a “big payoff” and get depressed when God does not deliver the way they think he should. Personally I have more respect, reverence and awe for my God who is truly above my (our) fleeting lives and pettiness. He really is our sovereign King. But maybe our western world no longer understands kingship. In a sad way, when our lives of service do not work out, we simply vote on God. Some people vote him off their island. God will have compassion on whom he will have compassion, and mercy on whom he will have mercy.
    The longer I last, the more I see that Christianity is hard, not easy. In the end though, God says he will be faithful to reward faith. I believe Him.

  20. Having gone through some of the victories and successes of stepping out in faith in something which seems crazy, I’ve discovered a few questions I have to ask myself in my relationship with God when taking risks:

    First – “Am I putting MY OWN expectations of success on a calling GOD has given me?” and similarly “God’s given me the calling, has He given me the timing?” When Moses was told he would be the deliverer of Israel, he acted on his own expectation of what that should be. The result was 40 years in the desert, being prepared for God’s plan, what many of us would view as failure. On the other end is Mary . . . when she was given her calling, she did not go out and start a political campaign or get the synagogue on her side. She waited, pondered these things in her heart, and let God’s plan reveal itself. That’s hard to do – when we hear God’s voice, it’s easy to step and and move! But waiting on the Lord for him to reveal the next steps . . that’s harder. Sometimes it takes 40 years . . . sometimes it’s immediate. Sometimes we get to ready the project, but not see it completed, like David’s passion for the temple.

    Secondly – “What determines whether a calling of God is successful?” Many of us wouldn’t look at the lives of the apostles as particularly successful, ending as most of them did with death or imprisonment. Many missionaries have given their lives, forfeited everything, sacrificed all ending up dead, homeless, penniless, We in this world wouldn’t say that’s successful. But what does God think? While your friends look at their time responding to God’s calling as a failure, Jesus tells them that, while their earthly possessions may be gone, they have stored up treasure in heaven. Yeah, it doesn’t help pay the mortgage in the here and now. And that’s where many of us struggle – and have been taken in by the prosperity movement. We haven’t learned, as Paul did, to be content with in times of great earthly blessing and content in times of lack. We must remember that the Kingdom of God doesn’t rely on man’s economics, politics, or even church organization to value success.

    Sometimes, the only question that can really determine if my calling was successful is this – “Did I obey the call of God?” How the earthy results of the calling play themselves out is not as important.

  21. As silly as it is, this cartoon I ran across the other day sums up one of my main thoughts on the subject well:

    http://wondermark.com/659/

    Except for, you know, substitute an omnipotent God for ant time travelers and you get my drift. Maybe a portion of faith is stepping out understanding that no matter the results, the best possible good is going to come out of it because God is working out the best possible good. No one knows the full effect of even their smallest actions, and I believe God is using the unlooked after, insignificant things of this world to work His wonderous will.

    Now…as a total aside…why He decided to create a world in which He has to work with evil to bring good, I don’t know…I do know that given the choice between existence and non-existence I choose existence 100 times out of 100, so maybe that has something to do with it…and maybe not…

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    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…

    Because this is Internet Monk, and IMonk deals with reality. Case in point: Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk.

  23. I leanred a while ago that the church is infected by the prosperity gospel. Go and listen to the testimonies of those coming back from mission trips. And my expereince is in Bible believing churches, non-denominational, etc.. All you will hear are rosy, “God is in control” crap that feeds the illusion. You don’t hear about hardship, nor diseases, how people get sick or how they labored in vain with little to show for their efforts.

    My own experiences taught me this and I have raised this with others who are missionaries and get the silent treatment. I guess I must be the heratic…..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Eagle, I think you and JMJ/Christian Monist would get along really well. You’ve both had really crappy experiences that cast you out into the Post-Evangelical Wilderness. Just you’ve been cast a LOT farther afield than JMJ/CM or me.

      • HUG…what is your story? I do visit the Christian Monist blog and post there. What is your story about evangelicalism? (if you don’t mind me asking…)

    • SearchingAnglican says:

      Go visit http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com

      Jaime is a missionary in Costa Rica. She is a little (ok, A LOT) irreverant, calls ‘em like she sees ‘em, but has a HUGE heart for God. To top it all off, she’s laugh-out-loud funny. No illusion about the rosy, illusionary missionary life.

      She has a bit of missionary following who you might relate to.

  24. Speaking of Luther, his Heidelberg Disputation would be very eye-opening, regarding “theology of the cross” versus “theology of glory”. I wonder if part of our frustration comes from assuming that God’s way is the glory road, rather than via de la rosa.

  25. This article was disturbing and powerful and true. Quite a few years ago, when reading Romans with a men’s Bible study I said to a friend, I don’t want to believe in faith like this because it could be painful, and why would I want to do that. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, or in his Son Jesus, it was that I wanted to believe God was who I said he was. I wanted to believe that the roses would bloom as I walked by. Risk was too risky. However, I thought faith was valuable and begin to allow Christ to change me and mold me (even in resistance to it). My wife and I were doing great, spiritually, physically, emotionally… our kids were beautiful and doing well, our business was doing well. Skip a few details… Then our son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that effects 500 children a year on the night of my wife and my anniversary. The story is too long, but you can read it on his website here. We had amazing faith…and a good ministry plan and were doing good things…so, where was God? Why didn’t Jesus, save us from the pain and heartache? Why? These are questions that I still ask, but not as someone without hope. If my hope were in the good life, the perfect life then I would be remiss. Our hope and our faith is in releasing these things, not holding on to them. Where does that put us if we think that life will always be grand and we are in control? Crawling on our knees back to Jesus, to ask for that mustard seed of faith and hope and love.

  26. Tim Becker says:

    Why do so many people believe that God talks to them by putting thoughts or voices in their head? did he ever communicate that way in the Bible?

    • Amen!

    • Double Amen.

      That is a great point. This ‘God told me’ stuff is so destructive, and almost none of it would seem to have precedent in the Scriptures. Dreams, visions, theophanies, voices from the sky, all have a Scriptural basis, but thoughts, impressions, and voices in your head, not so much.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I believe there’s a classic IMonk titled “I’m Weary of Weird Christians”.

    • Yet that seems the way many believe. I have seen lives ruined that way. Then they turn around and blame “attacks from Satan”. Very often, those are rather the results of arrogance and/or stupidity.Sounds harsh, but true – I have family like that.

      • I’m more of an agnostic now…but I would suggest that people talk so much about “God” told them this, “God told them to do that…” that people get this false illusion of this deep intimate, rich relationship. Yet evangelicals never talk about when God is silent, if they do, it means your living in SIN!!!

        My life has carried baggge from this type of Christianity. Its also ended relationships, and created problems because I can’t guy into it any longer.

  27. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” – II Corinthians 4:7-12.

  28. I thought I was alone in thinking that once I became a believer, my life went somewhat south. I couldn’t shake my sense of entitlement until I started looking for God in the trials, versus what’s in it for me. That took a long time for me to understand, and I need to remind myself of it a lot.

    Had I written the gospel, Jesus would have been born into an upper middle class family, said wise things to adoring crowds, and died at a ripe old age of natural causes. God’s ways are not my ways, and I thank God for that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      God’s ways are not my ways…

      More like “God’s ways like to pitch a curveball right into our ways.” Take something Everybody Knows, play it completely straight until the punch line, then turn it a complete one-eighty. (The reason I recognize this is I’ve done the same when writing fiction.)

  29. Well I was just in the garden looking at a mulberry tree in a large planter. It needs to be moved. This will be a difficult job because it has rooted into the ground.

    Naturally I started thinking about Luke 17: 5-10 and these discussions.

    I wonder if the servant should really expect to hear “Well done faithful servant” while still serving. The fields have been plowed but there is still food to prepare and wine to serve. How can the master say “well done” when the work is not yet done? How can the servant expect to know the true purpose of any particular task? Perhaps the master tells the servant to pour the wine, not because he is thirsty but because he wants to sample the quality of he wine before an upcoming banquet. Our perhaps he needs to find out if the servant is prepared to do this task before asking him to help at the banquet. If the servant takes pride in thinking he has done a great thing by pouring the wine and satisfying the master’s thirst, even as his own back was aching from plowing all day, he might completely miss the point that the master was pleased with the quality of the wine. Or he thinks the master is displeased because some wine spills as he pours, when the master’s displeasure is actually with the wine.

    How does the servant honor the master by telling what wonderful work he has done, when he has no real understanding of the the work from the master’s viewpoint. Or how can he think he has failed in the work if he doesn’t know what the real work was?

    I think we can’t know these things because we are too easily tempted by pride.

  30. Faith is a gift. That is why it is hard. Hence, the conversional “decisionism” common among many evangelical churches is a false teaching.

  31. william mellville says:

    Wow! This speaks to me. I have problems with faith too. It’s really hard sometimes. You should read my blog. http://godplacebo.blogspot.com/

  32. Randy Thompson says:

    To live by faith is to grow in humility.
    We can believe wrong and we can reason wrong. There are no guarantees, other than Christ waiting to greet us at the end of the line—and if we’re wrong about that, we won’t know it. (A nod there to Pascal’s wager.)

    It seems to me that we don’t know enough of this unfortunate couple’s story to make adequate sense of whether there was a faith break down or a reason (or common sense) break down:
    Did God indeed call them to that country?
    Did God indeed call them to that country to do what they thought they were called to do?
    Did God indeed call them to sell all and go?
    Did God indeed call them to leave when they left, and arrive when they arrived?
    Did God indeed tell them to link with the people they linked up with?

    Sometimes God calls us to do something, but we stop asking God questions once we (think we) get the big picture. God shows us which track to head down, but we go off the rails.

    Faith needs reason to keep it honest.

    Has anyone read John Ortberg’s wonderful book, Faith and Doubt? It addresses many of these questions. (The key word in the book’s title is “and”!)

    • Or as I heard regularly in a megachruch in the upper midwest…

      Pastor..”God is good!!”

      Congregation “All the time..”

      Pastor “All the time…”

      Congregation “God is good!!”

      Where’s your United Airline air sickness bag please….

  33. Jeff, what are you talking about? We don’t need anymore faith. Why, we’re bursting at the seams with it! We’ve got absolute faith that is really was God we heard speaking. We’ve got absolute faith that God speaks to us in ways we expect. We’ve got absolute faith we understood the message. We’ve got absolute faith that we followed His instructions to the letter. We’ve got faith that we’re cut from the same cloth as Moses, Gideon, David, Elijah, Paul, etc. and that God will work the same kind of miracles thru us that he did thru them. We’ve got faith that we know all we need to know to put God’s will into action. If we fowl it up, we’ve got faith that God will still reward our efforts, and if not, we’ve still got faith that God will use our efforts for His glory. Even if there are not observable positive results from our labor, we’ve got great faith that there were some, but we just didn’t see it. If the whole thing turns belly-up and nothing good comes from it, then we’ve got faith that God abandoned us. We’ve got faith that God didn’t answer our prayers. We’ve got LOTS of faith.

    I just wonder, in whom?

    Myself, I have absolute faith that God will keep His promises, that He will empower those He has called to complete the tasks set before them, and that He will never abandon us. I just have very little faith in myself to be able to figure out what He’s up to.

  34. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    If he wants to settle for a piece of metal that gets horrible mileage, let him.

    All I can say about that is if I was going to spend five figures on “a piece of metal that gets horrible mileage”, it wouldn’t be an Audi 8 or SUV du Jour. It’d be a fully-restored (and probably hotrodded) classic Sixties pony car or muscle car. “Stang, ‘Cuda, ‘Maro, Cougar, Firebird — a 65-67 GTO would be reaching too far.