Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Faith: The evidence when there is no evidence?

This sentence caught my eye in my Bible reading today: "When your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." It's from James chapter one, and the section starts by talking about faith. Which seems to suggest that endurance and faith have a lot in common. That's the conclusion I have come to in my own life. A couple of people have noticed this "life philosophy" in my novel. Here I'll quote from a review written on Amazon by someone I don't know: "Because it's not long since I knew a grief of my own I was so encouraged by this quote from the book, 'I've come to believe that stubbornness and faith have a lot in common. Just flat out not giving up.'" You can see the review and my book here. And whomever you are, Alison, thank you--it's nice to know that someone "got" my book!

I used to be very confused by the word "faith." What does it mean? How does one do it, or have it? In some church settings I've been in, it seemed that "faith" meant you made something happen out of sheer will, or because you (or a collective "you," in a group setting) worked up enough emotion and stirred up enough desire that you could somehow command God to do a thing, like heal someone of cancer, or provide someone a job, or whatever. If you could just believe hard enough, these kind of things would happen. This never felt right to me. And both individual and group experiments with this kind of "faith" at some point will lead to disappointment and disillusionment. God is simply not ours to command. And so often his agenda is different than ours, and beyond our understanding.

People want faith to feel all warm and tingly, but most of the time, it just feels like endurance. Like patience, and long suffering. These words are closer to the essence of faith. But it is not endurance for nothing, or suffering without purpose or meaning. Faith is rooted in the sure promises of God. Like the heroes listed in Hebrews 11, however, we might never experience many of these promises in our lifetime.

Hebrews 11 starts with a strange definition of faith, which pretty much says that faith is "the evidence when there is no evidence," evidence being something tangible that you could touch or feel or see, something that could stand up as sure proof in court. Faith means holding on to the promises of God and living like we believe them, even if we never see their fulfillment in this life. And it's hard. But with people like Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Gideon and David in the line-up of those held up as examples, it's evident that perfection--or never doubting--is not a requirement. In the lives of these men and women you see a heart returning to God over and over again, despite suffering, doubts, and disappointments. I think that is a realistic picture of faith for us as well.