Faith….what is it?
Is it perseverance despite a lack of proof?
Is faith mere certainty?
Is it constant, unceasing security?
Is it belief?
If I believe something, do I have faith in that something?
This cannot seem to be the case because “even the demons believe”—and tremble in fear and awe and total recognition of their helplessness. So therefore, one would think that faith is not belief or emotional reaction.
It is not fear, guilt, shame, joy, happiness, comfort.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
What does it mean, then, to have strong faith?
Abraham is one of our examples in Scripture.
He climbed the mountain, clinging to a hope that God would raise his son from the dead after his hand drove a knife through the young boy’s chest. Does this mean at no time on this trek did Abraham falter, cry out in the depth of his soul, look down on the valley and think of packing his tent and returning to Ur?
I don’t think so.
Abraham was an example of faith, but Abraham was a human example.
So what convinces us to continue? What turned Abraham toward the mountain again? In those moments when he struggled, when doubt whispered in his ear, what finally forced him to lead his son to slaughter?
I think Abraham’s memory played a part in this perseverance.
I think he remembered two things: God’s promised future and his personal past.
Denying his faith in God meant denying all the miraculous things he had seen—all the evidence of grace and patience and faithfulness. Giving in to doubt meant returning to the environment of his ancestors—to the uncertainty, the pointless searching, the pagan rituals, the worship of material things. I think he remembered who he was outside the covenant—another rich citizen. However, persevering meant accepting his new role, who he was in the covenant—the ruler of an entire nation, the patriarch of the ocean sands and night stars, a friend of God Himself. I think in those moments, Abraham, through strength of mind and will, forced himself up the mountain…and it was counted to him as righteousness.
So maybe faith is a choice, a conscious decision to believe God regardless of how we feel at the moment of our doubt. Perhaps faith is choosing to sacrifice our independent intelligence that would seem to dissuade us from the supernatural experience of a new creation, and choosing to do this even in those moments when it may all seem like a waste of time—those dark minutes when everything seems so distant, so fantastical, so doubtful…
In fact, perhaps it is only through these times that faith is necessary. During the other times, when we “feel” like a child of God, how often do we question? How often do we doubt? How often, during a rousing worship service or a deep conversation with an intimate friend, do we need that quality of faith that carries us when there is no light of confidence in our soul?
When “God is working” in a tangible or even a definite, emotional way, there suddenly becomes this distance from true faith, because now our security and certainty is based on the satisfactory feeling, the sense of calm or comfort. Now, I do not believe these feelings are a bad thing. I absolutely believe that God excites, overjoys, encourages, quiets, soothes, etc our hearts and minds with the gifts of our emotions. These are not to be feared, but to be recognized as mediums with which He works, rather than guarantors of our condition.
This experience belonged to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration when there was a great amount of proof—both physical and emotional—that they were in the presence of the Almighty. Undoubtedly there was a mixture of emotions, which settled into peace of mind. This time did not require the action of faith because the evident reality of their belief was so incredibly present, so magnificently obvious and direct.
Perhaps think of it in this way…On a crisp, spring day, one might find it easy to be in a pleasant mood. The birds are chirping, a breeze is blowing, children are laughing in the park. The whole world seems excited and alive. In this event, barring some deep personal tragedy, one would not need a great strength of mind or emotional soundness to walk with an open chest and whistle a favorite tune. However, on a dreary winter morning when icy rain bites and gloomy clouds settle on the city like a steel wool blanket, one typically has to fight to repress feelings of depression, tiredness, and woe. In this event, we see the vital importance of conscious emotional focus and submission because in this event, it is needed to maintain our desired—or our optimal—state of being.
A town does not know the strength and efficiency of its fire department until flames threaten their homes and businesses. They do not recognize the need salvation when there is no present catastrophe, except for peace of mind should the unthinkable occur. Perhaps this is something we should consider in the realm of faith. I wonder how many times faith is discussed in the Bible in direct relation to some trial of mind, body, or soul. Job, Abraham, David, the saints of the church, are all mentioned in relation to faith, and all of them are in relation to their personal strength during suffering. Faith is not fire insurance, but assurance during the fire.
Just like the town does not recognize their need for a fire brigade when there are no fires, we live as if we do not need faith unless we are in some sort of trial. BUT just as the townsfolk would be incredibly foolish to not institute a fire department, we as humans are beyond this foolishness when we leave faith from our daily life. For if there is one thing the townsfolk and we Christians share, it is the realization that fires will come. They will consume the walls of emotional experience, intellectual defense, and any other tangible proof—save a foundation on the rock of faith. This is when we need our faith…yet how tragic is it that I dismiss this faith from my daily and weekly pursuits of emotional highs and the “peace beyond understanding”. How tragic is it that I look for God and search for Him in an effort to repair the problems and enhance the pleasures of my life and leave my faith in weakness and frailty. No wonder when the fire arrives I look up in anger and amazement rather than joy.
How does one strengthen faith? How does one acquire this action/virtue?
Virtues—faith, hope, trust, self-control, mercy, etc. are only increased when they are tested, only strengthened when they are used.
Take self-control—a denial of some personal desire. The only way one can practice self-control is for one to deny something they desire. It is not self-control if you do not want it. If you refuse to enter an establishment of ill-repute because you are afraid someone will see your car in the parking lot—you are not practicing self control, but simple fear-based reasoning akin to a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. In fact, if I might be so bold, we rarely exemplify true self-control. We always seem to create some reason in our mind why we do not want something or cannot have something rather than just admitting our desire and deciding to deny it.
“I really want to buy this, but if I do, then I won’t be able to get those shoes or go to the movies.”
Not self control. A prioritization of desires.
How do we strengthen it?
Use it. Start with little things and work up, though, rather than leaping into a den of debauchery and saying I led you there to practice self control. Say no to a movie, say no to a purse, say no to a friend, say no to something. Deny yourself something you want, even if that something is not sinful, and you will see how terrible we are at self control. The first thing you will ask yourself is “Why?”
“Why should I not get this? I can afford it?”
After discussing poor examples of self control, I will include a genuine example which I believe will also answer the above question.
“I really want this job, but if I take this job, my children will not have the best chance at a positive future.”
“I really want this new cd, but I could use the money to buy dinner for a friend having a difficult time.”
This is self control. Refusal, not out of a different form of personal gain (reputation or alternate entertainment), but from a selfless desire to promote the well-being of another.
Self control and selflessness go hand-in-hand.
....that part was free....
I do not want to get too far off-track. The purpose of this example is to show how our virtues—those things in our life we might think we have—are often found lacking when we need them most, and this might be the result of their weakened state due to atrophy. The point still remains, and can even be applied to the previous example, we do not recognize our need for them until they are required of us.
Right now, my faith is needed.
Right now, my faith is required of me.
And right now, my faith is weak.
The time when I need those feelings of peace and comfort and trust, they are nowhere to be found—because they are fleeting, based on tangible events or emotional triggers—and because God has chosen, in His will, to not rain them down upon me. Now it’s just me and the darkness of doubt, and the only things that will save me are the faith I am questioning and the truths of Him and His Word that I am doubting.
Ironic and cruel, in a way.
But it’s not faith if there is overwhelming evidence. It’s not self-control if I refuse something I do not want. It’s not blind love if only directed at those easy to love.
So, I am on a mountainside, in the middle of an exhaustive climb, and right now I struggle with the promises of God and question the reality of His presence. I look back, wondering, fearing, thinking, despairing. My next motion will either increase my reliance on a power beyond myself or increase my own sense of control and my own power over my life.
And honestly, I do not want to go back to the way things were.
I remember my life before Him.
I remember my pain before His healing.
I remember my wandering before His guidance.
And I want nothing to do with it.
I would rather walk in blind faith, mocked by the perceived intelligence of my own flesh and the social acceptance of my culture, than return to a present without purpose and a future without hope.
So now I turn to the mountain and force my feet to walk. I still do not feel the sun on my back, but I force my bones to bend and my muscles to move, even as I am surrounded by doubt, and I cry out to a God I cannot see and cannot feel and ask Him to save a wretch like me.
This will not be my last climb. This will not be my last trial. And these thoughts will not be my last on the strange topics of belief and faith and doubt. I do not claim all of the above to be truth, nor do I claim it to be a wholly accurate description of my personal doctrine. These are thoughts from a chaotic mind, thought during a chaotic time. I hope they are encouraging/revelatory. I hope you find comfort in them should you happen to be on a mountain. I hope you pray for me if you are in the sunlight. This time is an important one, and while some parts of this rant may seem to promote independence of action and thought, I am very much aware of my complete need for Him.
May the God of peace be with you. He is so much bigger than anything I could ever fear, and this time is necessary to bring me closer to Him.
Grace and peace.