An Alternative Faith
Last Sunday morning, I was blessed to be part of a truly challenging (and for a typical “church Bible class,” pretty honest and open) discussion about the reality that faith is tough in this age. Oh, it’s relatively easy for us to give our mental assent to a set of beliefs. But that’s not the issue. The difficult issue is trusting God. And as far as Jesus and Paul and Peter and James (and pretty much any of the Biblical writers you want to cite) are concerned, what we call “faith” is ultimately a question of trust. And more than that (here’s where it gets tough), “faith” is about acting as if you trust God in what he has said, what he asks, even demands, of us, what he has promised. Faith/trust, then, is not about what happens between our ears, but about how we speak and act.
I’ve continued to think about that discussion off and on this week.
The problem is this: My faith/trust is not nearly as solid as I might want it to be. Not nearly as solid as I certainly want others to think it is.
I’m not talking about not believing basic points of “the faith,” points that are about belief’s content. God exists, Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, he is the source of salvation, and he calls us to love him with our whole being and love neighbor as self.
I don’t have issues with the content issue. I have issues with the trust issue: Do I trust God enough to live out his way? Especially when it’s hard.
In that regard, I resonate with the words of Christian Wiman (My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, 93):
“Faith steals upon you like dew: some days you wake and it is there. And like dew, it gets burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions, distractions.”
“Burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions, distractions.” I think I just took a hit there.
I wonder if I’m not looking at this from the wrong perspective, though. I’m defining faith/trust as if it’s all about me, all a function of something I do.
But maybe whether I live with trust in God isn’t just about me. Maybe I’m so busy focusing on my response, that I’m not paying sufficient attention to what I’m responding to. Maybe first and foremost this is about God.
My appreciation is growing for Paul’s words right at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, specifically 1.4-9: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the way these folks were living out their faith/trust was pretty sorry. No more or less sorry than the way I live out my faith/trust. I can’t claim any superiority over them. The specifics may be different, but the lack of enough trust to live fully God’s ways is pretty much the same.
And yet Paul actually says this to these people (and to us): “He will…strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless (blameless?!) on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Really? Have you read the rest of 1 Corinthians? There’s a lot of blame that could be spread around in there.
But this isn’t about their faith/trust being perfect: “God is faithful.”
“God is faithful.”
Maybe just as “we love because he first loved us,” we learn to trust him because he is first trustworthy to us, not waiting for us to earn his trust.
While pretty much always saying I don’t “believe” this, I think I’ve pretty much always operated in real time as if my relationship with God works like this: If I can just be faithful enough, God will in turn be faithful to me. (God is faithful only as a means of reward for good behavior, in other words; my faithfulness enables God to be faithful to me.)
Because that’s how I’ve operated, I’ve always had a hard time figuring out the line in the little hymn quote found in 2 Timothy 2.13: …if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. Being faithful is just part of who God is. And he knows we aren’t always faithful.
So, I’m beginning to think that it’s the other way around from how I’ve operated: because God is faithful to me, I’m enabled to be faithful to him.
So, I wonder: What difference would it make in my life—in what I say and do, in how I operate as an agent of God in this world—if my focus was on God’s consistent, constant trustworthiness rather than on my fickle faith? Would I feel myself freed up to more aggressively pursue his ways if I learned to rest in his faithfulness/trustworthiness instead of being trapped in this no-win situation of trying to rely on my untrustworthy ability to choose the right? Would I live more faithfully to God if I just accepted that he is faithful to me, that he will deal trustworthily with me according to his promises in Christ? Would I live more faithfully to God if I quit trying to live into my own faithfulness and instead lived as if he is faithful to me? Does it make a practical difference to live in response to God’s faithfulness?
I’m still thinking about all this and praying about it, but in the faith chaos that whirls around our hearts in this present age, is there any true alternative to us for a “rock to stand on” than the fact that “God is faithful”?
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24).