Thursday, January 6, 2011

Faith 101

April 25, 2004

Henri Nouwen tells a parable of faith.  He imagines twins - brother and sister - talking to each other in their mother's womb.

The sister said to the brother, "I believe there is life after birth."  Her brother protested, "No, no, this is all there is.  This is a warm cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us."

The little girl insisted, "There must be something more than this dark place.  There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move."  Still, she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said, "I have something else to say, and I'm afraid you won't 'believe' this either, but I think there is a mother."

Her brother became furious.  "A mother?" he shouted.  "What are you talking about?  I have never seen a mother, and neither have you.  Who put that idea in your head?  As I told you, this place is all we have.  Why do you always want more?  This is not such a bad place.  We have all we need, so let's be content."

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother's response and for a while didn't dare say anything more.  but she couldn't let go of her thoughts, and since she had only her twin to speak to, she finally said, "Don't you feel these squeezes every once in a while?  They're quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful."

"Yes" he answered, "but what's special about that?"

"Well," she said, "I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face to face.  Don't you think that is exciting?"

The brother didn't answer.  He was quite fed up with his sister's foolish talk and felt that the best thing would be to simply ignore her and hope that she would leave him alone.

Read Hebrews 11

In this passage the writer makes it clear that God wants His people to live in an atmosphere of faith.  God is not honored and our souls do not grow, if we live in a cloud of cynicism or suspicion about God's character.  But we also know that God is not honored by our wishful thinking and ungrounded speculations. That kind of faith is not helpful because faith is not unreasonable or illogical.

This passage defines faith as a firm conviction based on helpful amounts of evidence.  There is enough evidence to motivate action:  offering a sacrifice (Abel), building an Ark (Noah), and resisting a torturers offer of freedom (Christian martyrs).

Faith is what helps us treat the things we cannot see as real.  Faith is the referee, or umpire, for us between the visible world and the invisible world.  The believer's faith has conviction informed by evidence, that God's invisible order is the far more real of our two worlds.  For this reason faith is the essential link between God and man. 

Physical eyes help us see visible objects.  Faith helps us get around in the invisible world.  How do we "know" that the things we see and call creation have had their source in the invisible God?  Faith has looked at the evidence.  Evolutionists claim the world came from pre-existing material by blind chance.  Admittedly, their conviction is based on faith that has looked at evidence.  The Intelligent Design movement has the Darwinists in a bit of a panic (Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe).  The Tip of the Spear reminds us that the thing that makes your faith reliable is the reliability of what you are believing.

How good is your evidence?  Or more basically:  What is your truth source?  How reliable is it when you test it? Much of what we call "knowledge" is really faith or trust in an authoritative person or source of information.  I dare say, you never verify the chemical properties of your prescription drugs through personal experimentation with a home lab.  You never ask to see the certification of your commercial pilot.  If you regularly challenged the pharmacists and airlines they would not be pleased with you.  Likewise, "without faith it is impossible to please God."

Faith is only possible in a relationship.  It may be a formal relationship - as with your druggist or pilot -- or anything but formal, as with your spouse.  As you get acquainted with people, instinctively you adjust your trust to their level of fidelity or integrity.  This is why faith is more than a mental conclusion.  It is something you rest your life on!  Our faith in God is based on our evaluation of His fidelity.

Of course, pharmacies have made mistakes.  And people have impersonated airline pilots.  Sometimes we mistakenly misplace our trust in a person or we distrust an honest person.  Eve believed the lie of Satan.  Eve's misplaced trust caused her to be deceived.  What if she had exercised full confidence in God's instructions and distrusted Satan?  What if she had trusted the honest one?  What if you did?  Why is this so difficult?  The short answer is:  Complete confidence in God is difficult because we are living in the middle of a great rebellion against God.  There is a spiritual battle raging.

This is precisely why "faith" is so important.  The conflict is, for the most part, invisible.  We need eyes that help us operate in the invisible realm.  The Bible says "Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16).

Faith is essential for the battle.  If you wander through this world without a studied confidence in God, Satan is already shaping you into a being he can use.  How can I say that?  Because the Bible warns that Satan can do that even with people who have a minimal faith in God.  If you are casually going about your life without even the basics of a God-shaped faith, you're not only damaging your own soul, you will be an unwitting agent for the enemy with your family, those at work and in your neighborhood.  Your belief or unbelief is influencing everyone you touch, in a semi-significant way.

Faith is for the battle - it is not for the tether ball pole or video games.  Satan will constantly challenge your trust in God.  In Luke 8 Jesus interprets one part of the parable of the soils saying, "Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe" (or have faith).

This explains why you can sit down and read the Sunday paper and breeze right through, but trying to concentrate on one short chapter in the Bible feels like a mind-numbing exercise.  Nominal believers seldom bother with the Bible for this reason.  It is too much of a struggle.  If they pick up a Bible their eye lids become two massive weights. 

Satan's hatred for faith explains why secular sophisticates are so uncomfortable with trust in God.  They let you know you're a little out of plumb if you exercise your faith in their presence.  Mike Wallace, on the recent 60 Minutes, belittled President Bush in his interview with Bob Woodward because President Bush believes God is willing to guide him if he can listen properly.  We know it is possible to be deluded into thinking that God is guiding.  Schizophrenics are real.  But most of us have read accounts of Abraham Lincoln on his knees seeking divine guidance in very troubled times.  Just because terrorists have used planes in a very evil way does not stop the rest of us from using them for the good they provide.  Prayer is not just a pious pose.  Is our President automatically schizophrenic because he believes in God and prayer?  That thinking would make us all pretty weird!

Secular sophisticates think faith is defined as "a profession of something that you strongly doubt to be true but wish were true."  It is primarily concerned with a nice after life.  Naturally this is not something that should be used to guide a country or a company or a family.  This is why some politicians bend over backwards to assure the country that their faith will not interfere with how they lead.  That is because their faith is only for show -- to win a few votes from the truly ignorant masses.  They pretend to have gone through "spiritual agony" for the country's good, saying things like "I am personally opposed . . . but support _____."  They find abortion morally reprehensible, but they won't use their leadership influence to oppose it.  Why seek to be a leader if they are that big of a coward?

They forget that everyone has faith and lives by that faith.  An atheist has a faith that there is no God.  Every time you make an important decision it is based on what you believe to be true or not to be true.  Unbelief is a belief that a certain set of claims are false.

It is irrational to think, before the evidence has been studied, that disbelief is a better world view than belief.  But there is a contemporary prejudice in some circles that the person who is doubtful or skeptical is automatically smarter (has gravitas - transliterated into English from Latin).  The facts of the case often are that they have an emotional preference for unbelief because of a lifestyle choice.  These are usually the folks who are the first to call Christians hypocrites while they say one thing and do another.

Unbelievers typically keep the standards for disbelief very low.  They rarely require a reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe (ignore all the evidence for design/designer); they rarely listen to the claims of Jesus (liar or lunatic?); or research the testimony of answered prayer or the ethical claims of Christianity.  For some unreasonable reason an unbeliever is not required to make sense.  Most unbelief today (evolution for example) would be recognized as nothing more than superstition if it were not endorsed by the academic world.

Faith in Jesus is a confidence in the reality of the invisible world as it is described in the Bible.  The five senses say "take what you can touch, taste, handle and enjoy."  Faith has a conviction that these things are good - they are from God - but there is something much better beyond these things:  The Giver!  The faith life is much larger than your audio-visual-tactile life.

Faith in Jesus says the future is more important than the present.  In fact, momentary pleasure, if God has not blessed it, will bring long term pain.  Whereas momentary pain, when it is God blessed, will bring long term wholeness and joy.  The world says, "Why should I refuse the pleasure of the moment for an uncertain future?"  The Christian has confidence to see that the future is not uncertain.  It belongs to God.

God is pleased when we trust Him.  Trust that He knows better how to live this life than we do.  Trust that His revelation about the larger invisible world is true.  Trust that His promises concerning the future are more reliable than yesterday's news.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God."

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