Faith is a mysterious thing. It wasn’t always so, when I was a kid. Back then (I’m still a big kid in some ways), like so many things, it just was. Growing up in a strong Christian home, believing in God was like believing in the air. I didn’t always give a lot of thought to God, but I always knew He was there, even if I couldn’t see Him. Back then, it took more faith to believe that I would one day actually be as old as 18 than it took to believe in God.
But the older I get and the more people I meet who struggle with their faith or who have lost or who have never had faith, the stranger this thing called faith becomes. Sometimes I wonder if God really does exist or if I just grew up believing in Him and haven’t really grown up yet. But I never seriously entertain such thoughts (though I know some Christians do seriously struggle in this way). I try to imagine what my life would be like without my faith in God, and the answer is “I don’t know,” because He has so intertwined my entire life with His that nothing would make sense without Him.
How strange, though, to have created such a life, all based on faith. I haven’t put my fingers in His side or in His hands, and I’ve had no theophanies of Him. He hasn’t appeared to me in a dream or spoken to me from a burning bush. And yet I not only believe that God exists but I believe that He has spoken clearly enough for me to be constantly re-arrange my life based on what He says.
And so faith is a strange mystery to me and at the same time is the environment that I live and breathe in.
But this faith is not an easily quantifiable thing. It’s hard to say how much faith a person has, and yet it is possible to understand that few, if any, of us has enough. There seem to be degrees of faith, and I’m zealous to have greater faith. In order to do this, I have to know more about this strange thing called faith and have a better idea of the degree of faith that it’s possible for humans to have.
And so I see in Hebrews 11 not only a static verbal definition of faith but also a living, human definition of a dynamic faith in action. In fact, I believe it’s impossible to simply “have faith,” as if it’s a substance. Faith, like love, is a relationship, which means that it’s dynamic and living and must live in action. As you’ve no doubt discovered I’m fond of saying: “Faith = faithfulness.”
The writer of Hebrews famously defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (verse 10). Faith is believing in and hoping for things that don’t have tangible, sensory evidence, and believing to the point that action is taken upon this belief. After all, we don’t consider it faith if someone thinks there’s a good chance that God exists but then acts as if He doesn’t. I don’t consider it faith if someone says he believes God exists and then acts as if He doesn’t. Faith in the Bible is never just a mere intellectual assent to God’s existence – that’s a distortion of faith that came in relatively late, after the Reformation and with the Enlightenment (or “Endarkenment” as I like to call it).
This faith begins with a faith that God IS, or exists (verse 6). The faith of some stops here, but this is not enough. True faith also believes that the worlds were framed by the Word of God and that the things that are seen were made by something unseen. This requires greater faith, but it’s still not enough. Faith must come to God (verse 6) and ultimately, to be true faith, must please God (verse 5).
And this is where faith becomes more mysterious and wonderful and real. True faith must please God, but to please God, the faithful one must not only have faith that God exists but that God has revealed Himself in a certain way, spoken through His Word, and communicated what He is like and what He desires from us. And then true faith acts upon these beliefs. This is the point of the writer of Hebrews.
Enoch wasn’t translated into God’s presence merely because He believed that some kind of god existed: he did not see death because He pleased God. How? By a deep and living faith in Him, and by diligently seeking Him, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” and we must not only believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, but we must also actively seek Him. And this is why it’s such a tragedy that we accept such puny, mere intellectual belief, in the existence of God, even the God of the Bible, and call it “faith.” True faith is a faith that seeks God and in truly seeking Him pleases Him.
Abel sought God and discovered that animal sacrifices pleased God, while Cain did not seek God or find out what pleased Him. Faith, we could say, is finding out what pleases God and then doing it (Ephesians 5:10). Noah sought God and found out that building an ark, even when it had never rained or flooded before and even though he probably looked like a fool in doing it (think Bill Cosby). And how did He know what pleased God? God told him what to do, and “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:22).
By faith, Abraham obeyed when God told him that it pleased Him for Abraham to leave his homeland and extended family behind and go wherever God told him, even though he didn’t know where he was going (verse 8).
And what about us, those of us who haven’t heard the direct voice of God telling us to go build an ark or go another land? We have received even better promises than they did, and so we should be even more highly motivated. They only saw the promises from afar off. But we have Jesus Christ, who is the Promise and the Promised Land.
And we have the commandments of God. We have God’s inspired Word, telling us all the most important things that we must believe and must do. We have clear commandments from God. We know the content of our faith: it is to believe in Jesus Christ and all that God has said He is and has done for us. And it’s to believe in Him to the point that we obey His commandments, just as did Cain, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus.
Here is where faith becomes most wonderfully mysterious: that by something as simple as believing God when He speaks to you and obeying when He has told you something, you can please the God who created the worlds out of nothing and the God who created you in His image. He isn’t asking you to perform some Herculean tasks such as holding up the entire world or capturing Cerberus, the guard dog of Hades, (although He has asked me to clean an Augean stable or two!) All He asks is that you obey Him, when He asks you to do the things that are pleasing to Him and which also happen to be for your good and the good of the people around you.
When we are first dating or courting someone, we go to great lengths to find out what it is that pleases them, and then we try to fulfill these very things so that we can please the one with whom we are infatuated. But how much more should we go to extraordinary lengths to find out what pleases God. Actually, it’s very easy, because He’s told us. We should therefore go to extraordinary lengths to actually do those things which are pleasing to Him.
I wish I had more time to talk about how it is that we can venture further into faith and begin listening to God so intently that we can hear not just His general commandments that are found in His Word but can also begin to hear His specific will for us each day. But of these things we cannot now speak in detail, and that will have to wait until another day.
Prayer: Father, I confess that I have not believed You or obeyed You as I should. I believe You but ask You that You help me with that part of me that still doesn’t believe or still doesn’t obey. By the obedience and righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, give me faith, obedience, and make me pleasing in Your sight today. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Listen carefully today to one specific thing you “think” God may be calling you to do. Faithfully do it, and make a note of what the result is.
Resolution: I resolve to consider how strong my faith is. I further resolve to strengthen my faith in one way today by determining to obey God in one specific way or to read His Word more intentionally today, looking for His commandments, or by faithfully asking Him to increase my faith.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day