Friday, January 8, 2010

No faith? An excuse, but not a good one.

Have you ever heard someone bemoan that they just didn't have any faith? Or not enough faith to do something they knew they needed to do, or to stop doing something they knew was wrong?

Usually, it comes in the form of an excuse for bad behavior or an excuse for doubting. Or in the circumstance of a Christian who is struggling to believe he or she is loved by God or is forgiven for some past sin.
I've been rereading one of my all time favorite books lately: Hannah Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. The well-worn copy I'm reading belonged to my grandmother, Phoebe Kraus, and was passed to my mother, Mildred. I remember as a boy seeing my mother sitting in a chair, colored pencil in hand, underlining the words in a little green book and I was intrigued. Over the next few weeks I read the book for the first time, concentrating on the words highlighted by my mom and soon understood her enthusiasm. Smith was a Quaker and spoke in practical terms to regular people, not to intellectuals in the seminaries of the day. She wrote of the surrendered Christian life, a life of trusting instead of striving, a life of peace, where good works are the result of gratitude and not out of a mentality of working for salvation. In Smith's world of a gospel of grace, she experienced the "get to" rather than the "have to" of Christian service. She compares the life of bondage under the law (felt by many well-meaning Christians to be their cross to bear) to the life of liberty under the true Gospel. The life under the law was characterized by the word "if." The life under the Gospel is characterized by the word, "therefore."
Instead of thinking, "If I do this, He will love me more," we rest in the peace of knowing the "therefore of the Gospel." Think Romans 5: "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God..."
When she gets to a discussion of problem areas, Smith addresses this issue of not having faith. People are known to complain, "Oh I wish I could know that God really loves me, but I just don't have any faith."
Smith dismisses this wimpy attitude as a misunderstanding of reality. Oh really, you don't have any faith? What about when someone serves you a meal in a restaurant? You don't refuse to eat because you fear the food may have been poisoned, do you? Of course not! You enjoy a meal, having not seen it in preparation. That, Smith points out, takes faith. Or what of public transportation. You don't refuse a train or bus ride because you fear the conductor or driver will commit an intentional error. When you sit in a chair, you are showing faith: faith that the carpenter knew what he or she was doing when they constructed the furniture, faith that the chair will support you without allowing you to collapse in a heap on the floor. In any number of a thousand circumstances through the day, we reveal that we do indeed trust others. Smith's point: we do (you do!) walk in faith everyday. Yeah, pretty much every moment.
Her suggestion is that when we find ourselves doubting the character of God surrounding an event in our lives, we need to drill down to the problems core and dare to admit it out loud so that in the hearing of it, we will be shocked as to the real horribleness of the problem. Instead of saying, "I find it hard to believe that God is working on my behalf or that God loves me, because I have no faith," say, "I have no faith....IN GOD."
Most Christians have enough knowledge of the character of God that the statement of lack of faith in God begins to sound ludicrous. The sad fact is that by the way we act, coddling our precious anxieties about our future, feeling guilty for past sins, or failing to enter into the peace God has promised does reflect a misconception of the character of God himself. Perhaps mentally, we give assent to the greatness of God, his ability to handle our small problems (which because of our improper perspective, seem huge), or our sin, but in our anxiety and guilt, our doubts about his character are revealed.
Smith's suggests that we all have faith. That's not the problem at all. Every day, in almost every circumstance, we reveal our ability to trust others. The tragedy is found in our inability to trust God.
So what's the cure? We need a proper understanding about God's character. His love, his grace, his cross need to explode in our thinking. We need to move our focus from our problems and our sin to the one who gave his life for us to the glory of the Father. Repentance of our unbelief may be a proper first step. Then, go to the Bible and set your will fully on the side of the revealed character of our God.
The next time I am tempted to use my lack of faith as an excuse to hold onto my pitiful life of anxiety, I think I'll try Smith's technique: admit to myself that I'm really doubting the powerful, awesome, loving God. Maybe it will seem so ludicrous that it will shock my soul back onto the right path!
Do yourself a favor. If you haven't worn out a copy of The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, make it a New Year's plan to take the advice from a seasoned saint with an understanding of applying the rubber of the Christian faith to the road of life's experience.
Until next time....
Harry Lee