God is always faithful. God keeps his covenant with us, but our faith is not always firm. How do I know this? Two examples come easily to mind. One is the Hebrews remain. All the ancient cultures and empires that were once great are now gone, but the Jews remain. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persian, Greek, and Roman empires are all dust, but the chosen people remain. God’s covenant remains.
The other example is more personal. I know that God is faithful because when I do his will, I thrive, and when I turn from his will, I suffer. Let me explain.
I hate Ferris Wheels
I love roller coasters and Tilt-a-Whirls. I have taken passage on the Pirate Ship and the Kamikaze. I have cheerfully ridden the Log flume, Fish Pipe and Water Slide. I bravely rode the Tumble Bug, Hydro, and Octopus, I have willingly strapped myself into the Wipe Out, Spin Out, Power Surge, Gravitron, Fireball and Fun slide, but I am not going on another Ferris Wheel. UH-UH, no way. I hate Ferris Wheels, but it’s not because I don’t have faith in them.
Faith, along with Love and Forgiveness, is among the most fundamental commands of Christianity. In one sense, faith refers to the way we understand and articulate the human relationship to the divine. We speak about the Christian faith, or the Jewish Faith, or The Buddhist faith or the Islamic faith, or the Hindu faith, or the atheistic faith.
For many years, I took the word faith for granted. I assumed it meant that if you had faith you believed without analysis or proof, you simply: “took it on faith.” This is the common understanding of faith, and it is very much alive in the world. This is what the world thinks of faith:
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true” – Nietzsche.
“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true” – Mark Twain
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile” – Kurt Vonnegut
“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason” Benjamin Franklin
I have a great deal of respect for all those men, but about faith, they appear to be ignorant; they are mistaken, they are wrong…that is, they are wrong if they are referring to faith as it is understood in the Bible.
The word faith occurs in 458 verses
I read every one of those verses in the New and Old Testament. Not one of them assumes that faith is blind; on the contrary, in the Bible, those who have faith have their eyes wide open and are doing something. What do the biblical authors mean when they use the word faith? They mean: My words and my actions are alike. You can count on me. I keep my promise.
The author of Genesis uses the word faith ten times. In six of those occurrences, he uses the same construction: “he walked faithfully.” When the Bible speaks of Noah walking faithfully, it means that he did what was asked, he built the ark. There is no question that, in Genesis, Noah did what he was told. This is how faith is used in the Old Testament. If one is faithful, one does what he says he will do, accomplishes what is asked, and acts in accordance to the will of God. Every single time the word faith occurs in the Old Testament, it has a very concrete and practical application. When the biblical authors use the word faith, they are talking about following through or not following through. The person of faith is trustworthy because he does what is asked or what he says she will do.
In one of the most important moments in the Star Wars trilogy, Luke is training to be a Jedi. He is trying to lift his spaceship with “the force.” He is failing. His mentor, Yoda is exhorting him. Luke says: “I’m trying.” Yoda replies: “do or do not, there is no try.” The faithful do.
I used to hate roller coasters
But one day, I decided to give up and trust. I let faith rule my mind and now I love them. But I am stubborn. I refuse to give up my fear of Ferris wheels. I refuse to let reason rule and have faith. What have you refused to give up?
In one of my favorite gospel passages, known as “the faith of the centurion,” Jesus praises a Roman officer, a commander of men, not the sort of man given to flights of fancy. He has asked Jesus to heal his servant. The centurion has heard of Jesus, heard of his healing others and asks Jesus to help. Jesus says that he will come to the house and see the man. The centurion replies that he knows that if Jesus only says the word, his servant will be healed. Jesus replies (Mathew 8:10)
“I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”
Now you might say that the centurion had “blind faith” but then you would be wrong. The centurion heard of Jesus and what he was doing. He had evidence for his trust. Unlike others, he had faith.
One of the most remarkable things about the gospel accounts is that, despite the constant evidence, the disciples seem to always need more proof. “Oh, ye of little faith.” Is a phrase Jesus uses often, scolding those near to him; and to those he heals he often says: “your faith has healed you.” The disciples lose faith despite the evidence. The healed have faith because they saw and believed. People can and do argue over whether the miracles happened, but to argue the construction of the passages is nonsensical. Jesus is not asking his followers to have faith without evidence, on the contrary, he is saying “believe and act on what you have seen.”
Letters make up most of the New Testament
They were written after the first-hand evidence had gone. The physical Jesus had left the earth. When faith is used in the letters, it refers in some way to having faith in the truth of Jesus and what he promised. When the letter writers use the word faith, they are using in it one sense to mean Christianity, as in Ephesians 4:13 where Paul exhorts:
“Until we reach unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Or 1st Timothy 6:10:
“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
When faith is not used as a synonym for Christianity, Paul and the other letter writers use faith to describe what people are or are not doing, specifically whether or not they are doing what Christ asked. What did Christ ask? What do we do to follow him? It’s very clear. If we are faithful, we are loving God and loving our neighbor. To do these things is to have faith in Christ.
The letter to the Hebrews contains the only definition of the word faith in the Bible (Hebrews 11:1):
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Faith contains substance and evidence, and yet it also contains things hoped for and things not seen. Is this a paradox? I submit that it is not. I have faith in all sorts of things I cannot see: tomorrow’s sunrise, subatomic particles, daffodils rising after winter, my mom. I don’t see these things but I have much evidence that they do or will exist.
I hate Ferris Wheels
Not because I don’t have faith in them. I have faith in the substance of mechanical engineering; I have faith in the reality of electrical engineering. I know by the evidence that thousands of people have safely returned from their Ferris Wheel journey. But when I am on that wheel and it begins to roll upwards, I begin to lose my faith; emotion and imagination overwhelm my faith. Even though there is no substance or evidence, no rational reason, as that wheel tops the sky, I KNOW that the bar that holds me it is going to let go, even though I have checked it many times. My mind is full of imaginings of what might be, my emotions take over, and I fear. So I don’t ride Ferris Wheels, because I lose reason; emotion and imagination steal my faith.
As for me, what do I know of faith? This is what I know.
- 100% of the time, when I have kept faith with what Jesus asks of me, I see better days and I do better things.
- 100% of the time, when I let imagination and fear control me I suffer.
That, for me, is good evidence. As for substance, this is what I have witnessed:
- I have seen cruel and brutal men become kind and noble,
- I have seen the hateful become loving,
- I have seen selfishness give way to compassion,
- I have seen broken lives transform into whole and useful ones,
- I have seen the sick in spirit become well.
I have seen this not once but many, many times, all by walking in faithful obedience to what Christ asks us to do.
Now I know most of you have not strayed so far from the path of faith as those I just spoke of. Perhaps you have only paused along the way. Perhaps you are only a few steps from the path. Perhaps you are wondering if you would like to go at all, but if you look to your heart… whether you are one step away or one thousand… I think you will find that there is something you have not been faithful in. There is someplace where fear and imagination has stolen your faith, and I invite you to turn, get back on the path, put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters and walks with God.
Rev. Chris Jones
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