Let’s take a stab at a definition of faith…
Faith is the act of awareness by which I come to apprehend God in, with, and under the concrete circumstances of my life, leading me to glory by paths I do not understand and do not need to understand to experience as transformative.
As such, it involves at least three things:
- A mental assent to the idea that, as Hebrews 11 says, God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him
- An entrusting of my whole being to that same God
- A willingness to partner with God, to be engaged with God, to be submitted to God in whatever it is God is doing
Something like that I think is what we might call robust biblical faith.
For the longest time I think saw faith solely as an act of mental exertion or soul-force that accomplished things that would not otherwise be accomplished. Situations that needed to be rectified, wrongs that needed to be righted, circumstances that needed to be changed, which on the merely human level could not be made right were prime candidates for change by the act of faith.
This, of course, is biblical too. Faith moves mountains. Jesus said so. But what when the mountain does not move?
That is when the more robust definition of faith I’ve just ventured has to kick in. For as many times as the exertion of my faith has changed things… for as many times as I’ve seen miraculous healings and intractable situations suddenly break loose (and I’ve seen lots of them)… I’ve also endured many winters of waiting.
This used to bother me. To the extent that I’ve grown in faith, it bothers me less – although it never ceases to be difficult. The wisdom of Kallistos Ware’s words constantly challenges me. He writes:
…it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. (The Orthodox Way)
God – not “the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder.” I love that.
I think the longer I walk with Jesus, the more aware I am that I am – you are – we, all of us are – at every single moment of our lives plunged into an unfathomable mystery, enclosed inside the wondrous and inscrutable activity of the Triune God, the Artist of our salvation… and that every moment therefore holds power for new and deeper transformation, for the chiseling away our egos, the turning inside-out of our fears, the quieting of our unruly desires.
The person of faith believes that… and then plunges themselves once more into the mystery, reaching out for God, apprehending God, being changed by the purifying fire that is their actual life.
Part of what this means is that we do ourselves and those around us a great disservice when we live at the surface of reality, concerning ourselves only with whatever “presenting issue” happens to be foremost at the moment. The loss of job, the loss of health, the loss of happiness… forks in the road, career crises, family situations…
The goal can never simply be to “fix.” I say “simply” because finding a new job is a good thing. Recovering health is a good thing. Coming back into possession of happiness and a sense of well-being is a good thing. Clarity, a meaningful career, a healed and reconciled family… good, good, good.
But if we live only at the surface, we will spend our lives leveraging both our energy and our faith to constantly manipulate our circumstances, and miss the gifts that come to us when we yield to the deep invitation of the Spirit inside the circumstances.
As a pastor who often counsels people in hard situations, I think that I have done my best work when I have steadfastly refused the temptation to offer easy answers or to fix. The most satisfying and, I believe, helpful work I’ve done is work that helps people ask the more fundamental questions…
…who is God in the midst of this for me? where, as a person destined for glory in Christ Jesus, is he taking me? who is he inviting me to be now that I could not be before? where is Good Friday and Easter here, and how is this circumstance an invitation to enter into both the theologia crucis and the theologia gloria? what does it look like for me to say “yes” God here…?
I often will hold people in that space – the space of questions – for what must feel like an unaccountably long amount of time. I do that because others have done it for me. Being held in that space is what is required for a deeper perception of the mystery and wonder of God to really dawn on us.
God, it turns out, is plenty capable of righting the situations. I’ve found that time and again. He will triumph. Just a few mustard seeds will do. But will we be changed from glory to glory through it all? Will he get deeper possession of us? Will he make saints out of us?
That’s the real question. Always.