When I think of faith, the opening words of Hebrews 11 come predictably to mind,
or in an older translation
and along with these words, comes the feeling that I’m not very good at this, that I lack the certainty and sense of substance that ring through these lines.
I feel more at home with the father of the demon-possessed boy who cries out (after Jesus rebukes him for beginning his plea with “If…”)
Paraphrasing Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, in many basic parts of everyday life I “continue to be ready to act as though [ Jesus’ message ] were not true, even though in [ my ] conscious affirmations [ I ] accept it.”
If I’m worrying about the future, if I’m focusing on what other people think, if I’m forgetting those who are hungry or in danger, if I ignore the needs of those who need me, if I fret as though everything depends on my ability to get things right, I’m acting as though I don’t believe what I say I do.
The two other bits about faith that readily spring to mind after the 11th chapter of Hebrews are the ones that say it’s of “greater worth than gold” and James’s no-holds-barred assertion that “faith without works is dead.”
James calls our bluff and asks us to put our money where our mouth is. He tells us bluntly that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without deeds is dead.
This recollection of death, draws my mind to Jesus’ words to his disciples before the crucifixion. He has spoken to them of his coming betrayal and has also shared strong words of comfort, and he goes on to remind them that,
That image of the dead branch, withered and dry, is a vivid example of what I am on my own. In my obstinacy and pride, I don’t want to believe it, but left to myself, I know how wrong things can go.
This failure to abide in Christ, is it the cause or the result of my lack of faith? Or perhaps a bit of both? A cycle that feeds on itself?
As part of a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year project (in which I’m lagging a bit behind…), I’ve been reading large swaths of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the latter stories of Kings and Chronicles. For the first time in my readings of these texts I’m noticing this refrain,
And then they will know that I am the Lord.
Prophets again and again call for repentance and predict plagues, invasion, and deportation if there’s no change of heart. It doesn’t seem to jive with the God who is love.
With this refrain in mind, however, the disasters come not as wrathful punishment, but rather as instruments to lead people back to faith because it is something they so desperately need.
Now, I don’t want to get into controversies about God causing evil or using evil or other such murky territory (and certainly faith is no magic cloak to ward off misfortune), but what I am clearly reminded of is my need, as deep as ever it was for those in ancient times, to stay connected to the vine, to let the sap flow.
And maybe, when I read Peter’s reminder that faith is of greater worth than gold, I can let go of the idea that I need to hoard it, to hold onto it greedily, to be afraid of losing it or not having enough of this precious commodity…
…perhaps instead I can learn to treasure it as something I truly can’t live without, as my connection to life.