I’ve been asking myself recently: what is faith?
As a missionary, I often feel like I should have a great answer to that. I can’t tell you how many people have commented something like, ‘I wish I had your kind of faith.’ There are some days where I feel like I have this faith thing figured out, where I find myself trusting the Lord. More often than not, I find myself begging for additional faith in my life.
As I’ve studied the character of God in Scripture, especially in the Law, I have come to realize the amazing juxtaposition of His character.
God is other than me in so many ways, but my favorite is in His attributes I can’t reconcile. Somehow God is love and wrath, justice and mercy, peacemaker and conqueror, forgiver and avenger.
I can usually be one thing at a time; I can have wrath, but I almost never do it with love...I can be just, but I become hard-hearted...I can be gentle, but I lose my ability to stand fast for righteousness. Yet somehow, God is all these things at once. Somehow in God’s nature these things aren’t in any sort of conflict; they are beautifully matched and intertwined. That is something I have been begging for God to bring into my life. I want that amazing balance in my own nature that so reflects God’s.
I think faith is something that is a similar conundrum. My favorite example is from Daniel chapter 3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego have refused to worship the giant idol of the king and are facing the fiery furnace. They look to the king and answer his question of who could save them from the flames and say:
I see three levels to their faith here. First, they tell the king that God is ABLE to save them. This is the faith I see most often in my life. I can declare with confidence that God is ABLE to handle whatever is in my life. I know that in my core and believe it fully. This is the kind of faith I think most Christians are able to claim with confidence -- God is ABLE.
It is the other statements that I pray to see grow in my life. They move on to say that God WILL deliver them. Often this is where our faith is tested. Sure, God is ABLE to do something, but I often find myself doubting if He WILL. God can deliver me from this constricting sin in my life, but do I believe He will? God can heal my terminally ill father, but do I believe He will? God can save the soul of the staunchest unbeliever, but do I think He will?
Do I pray like He will?
Often I don’t, not because I doubt God’s ability, but because I doubt myself. I doubt my ability to finish the statement these three made: BUT IF NOT. Somehow, these three could say God WILL deliver us in total confidence and add BUT IF NOT in just as much confidence. I don’t know how to pray a prayer like, “God, You will heal this sick person, but if not, You are just as faithful.” I don’t have the capacity to have complete confidence in the “will” and also the “but if not.” I often pray things like, ‘If You could, would you maybe do this, but if You don’t I guess that’s ok too.’
The prayer of total faith in the "will" and the "but if not" seems as impossible to my mind as the love and wrath of God’s nature. However, many of the authors of Scripture lived their lives in the amazing balance of those things. They had such trust in God that they could approach His throne with total trust that He would do as they asked, but if not then it was the best.
Even as Paul prepares to go to Spain and Rome, we never see him accuse God as those plans aren’t fulfilled. Even as Abraham takes Isaac to the altar to kill his beloved son, we see him believing that God would save him, but if not he could raise him from the dead. We see David singing praises even as his family and kingdom are torn away from him.
As I consider these things, I’m challenged by what I’d have done if faced with a fiery furnace. Perhaps I could have walked in knowing God would save me, but could I also have truthfully said, ‘but if not I will not worship false things’? As we see God’s amazing character and goodness, we can be confident in His ability and willingness, but we can also rest safely in Him even when the ‘but if not’s’ of life come along.
As I reflect more and more on the idea of what that kind of faith would look like in my own life, I find myself begging along with a father pleading for his daughter’s life, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” I’m thankful that God is faithful even when I am faithless. And I am thankful that He gives me opportunities and grace to grow my faith, even when I don’t know how.