Until about 3 months ago there was a word that I had all but eliminated from my Christian vocabulary. I hated the word faith.
I know, seems like kind of a biggie.
I hadn't always hated it; in high school I was all about some faith. I had a thin silver ring with the word faith hammered into it that I wore around my thumb because I was funky like that. Around that time I memorized Hebrews 11:1 which says,
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
I thought that was amazing - that I could be certain of something I could not see.
But as time went on I got a little bit jaded. I heard the word "faith" tossed around a lot in negative and confusing ways. Like someone would ask a really intelligent question about creation/evolution and the answer would be "Well, you just have to have faith..."
Or someone would be heartbroken over a tragedy, either personal or global, and a Christian response would be, "Have faith; everything happens for a reason..."
Or someone would have a legitimate concern about their family's financial or relational well-being, and the response would be, "Man, you gotta have faith that God is going to take care of it..."
I'm sorry but that use of the word faith just doesn't fly with me.
I always found myself thinking (and still do),
"...There must be an intelligent Christian response to evolution: an acceptance or a rebuttal, but it mustn't ignore facts."
And, "...Yeah, but sometimes the reason is because the world is just messed up."
And, "...But what if He's taking care of it by giving you the ability to work a second job? Or apologize?"
Somewhere along the way the word faith got associated with not thinking. It became the spiritual conversation-ender: "You may investigate this far, but no further. From this point on, you've just got to have faith." It got associated with the incorrect belief that if you just keep walking forward, everything is going to be okay - and in turn, people of faith started to look a lot like lemmings wandering ignorantly and blissfully off a cliff.
Faith became a dirty Christian word to me for a while. I couldn't dispose of it altogether, because of those pesky verses about how without faith it's impossible to please God, and how Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness and blah blah blah. (The sticky thing is, the Bible claims to be inspired and inerrant: so you either believe it or you don't. If it's inerrant, then all of it matters, and if it's not, then how do you know which parts are right? You can't just pick and choose. Christianity is by nature an all-or-nothing thing; Jesus wasn't shy about that. The extreme nature of Christianity is why it's so important to use your brain. And that's why this particular use of the word faith bothered me so much. I refuse to not use my brain.)
During this time I never ceased to believe in God, or in his goodness and omnipotence. I talked eagerly about believing that God is who He says He is, and that He can do what He says He can do. I talked eagerly about trusting God and about His faithfulness - about how His promises are as good as if they have already happened. I talked eagerly about surrendering to God, following Him with the whole of your life.
Belief, trust, surrender, yes. But not faith - faith was a dirty word for people who didn't want to engage tough questions or face reality.
Those were my (very honest) feelings about faith for nearly five years.
This year, though, God has been reworking my understanding of what faith really is.
He has been redeeming it.
I've been reminded that real faith, the faith that counts, requires brains, action, and incredible bravery.
Brains: In The Complete Green Letters, Miles J. Stanford writes,
"True faith must be based solely on scriptural facts, for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Unless our faith is established on facts, it is no more than conjecture, superstition, speculation, or presumption."
"Alexander R. Hay adds to this by saying, 'Faith must be based upon certainty. There must be definite knowledge of God's purpose and will. For faith is not a force that we exercise or a striving to believe that something shall be, thinking that if we believe hard enough it will come to pass.' That may be positive thinking, but certainly not biblical faith."
I love those last two statements. Let us not do faith the great disservice of equating it with positive thinking, or worse, lack of thinking. Faith is not turning away from thinking for yourself, but turning away from trusting in yourself.
Action: Trust is believing something confidently. Faith is living something confidently.
Trust can be stationary; faith cannot. Faith is trust in motion.
Faith is leaning, with all your weight, on the pillars of truth you claim to believe. If your pillars of truth turn out to be untrue, you fall. (I repeat: faith requires brains.) To use the age-old analogy, trust is believing that a tight rope walker can push a wheelbarrow over Niagra Falls. Faith is getting in the wheelbarrow.
"Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:17)
To leverage your entire life on the unseen is risky, to say the least. Amena Brown, one of my favorite modern poets, says it this way:
"It's tough to lay your oh-so-visible life into seemingly invisible hands. But at some point we all end up in the place where Abraham had to stand. Offering only hopes with little to no hope of recovering what we think we stand to lose. Amazingly, God never takes away our ability to choose."
Faith requires incredible bravery.
Real, biblical faith, the kind that pleases God - the kind that magnifies Him, glorifies Him, and makes Him look large in our lives - requires enormous courage. It is downright audacious.
It is Abraham, marching up the side of a mountain with his precious son to make a sacrifice on an alter - with no lamb. It is Abraham knowing that God promised him this child, that God made declarations about this child's descendants, and that, somehow, God also told him to march up a mountain with his son instead of a lamb.
Faith can be terrifying and confusing, too.
Faith can co-exist with fear. It can co-exist with frustration, anger, and sadness. It is apathy, ambivalence, and laziness that faith does not tolerate. Because apathy, ambivalence, and laziness stand squarely in the way of walking bravely forward.
The beautiful thing is, just like Abraham, when I live faith, I set myself up for miracles. My reckless obedience allows the supernatural to be displayed in my life. Like a ram caught in the brambles next to the alter, at the very last fear-filled moment. Miracle of miracles.
I would venture to say that sacrificing that ram was one of the most worshipful moments of Abraham's life. I would bet that he was overcome with emotion as he reflected on God's provision, God's promises and His faithfulness to fulfill them on time, and God's love for him and his son. I would bet that Abraham had a moment of intimacy with God, a glimpse of the very heart of God that he never could have experienced had he not taken those faith-filled steps up the mountain.
I want to experience God like that, on the road, not just in a book.
Real faith is gutsy, brave, honest, smart, and true. All the things I want to be.
I love faith.