Monday, March 30, 2020

Not Enough Belief to Have Faith?

Whether it’s the Coronavirus (COVID-19, if you prefer), a major weather event, financial upheaval, an unexpected health reversal, or some other form of adversity, we all hate a crisis. We like things to be going smoothly, when we feel in control, when changes come about only by our own choosing. But we detest when “control” is suddenly wrested from our grip and we find ourselves at the mercy of our circumstances.

But there’s one benefit from going through a crisis: It reveals where our trust, our confidence, our faith truly lie.

There have been times when I’ve gotten into spiritual discussions with friends and family members and, after a while, they say something like, “Hey, I believe in God. Let’s leave it at that!” At other times, on TV or in a movie, we watch a key character going through a difficult time be advised, “You just have to have faith.”

So, is that all we need? Simply believing in God – whoever that happens to be to you? What about faith? Exactly what is it we’re supposed to have faith in – fate, good luck, serendipity, karma? Faith in…faith?

I believe this parasail could take me
aloft, but I wouldn't have enough
faith to get into it.
Because as we see in the Bible, belief doesn’t necessarily equate to saving, transforming faith. For instance, the apostle James wrote, “You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19, Berean Study Bible). In other words the apostle was cautioning his readers, “You claim to believe in God. Big deal! The workers of evil believe in Him, too, but you won’t be seeing any of them in heaven!”

I think of someone years ago who seemed to think I was being judgmental, even intolerant, when her claim to believe in God didn’t cause me to stop talking about Jesus Christ and the necessity to receive Him as Savior and Lord. I wasn’t judging, but as James pointed out, simple intellectual acceptance that God exists doesn’t amount to faith.

In the same passage, he wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do…. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (James 2:18-20). Then James proceeded to cite biblical examples of people who acted upon their faith in the Lord, even in seemingly impossible situations: Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar, and a prostitute named Rahab, of all people, who concealed Israelite spies scouting out the city of Jericho. Both Abraham and Rahab didn’t just believe – they possessed faith that drove them to action.

Look at it this way: We all know that airplanes can fly, even if we don’t fully understand how. We might even go to an airport, where planes fly in and out. There’s no problem believing that, even if we’ve never flown personally. But suppose, once we get to the airport, someone says, “Here, I’ve bought you a ticket. I want you to fly with me to Boston (or Chicago, or Dallas).” 

Suddenly, there’s a test – is there enough belief to become faith by actually boarding the plane? Because, whether those of us who are familiar with flying realize it or not, this requires an act of faith: Trusting implicitly in the integrity of the aircraft’s design and construction, the skill of the crew, even that the plane has been properly maintained and fueled for the trip.

What if the novice flyer said, “No way! I’m not getting on that plane!” “But you do believe it can fly, don’t you?” “Well, yeah, but you’re not getting me on that thing to go anywhere!” “Why not?” “It could crash!”

In a similar way – but far more profound – at one point or another, we must decide whether “I believe in God” will become, “I am committing my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in Him to guide my life, working in my life and making me into the person He wants me to be.”

Getting back to the crisis, staring at the chaos and realizing we don’t understand what’s happening, or what can be done to fix it, we’re challenged to dig deep and determine where our faith lies. Do we feel overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, our emotions surging to the brink of panic? Or do we turn to the Lord, not just in intellectual belief but also with faith, the confident assurance and expectation that He is faithful and will fulfill His promises for His children?

The Scriptures remind us of this in many places, but I particularly like what we read in the eighth chapter of Romans. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:18-25). 

In times of crisis and uncertainty, do we turn to the God of the Bible with hope and expectation, even though we don’t know how He’s going to work through our circumstances, or do we succumb to worry, fear and desperation? Every once in a while, it’s good to re-examine ourselves by taking this test. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

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