Ruminations on the Nature of Faith

This is a good time to be reading the book of Hebrews, as I have spent a lot of time of late contemplating the nature of faith.  The big move we have talked about and planned for three or four years has been made.  Our beautiful, comfortable house in Krum, which Greg helped build and where we spent nine happy years, no longer belongs to us; another family lives there now.  I feel I am in a bit of a lull, an in-between time; we are still a long ways out from having a working farm, and the work around here is all of the gearing-up type.  Sometimes at night, when I am nearly asleep and my defenses are down, I come suddenly awake with a What have we done? sort of feeling.


This is the time when faith does its stuff.


1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

2  For by it the elders obtained a good report.

3  Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Hebrews 11:1-3



To believe the Bible’s account of creation requires faith, for we must acknowledge that God made the visible out of the invisible.  Prior to God’s speaking the world into existence, a witness couldn’t even have looked around the kitchen and seen the ingredients, so to speak.  The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, states that matter or its energy equivalent cannot be created or destroyed, but only converted from one state to another.  Creation predates that.


To have faith is to believe in more than what is before your eyes.  Something is proposed, and you can’t see it as a finished act.  Maybe you can’t imagine how it can be accomplished at all.  But because of past experience with the one making the claim, you believe.  You take it on authority.


Incidentally, we take things on authority every day.  If we didn’t—if we refused to believe anything for which we did not have direct sensory evidence—we would do very little worth doing, and even most of our thoughts would not be worth the effort.  The efficacy of semiconductor technology and the internal combustion engine, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the location of Portugal—I take all these on authority.  I cannot or will not verify them empirically.


“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided,” said Patrick Henry, “and that is the lamp of experience.  I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.”  The lamp of experience comprehends more than mere sensory input; it includes the perceived trustworthiness of witnesses.  I believe with all my heart that this farming venture is God’s will for our family.  I have believed God in the past and seen him make good on his promises.  I am confident that he will perform again.


Of course, he requires me to act.  Faith is not just sitting on a sofa waiting for God to do party tricks.  I must work—or I may say I am allowed the privilege of work.  That is what makes the process special:  my very own blood, sweat, and tears, marking the accomplishment as mine, making it dear to me.  God lets me do this.  It is a generous and confident artist indeed who allows another hand to make a meaningful mark on his work.


To act in faith means looking a little silly at first.  That’s how it is with every new venture, like learning to play an instrument or speak a foreign language.  You begin to go through the motions of the thing without really knowing how, while the state of accomplishment you hope to achieve exists only as a phantom in your mind.  Your actions are mere rudiments, childish attempts.  This is why most adults are unwilling to learn something new:  they are unwilling to look stupid, even temporarily.  They refuse to accept the indignity of an apprenticeship period.  And so they sit, safe from risk, but brittle, refusing the sap of life which alone can keep them pliant and youthful.


8  By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

9  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

10  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Hebrews 11:8-10



How funny it would be if Greg and I moved the family to a populated area where we owned no property—say, Gatlinburg, just because I like it—and claimed that the land would one day belong to our descendants, and proceeded to live there in our pop-up camper for the rest of our lives, through four generations, never buying a single scrap of real estate besides a burial plot!  We would be local oddballs.  And that is in essence what Abraham did.  (The difference between a nutcase and a man of faith lies in whether God actually called him.)


Faith by its very nature involves uncertainty—by which I mean not a mental state of doubt, but merely the lack of that certainty which comes only after the thing proposed has been accomplished.  But you ignore that uncertainty.  You act as if you could see the thing in its completion.  By exercising faith, you demonstrate confidence in the trustworthiness of God.  And the exercise of faith is really the only opportunity for you to do that.  You can praise God for his goodness after he’s already done things for you, but faith belongs to the time when he’s promised you something but hasn’t yet brought it about.  You believe something will be so, for no other reason than because God said he would make it so.


So this time of uncertainty is really an excellent opportunity for us to show what we’re made of.  The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity.  It’s like a surfer yearning after a big wave, or a horse spoiling for a race, or a Border collie so eager to show his stuff in the Sheep Dog Trials that he breaks free of his leash and runs into the arena before his time.  That should be the attitude of the Christian faced with any trial sent by God.  Just as the faith of a child in his father’s word reflects favorably on the father’s character, so the faith of the Christian brings glory to God, and puts the devil to shame.


A difficulty raiseth the spirit of a great man.  He hath a mind to wrestle with it and give it a fall.  A man’s mind must be very low if the difficulty doth not make part of his pleasure.

—Lord Halifax

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