Faith (part 2)

In Luke 18, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Too often, we Christians have used this passage and others like it to excuse an unthinking sort of faith, a sort of theological laziness.

Now, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone is a theologian.  We all have thoughts and ideas about God, we all are able to examine the Scriptures, we all have something to add to the discussion.  And, when Jesus tells us to be like little children, I don’t think he’s saying that we should resign ourselves to a childlike faith that is totally dependent on the authority of others.

Rather, I think that Jesus is getting at the necessity of being able to love and accept love freely, as children do.  A young child does not question whether they deserve the love of their parents.  In a healthy relationship, they simply experience the love of their parents.  Young children, though they may strive for independence, are fully dependent on the loving care of others.  In the same way, you and I are invited to come to a place of childlike dependence on God, experiencing his love and loving God and others in return.

I don’t think we’re encouraged to be content with a childlike faith.  Rather, as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15, we should “grow up into Christ in all things.”  Or, as we read in Second Thessalonians 1:3, we ought to thank God when our faith is growing more and more, and the love we have for one another is increasing.

Just because we see through a glass darkly doesn’t mean we should stop trying to see more clearly.  Just because we only know in part doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything.  We should earnestly seek to know and experience more of God, loving Him more deeply, and following Him more closely.

The ability to reason and draw conclusions is a God-given gift.  And I think God finds joy when he sees us examining our beliefs and seeking to understand why we believe what we do.  I love that we don’t have to check our brains at the door to be Christians.  When Jesus told us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” I think he opened the door for us to approach our faith critically and reasonably.

Christianity doesn’t require blind, untested faith.  Yet, at the same time, we are certainly called to be a people of faith, a people who, like Abraham, obey God and go wherever he leads, even if we can’t see the path laid out before us.  But there’s a difference between reasoned faith and blind faith.

As I continue to grow in my own faith, my walk with Christ has become deeper and more complex.  I’ve realized that there are essentials and there are nonessentials.  There are core truths of the faith which we must be in agreement on.  God is the Creator of heaven and earth.  In his love and creative power, God made humanity.  When humanity rejected God’s love and chose to disobey his commands, sin and death entered the world.  Jesus, fully God and fully man, came to do away with sin and guilt, death and suffering.  His death paid the penalty that we deserved, and by his wounds we are healed.  Everyone who believes in Christ Jesus will be saved, and will experience his resurrection.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  There is none other.  These are essential, non-negotiable truths of the Christian faith.

In the Christian faith, there is black and white.  But there are also some grey areas that are open for interpretation.  And as we step out in faith and examine our beliefs, we find that, in some things, it is OK to agree to disagree.  And it’s OK to hold things in tension – things like God’s justice and mercy, his love and his judgment.  Faith seeks to know, to experience, to understand more fully.  But at the same time, faith doesn’t have to have all the answers.

It seems to me that our faith goes through the greatest testing when we face life’s struggles.  The loss of a child, a debilitating sickness, the presence of real legitimate evil in the world.  These things shake us to the core, and they challenge our faith.  When we go through trials, our faith is put to the test, we struggle, we doubt.  And we are given the opportunity to emerge from these trials with a faith much stronger and more personal than it ever was before.  Out of the brokenness, we find renewed beauty and an increased reliance on God.  Faith is about belief, but it’s also about much more than that.  Faith is about relationship.  It’s not just about agreeing with a statement of beliefs; it also has to do with faithfulness and trust.

Think of what faithfulness means in a human relationship.  To be faithful in marriage means more than just not sleeping around.  It also refers to commitment, loyalty, allegiance, love, and attentiveness to the relationship.  It’s the same in our relationship with God.  If we are to be faithful to God, then we need to stop running after money, power, and the other gods of this world.  We need to stop pursuing sinful desires and instead foster renewed commitment, loyalty, allegiance, love, and attentiveness to our relationship with God.

And, just as faith in God is about commitment, it’s also about deep trust.  Hence, the opposite of faith is not unfaithfulness, but mistrust and anxiety.  Or, to put it another way, fear is really the opposite of faith.

In Matthew 6, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to the crowds about worry.  Reminding them of how God clothes the grass of the field and feeds the birds of the air, Jesus asks, “Why do you worry?  If God clothes the lilies of the field in such splendor, don’t you think he’ll clothe you too, O you of little faith?”  Jesus attributes fear, worry, and dread to a lack of faith.  Can you imagine what life would be like without anxiety or fear?

Take a step of faith, and trust in God’s faithfulness, even if God’s calling you to do something crazy.  See, if you haven’t figured it out yet, our God is a little crazy, and he works in the most unexpected ways.  We don’t always understand how God is working and, quite frankly, we don’t have to.  We simply have to trust in God’s faithfulness and love.

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