Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Sound familiar? (If not, that’s Hebrews 11:1.) It has an inspirational feel to it, don’t you think?
But what exactly does it mean?!?
What IS faith? Believing that God exists? The Bible says that the demons accomplish that much, and that they are a good deal more impressed by it than we are. As with many important things, it’s easier to know what faith is than to define it.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. But from time to time it becomes important to me to really understand it. In other words, to actually be able to define it.
For my own use, for myself. I’m not about settling eternal questions for all of humanity. But for my own understanding, when the storms come and hell in a hand-basket doesn’t sound so amusingly distant, what does it mean to have faith?
It does, of course, mean that I genuinely believe in God. So I know I’m at least up with the demons in the faith department.
And beyond believing IN God, I found that it meant to BELIEVE God, which is a different thing: to take him at his word.
I was always really good at faith. That’s not a point of pride; absolutely not an accomplishment for which I put forth heroic effort. It was just a fact. As a result of my upbringing, my personality, my understanding of God, faith was simply an inborn talent. A gift. Something I just did well, with little effort.
Then it wasn’t.
For most of my life, when the storms came, my faith buffered them and saw me through them, so I assumed that I had all the pieces I needed.
And maybe I did. I think faith can be built incorrectly, not having all the pieces to start, but now I also wonder if faith can be damaged in the storms. In the swirl of all the hell, with the hand-basket long since splintered and scattered to the wind.
I’m still not sure if faith can be injured or if injury just points up the areas where my foundation was weak, but I know that two storms in my life – by no means the biggest, or the longest, or the hardest, ironically – left me with some water intrusion and a handful of shingles missing on my previously rock solid faith. Clearly I needed a better understanding than I had.
I’ve had to really go back through my thoughts and views on God, my relationship to him, my understanding of him, my views on how he leads me – the whole shebang.
In the midst of that I happened upon a definition of faith in the Amplified Bible that really struck a cord. Ye old Amplified defined faith as “an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God.”
The power of God was never a question for me.
And wisdom? When you are omniscient, I’m content to throw in wisdom as a given.
But according to the Amplified, faith also, inherently, included the goodness of God. Not the greatness. Not the righteousness, or the justice, or the perfection. But the goodness.
Did I believe God was GOOD?
Well of course I did! How could I not!?! What kind of Christian would not think God is GOOD?!??!
One of the big inconveniences of being a scientist is that you feel compelled to look for some evidence behind your assertions.
And the evidence showed a girl who, somewhere along the way, had gotten a bit shaky on the goodness of God. Talk about a blow to my pride! Now I had broken faith AND broken pride! There’s a mess for you.
I did actually still accept that God WAS good, intellectually. But to do so I had to transform my definition of good so profoundly that it ignored all the ways God defines good. Could God be good and cruel? Of course! God is God, so if he’s cruel that must be ‘good’. Could God be good and compassionless? Of course! God is God, so if he’s compassionless that must be ‘good’.
But that isn’t what God calls good.¹
Conundrum. A conundrum, it turned out, of faithlessness. A conundrum that therefore had to be resolved.
Because Hebrews has other things to say about faith too, like, without it, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God. That one is a little less nebulous than ’substance of things hoped for’. And a little more intimidating, when you come to really think about it.
So, I’ve been pondering faith, and me, and God, for a while now, trying to dig myself out of the mess that got me here, as well as the mess that ‘here’ is. And I found that searching more deeply into who God is, regaining a perspective on what ‘goodness’ is from God’s commentary on it, is bringing some clarity.
Make no mistake, I don’t think that God being good means that everything that he allows or does in my life is going to be an unremitting delight. I understand that pain, hardship, distress are natural parts of life, and that God is not a genie in a bottle whisking it all away. But knowing that God permits, and uses painful and difficult circumstances is very, very different from coming to think that God is not trustworthy, and that harm and trouble are his will and intention for me.
So I’ve been studying how he says he treats and thinks of us. The promises he makes. The attitudes he displays, and the attitudes he requires of us. And this little amplification on faith has come to be a real help in my journey.
That sure fits with the end of Hebrews 11:6 “…for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
So try these babies out with that perspective on faith:
Hebrews 11:6 “And without an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Hebrews 11:1 “Now an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Or how about this little gem: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God…”
It adds a little richness, don’t you think?
I like it anyway. I find it challenging, but also clarifying. Faith seems a little less nebulous, a little more defined.
One of the things that always used to confuse me was times Jesus praises people’s ‘faith’. The examples range from dogged persistence to down right insolence, but they were never what I thought of as faith. They begin to make more sense if I define faith this way.
If I have an inherent trust, and enduring confidence in the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God, I’m going to be pretty darn persistent about getting to him with my need. I’m going to be pretty bold about seeking his help and direction.
And while I’ll always be cautious, not wanting to treat the God of the universe like a cosmic gum-ball machine, I think that as long as I define faith this way I’ll stay more real about what good is, and I’ll look a lot more closely, when I start doubting God’s goodness, to find what is really going on.
Now, when I hear the frightened, confused ‘Well, God must be good, even if he doesn’t act like it’, I have a little alarm telling me that my faith might need some attention. And it points me in the direction of what faith really is, so that I can more clearly see where that attention is needed.
It’s a new path for me, but it seems to be healing so far, and I hope to be able to make the big important changes I’m seeking a lot more effectively through it.
If you happen to celebrate Passover, which begins this evening, or Earth Day, which will be in full swing at the time this posts, may they be blessed.
¹Mostly. I’m still working my way through some Bible stories that I wish weren’t there, but for now I’m going with the most prevalent expressions of God and of ‘good’ as defined by him throughout the whole cannon.