Faith, Unbelief and our Great God (Chapters 2-3)
One of the things I love about Wendy’s section on faith is how she cuts to the chase and makes us confront the incongruity of our sin: if we do trust God, then why are we worried all the time? This is the question that follows us through this whole section: if I trust God, why do I worry? Do I perhaps not trust God as I should?
Wendy rightly helps us realise that this decision to trust God or to have faith in him is absolutely vital. We can’t muck around with it. Her chapter on unfaithfulness is almost alarming in its intensity as she shows us the wickedness of unbelief. Not having faith is not a morally neutral choice; it is an act of disbelief and rejection of God. I think her chapter helpfully shows us how to fear God as we choose to trust him. He has to be bigger than everything else in our heads. It is a chapter that helps I suspect when we are needing to make big choices in life or the major crises of life, and maybe where we realise our sinfulness on an issue and resist the realisation that we need to repent. It’s a chapter about faith in a crisis rather than everyday faith.
Crisis moments are really important to us. What we choose to do then: go our way or go God’s way define who we are and have consequences. Just as Moses’ decision to strike the rock had ongoing consequences for him, though he was still in relationship with God and forgiven by God, so our decision to turn away from God and act in unbelief at the crossroads’ of our lives will have implications for us. So, it’s good to be reminded of this sobering fact. Trusting God is not a decorative virtue: it’s a part of what we do and of who we are if we are his children. This chapter is a sobering and useful reminder to ourselves: we can’t take God for granted. We need to trust him and do things his way.
But crisis faith is not all there is to our Christian lives. There’s the everyday kind as well which we can overlook. Think of all the decisions you’ve made today ... how often did you think that you would not do something or do something because of who you are as God’s child? How often have you apologised or repented today? When you thought about what Jesus had done for you, were you encouraged? When you prayed, did you trust God with the desires of your heart? Did you ask him for help to not lose your temper, to not lie, to be hospitable, to be gentle ...? That is what everyday faith looks like. It’s continually choosing to trust God in everything. It’s turning to him in prayer, which demonstrates our dependence on him. It’s agreeing with him in our hearts when we see that we have sinned and need to repent. This is faith in it’s everyday track-pants and trainers. It’s not glamorous or even particularly noticeable, but it’s where the crisis moments take us. The big decisions to trust God lead to all these small decisions to live by faith, and they in turn train our hearts to trust God when the bottom falls out of our world.
Wendy mentioned the centurion (page 47) as a brilliant example of faith. And it is really inspiring to see absolutely confidence in God in action. Given that the chapter was about crisis type faith, the centurion was a great example and well chosen. But I thought it stood in too much of a contrast with all the examples of unfaithfulness, as though we could only have excellent faith or none at all. I don‘t think this captures how active Jesus is in sparking and growing faith. So, there’s another example which I love and which I think captures the way I think about my faith. It’s the father of demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:24. He asks Jesus to help him if he can and Jesus queries this and he responds immediately, ’I do believe; help my unbelief’. I love this because it helps me realise that I don’t have to screw up my face and believe. I don’t have to depend on myself and my own will to trust God with difficult things. I can run to Jesus and tell him that my faith is in shreds but I want to trust him in this or that, and know that he is uniquely capable of turning my heart towards him and teaching me to trust. Asking God for faith is faith, and this is astonishing.
How do we grow in faith? Wendy’s suggestion of remembering is a great one, I think. She says she often forgets what good things God has done in her life and so journaling helps, and I know a lot of people really find that useful. If you don’t have time to journal or don’t like it, you might like to think about cultivating a habit of sharing how God has answered your prayers recently with a friend. Remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection for us cultivates our faith in all circumstances, so this is also a good habit to get into. I’ve started trying to always be reading one of the Gospels to keep remembering constantly. What about you? What ways do you remember in order to believe? What has worked at different times in your life?