“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
With the advent of the Internet and on-demand music, I’ve gotten into the habit of just listening to whatever song randomly pops in my head. The other day this little beauty, from 4Him, the Christian quarter-pop band from the 90’s… “Where there is faith…”
The chorus kept churning in my heart, it goes like this:
Where there is faith
There is a voice calling, keep walking
You’re not alone in this world
Where there is faith
There is a peace like a child sleeping
Hope everlasting in He
Who is able to bear every burden
To heal every hurt in my heart
It is a wonderful, powerful place
Where there is faith
If you’d like to listen or watch the song – click here
As a young believer, faith was one of the first things discovered, taught and practiced. I believed, I trusted, I stood on promises. My faith in God was the proverbial mustard seed, something very small that quickly became transformative, infiltrating my life and becoming an essential part of my relationship with God. My faith re-interpreted the world around me and how I lived within it. My faith, like my emotional and physical maturity, has continued to form, to mature and deepen over the years.
Our faith is designed to take root, and hold on to what brings us the most life, stability and strength.
As a new believer, my root system spread out in a multiplicity of directions, clamoring for anything and everything that seemed to offer nutrients for my new relationship with God. All of us can look back, I’m sure, and recognize the things we first believed and first accepted from others. The more I read scripture for myself, and meditated on the life and teachings of Jesus, the more my faith found it’s primary root in the revealed personality and character of God.
Faith also, for me, moved from a focus on my own ability to embrace or believe these ideas or truths (although some of my truths needed a lot of reworking), to trusting in what God had already actualized in human history. In a very real sense faith moved from my faith, to a participation in the Christian faith. Faith started as a focus on positivity, more of a mental exercise , an avoidance of negativity. There were even times in my earlier journey that faith seemed to be more of a force, like a Star War’s like metaphysical woosh with the wave of a hand. Much of these faith roots have dissolved, been purposely hacked off, or at minimum taken a back seat and now serve as a supporting root in my faith journey.
Our faith evolves like the roots of a tree, and are continually looking to root in the most nourishing, sustainable places.
Recently, I’ve been reading some posts from friends, and having some engaging discussions on the nature of faith. So many during this time of upheaval in the world, particularly for Ukrainians, are turning to God. In doing so, good folks are exercising and displaying in word and action various forms of faith. This post is a response to offering what I would encourage new believers to aim towards.
Our faith should be rooted, I believe, in three primary places for our souls to remain nourished, protected, and anchored in our journey through this world into the next. They are the life of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.
I’ve found it helpful sometimes to define something through negation. So, I’d like to start with three questionable roots for our faith that while not necessarily erroneous, should not serve as the primary root substitutes as we each aim toward a mature root system in Jesus Christ.
Three Places Not to Root
Root #1: Faith is not believing everything is going to work out.
If I had a dollar for every time I read or heard, “все будет хорошо!” I would be rich man. It means everything will be OK! Well before the war, particularly among believers, and especially among the western charismatic influenced, believing and stating a situation is destined to work out is a sign of strong faith. To question, or to doubt, well that’s simply lack of faith.
This is essentially faith as optimism. Who doesn’t prefer to be around optimistic people? I try to be the glass half-full type most of the time. If I sneeze, and people look, I’ll smile and say, “Oh it’s just allergies” and hope that’s all it is. But, faith is not simply cheery optimism. Sometimes life is hard, unfair, it’s brokenness comes at us in waves, engulfing us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Jesus never denied reality, nor asks His followers to do so. Often, in the face of suffering, new believers, or the religious types, utilize optimistic language as a way of diverting attention from the very real challenge, or even internal anxiety one is experiencing.
In a strange turn, this overly optimistic approach is ultimately a lack of genuine faith. It is at best a weak place to root our faith as it’s unwilling, and unable to work in the real world. It’s a faith in one’s own faith, ineffectual, and rooted in the person’s ability to remain positive.
Sometimes, as with all three of secondary roots, it can be quite fatalistic as well. It’s confessional in a sense, as if what’s happening in the present is not important and is void of any redemptive learning or growth. If one can just mentally ascend above and beyond the present situation, says the confessor, we’ll be protected from the realities we are facing.
Jesus entered our world, becoming materially human flesh. Like a rock, or a tree, or a blade of grass, you could touch him with your hands. He entered our time and space, our reality. This means God redeems from within, he’s not outside our reality, but enthused within it, now today through the Holy Spirit. In theological terms, this is called panenthesism; God within all things. He is in us, in our situation, present and near, waiting for us to find him even in our suffering. We need a better root system if we’re denying what’s smack in front of us in our daily lives, closing our eyes and clicking our heels like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, with, “There’s no place like home” claims.
Now, without qualifying ad-nauseam, I will say that we can all come to this place of believing “everything is going to be OK.” However, this is a result, a product, a grace that comes to each heart from something completely outside of oneself, namely, the work of Jesus on the Cross and his resurrection. I’ll get to that in a minute when we move to three healthy places to root our faith. For now, re-consider faith as simply being positive.
Sometimes the stronger, more mature faith is moving into fear and doubt, lamenting and asking, “God, where are you?”
Root #2: Faith is not believing God has a purpose for everything.
We’ve all said it, believed it, claimed it, trusted in it. Yet, I no longer believe that simply trusting in God’s providence, or extreme ideas of sovereignty is the place to primarily root our our faith. Usually, this statement is used when life doesn’t make sense, or when bad things happen. It’s supposed to be a badge of faith to throw one’s hands up and exclaim, “God’s ways are higher than mine” and default the situation to a hidden plan of God.
I will admit, trusting God when things aren’t making sense, can be beautiful, and an act of faith. I said can be. It can also be a blanket statement for pinning everything that is wrong in this world on God. Whether we realize it or not, it’s a hyper theological statement, and more accurately, a systematically driven statement to claim the doctrine of providence as faith. We may personally believe that God is working out a cosmic, detailed plan, down to the movement of every atom, but that isn’t a place to root our faith. At best, this is simply faith in our theological and philosophical framework. It may be right, but these roots don’t save, nor promise to secure us through life’s windy seasons.
The consistent, logical consequence of ascribing everything to God’s hidden purposes ultimately relegates evil to God, at some level. This is the catch 22 of holding providential consistencies too tightly. If the so called blessings are God’s plans, then so are the so called curses. By ascribing destruction, oppression, murder and all that we understand to be injustice to a working out of God’s perfect plan declares to the world that God is at best unloving, and at worst, the devil himself.
His ways are above ours, His thoughts far better, and they are good, loving, peace making and sacrificial.
We should be careful rooting our faith in theological streams, knowingly or unknowingly (why we need to study for ourselves) that elevate themselves over and above the revealed life of Jesus. When we do this, we run the danger of being idolatrous; creating mental models of a god that doesn’t exist but fits our vision of what we would like a god to be.
We may really dig the idea that God has a plan for everything, but rooting our faith there can cause even more questions when life truly falls apart. I believe that whatever the situation, God has the power to bring redemption from within it, from ashes produce beauty, from a cross produce a crown. This is much different than the temptation to blindly close our eyes to evil in our world while pinning it all on a divine playbook that ignores the character assignation we’re giving our loving, holy, and good Creator.
We can take refuge personally that no matter what the circumstance, God has the power to redeem and form us more into the image of Christ. Jesus interaction in the world, as we take the Gospels as a whole, reveal something very different than divine conspiracy at every turn, so we should find a better place to root our faith than, “God has a plan,” which most assuredly he does and his name is Jesus!
Root #3: Faith is not asserting, “God Knows”
Back to being a rich man for another infamous faith claim statement, “Бог знает.” The omniscience of God, his ‘all-knowing’ capabilities are surely part and parcel with the historic Christian faith, and I would be no means challenge that God doesn’t know all things. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. If God exists, created this universe and all that dwell within it, then God would be all knowing, easily, and without effort.
However, rooting in omniscience, much like omnipotence (all-powerful) isn’t necessarily the place to weather life’s storms, and find a place of nourishing. So what if God knows? He knows you have cancer? And? He knows your marriage if falling part, or you lost your job.. and? How does God’s knowledge of all things necessarily encourage your soul or root your faith? Think about it. If I, being a father, know that a disaster is about to fall upon my family, how does this encourage you to hold on and trust me? Would it not be my actions that flow from my character that reveal whether I’m trustworthy? Simply knowing, or simply having power, those are surely magnificent attributes one would expect from the Deity of the universe, but they don’t solicit a volitional, loving surrender and relational worship.
The same can be said for God’s power. God having the capacity to coerce or manipulate the cosmos without the loss of energy, this says nothing about the personality or character of God himself. He may as well be Zeus, or Thor for that matter.
God could be, for all those who take solace in primarily rooting in God’s knowledge or power, an egotistical, power hungry, angry jerk. It’s God’s loving action in the world that bring definition to these attributes, and solicit our love. Sometimes, the most callous thing someone can say in a time of suffering or loss, is “God knows.” At once someone is saying, “I think God knows and did nothing (or won’t) to help you in your time of need.” Without rooting in the life of Jesus, but simply clinging to theological attributes in God, we’re acting more like functional deists rather than Jesus followers.
In summary, when we root our faith in our own sense of optimism, ascribe everything to divine conspiracy, or God-like characteristics that may as well be any divine being without reference to a revealed personality, we can do more harm than good for others and ourselves. Life being what it is, there will come a time when our root system needs to grow, go deeper and find a lasting place that can weather the storms ahead. It needs to be focused on the person of Jesus, his life and work on the cross for humanity. Let’s review three good places to root our faith for the maturing believer.
What Christian Faith is
There will undoubtedly be evangelically formed believers reading that will turn to scripture for this definition. So I’ll quickly mention the most popular biblical definition:
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seenHebrews 11:1
This is simply stating the nature of faith, but for Christians, we need to insert the object of our faith. We trust, we hope, as I’ve hinted at above, in something, and Someone outside of ourselves, namely, the Person of Jesus Christ.
What does this mean though?
Over the years, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve become increasingly, singularly focused on the revelation of Yah·weh. The incarnation is something so spectacularly outrageous, so central, so exclusive and defining. You see, it’s not about the nature of our OUR faith that’s critical, but rather where where we find ourselves aiming our faith.
I will outline three principles for securing a satisfying, transformative, and life-giving faith for the Christian. These come from my own journey, and are not meant to be exclusive but to simply go deeper for the new believers or religious that find themselves unsatisfied by their own faith as either self-generated optimism or cognitive adherence to doctrine.
Root #1 – Faith in the Life of Jesus
Jesus life spoke, it was his greatest sermon. He embodied the be-attitudes. This is important and missed by so many among the religious elite of the past and present. Humanity needs a Savior, but it was given so much more. More than simply coming to die, Jesus came to live. God, the Eternal Son, incarnated and walked this earth. God came into His own creation, among us, as one of us. Do you believe this? Is this part of your faith, truly?
If God was in Christ, when we read scripture, every word that flows from his lips is delivering both God’s instruction and expectation for His creation. If God was in Christ, all of our ideas of God, and the historical intellectual groping of humanity is brought into subjection against his life’s revealing.
I think of when our cars wheels go out of alignment, we take them to a tire center for service. Jesus is for us, the alignment center. Whatever malformed, out of whack ideas we have about the Creator are set against Jesus standard, his perfect revelation of the nature and character of God as Logos. (See Hebrews 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-29, John 1:18).
So what is the primary revelation of the life of Jesus? What have the Old and New Testament ultimately worked towards revealing about God? This lead us to the second faith principle that brings satisfaction and life.
Faith #2 – Faith in the Suffering Jesus
If the loving life and teaching of Jesus wasn’t enough for humanity to catch the divesting (Gr. ἐκένωσεν – from Philippians 2:7), self-emptying heart of our Father, the events on the cross should seal it. Or you’d think!
The cross wasn’t simply an action that God initiated to atone for sins, as much as the Protestant Reformation would lead us believe. Throughout church history, followers of Jesus have been marked by the influence of God’s self-sacrificing nature. What actually occurred on the cross has been nuanced, parsed and debated since the earliest days of the church. What is not unclear, is that this Jesus, this God, lays down his life for humanity, at the hands of humanity!
|The cross is a pattern for us to follow, and invitation. Faith is embracing what Jesus did for humanity, as humanity and allowing this event to crown the Father’s revelation project.|
Jesus gets to define God, not theologians, pastors, or priests. We serve a God that looks like Jesus, and a faith rooted in the life and suffering of Jesus is a place where we lay down our arms, willingly, gratefully, and embrace the fullness of the character of God. For many, myself included, we’ve wrestled with the harshness of the Jewish scriptures, the God of Israel, Isaac, and Jacob.
We see Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, on scene, finally, and his loving, sacrificing way destroys our rebellion if we allow it. Faith, then, is rooted in the life of Jesus goodness, and brought to full definition through the Cross. The life of the faith-filled believer never ceases to plunge the depths of these truths, and these truths never cease to shape our relationship with the God of the universe.
The hopes and fears of all the yearsPhillips Brooks (1868)
Are met in thee tonight.
Faith #3 – Faith in the Resurrection and it’s Promise
Finally, then we find ourselves at the blessed hope, the resurrection. Jesus not only reveals the Father for us, but invites us to participate and join in His undying, eternal love! Our faith would be useless, a fools errand had not Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus resurrection is what has held the Christian faith together since the first century.
Hope is rooted, then, not in our capacity to initiate enough faith. Faith is a gift, but doesn’t itself have the capacity to do anything on it’s own. It’s Jesus life, his cross, and his resurrection that emphatically stamps a Creator’s finished work for humanity. It’s believing that God told the truth, became the truth visible for us that saves us (Rom 10:9 etc). Jesus was moved by those that believed his words were true, and put their trust in his origins.
Trusting in God’s resurrection is a trust in personal participation and union with God for eternity. If Jesus rose, we’ll rise. This life is temporal, but we’re now united in the Father, Son’s and Spirit’s ongoing love that is life.
I set out to share what I consider to be a satisfying faith. God wants us to believe in the right things. When we place our faith in ourselves, or attributes of God that aren’t clearly reveled in Jesus life and work, we’re more likely just being superstitious.
He wants us to cling to his heart, his promise, and not anxiously repeat silly things, deny the harshness of reality, or place too much emphasis on a particular attribute of God. These things may be helpful, and even bring temporary relief, but there’s nothing that can substitute for the joys of resting in the covenant keeping promise of our loving God in Christ. Over time, I believe our root system looks deep and wide, with auxiliary networks and support systems. Much like the forest itself, there’s more going on below than we could ever imagine.
Even the faith roots from the previous generations are linked, supporting, and giving us identity and meaning through the lineage of God’s people across time, space and culture. We, the followers of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son, the image of the invisible God, we are participating in the life of God and bringing this life to our world. We take his nourishment in, his goodness, and love. When the wind blows, when the water dries up from above, our deep roots in the love of God hold us firmly, protect us and continue to produce fruit for others.
Life is hard, and we’re all wrestling through battles, and for some even physical war! It’s always a time to surrender to the love that is in Jesus, and place our hope in ultimate beauty, that is, the Person of God. May your faith roots continue to reach for Him, and find rest in his finished work.