I've always tried to make clear that these messages are about what God wants me to know, being passed on to others so that we all benefit. Perhaps none of them have hit me personally as hard as this one- or took a path out of our norm more. This week's lesson is about what I call hard faith.
My son and I discussing the topic last week. He said it would be so much easier if God gave us a sign- not a miracle, just something to say, "This is why to believe". There are a million reasons why that doesn't happen, most of them leading to the truth that we take God for granted when things are easy. Faith is just one of those things (like exercise) that work more efficiently when it's more difficult.
My Monday reading on the topic comes from the latter stages of John 6. This is the "Bread of Life" passage, wherein Jesus discusses the necessity of "Eating My flesh and drinking My blood". At this point, Jesus had two large groups of "hangers on" following Him- the ones who'd just been fed on the multiplied loaves and fishes and wanted more, and the "religious" Jews who sought ammunition against Him. These groups had one thing in common, that came out as He spoke:
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?
My Bible terms it murmur, but it translates to the same thing-they were complaining to themselves about what Jesus said. And the complaint was, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”(v 60). They were happy to hear Jesus when He said the easy things, things that they could walk away from with their full bellies and feel good about. But when Jesus raised the stakes of commitment past their comfort zone, they walked away, leaving only His true disciples. "Lord. to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," Peter told Him. Having faith when everyone says, you're a homophobe because you think homosexuality is a sin; or when everyone is saying, you need to change to go along with the times; or even, don't be a prude- that is the beginning of hard faith, when you look around you and the crowd isn't there anymore.
Tuesday took me to I Peter, where in verses 10-12 Peter talks about the faith the prophets had. You might say, well it's pretty easy to have faith when God is right there telling you what to say. Oh, so? David told us of exactly how Jesus would die, a thousand years before it happened. Isaiah spoke of His birth 700 years in the future. Daniel told us of the End of Days, 2,500 years and counting ago. All of these saw how things were going to go, knowing full well that what they were seeing, no one else would see until long after they were dead. Abraham received God's promise, which He is still keeping (check your world map for that pesky little nation on the eastern Mediterranean coast) though Abraham was a century old and had yet no descendants. This hard faith is not only faith in what you can't see, it's faith in what you KNOW you WON'T see in this life.
Wednesday I hit Luke 23-24- and if there is a harder faith than faith that lasts after the Teacher is dead, what could it be? The disciples had now idea how to react when Jesus died, though He told them it was coming. They barely could grasp it when He stood before them that Sunday night, that He had rose from the dead. And how many scoff at Him now, saying "He's been coming back 'anytime' for over 2,000 years!" And yet, He promised He would return. For a Christian this is the central faith, and it comes somewhat easy. But on the outside, this is the hardest faith of all.
On Thursday, I was in Isaiah 41, and what struck me was the faith that a besieged and starving Israel had to have to hear the prophet tell them,
11 “Behold, all those who were incensed against you
Shall be ashamed and disgraced;
They shall be as nothing,
And those who strive with you shall perish.
12 You shall seek them and not find them—
Those who contended with you.
Those who war against you
Shall be as nothing,
As a nonexistent thing.
13 For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand,
Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’
Atheists say, "Before I have faith in something, I want proof." God says, "Faith is when the only proof you have is My Word."
Friday I was listening on the way into work a sermon on the Wheat and the Tares from Matthew 13. I saw this as another kind of hard faith, one so many struggle to believe. That one day, we will be gathered in harvest, and those who did not believe will be thrown into eternal punishment. "A loving God wouldn't do that" seems to trump "A Holy God cannot put up with sin". But here's the thing- the first one involves people who fail to understand the nature of God choosing what they WANT TO believe about him; the second is WHAT HE TOLD US. If God is real, and not just a concept in the minds of man, we MUST believe in a hell. If you'd rather go to this world's "Build-a-God-workshop" and get the nice, cuddly God you want, then you are wasting your time, because that is a "God-the-way-you-want-Him", and doesn't really exist.
Saturday, no reading, because Friday night I had to face my own coda to this story. We sin, ask forgiveness, sin, ask forgiveness, and it seems that's all I ever accomplish. When we practice easy faith, Satan has a million ways to get at us. Through loneliness, despair. Through anger, frustration, pain. Through drugs, alcohol, sex. Through "I didn't deserve that" and "I deserve this". And once that crack is opened, he quickly switches to, "What's the harm?"
I found the answer- one of the answers- to that question. Nothing earth shattering or criminally prosecutable. Just a fragment of something I once had that "easy faith" has allowed to be corrupted. Something I thought I had lost, but learned I just couldn't see it for all the cancer I've allowed to grow around it. Hard faith is, then, closing the door before we get to, "What's the harm?" Because by then it's too late. Hopefully next week He'll grant me some pointers on how to do this, because all the others are meaningless unless I can deal with my own negatives by listening to Him instead of the one trying to get in.