What if most of what you have been taught about faith is wrong?
Those are questions that came up after I just finished reading the first chapter of a book given to me by a friend, 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe by Larry Osborne. The meat of the chapter is Osborne's observations about Hebrews 11, the Bible's standout chapter about faith. Osborne rightly says that when he really read Hebrews 11 carefully, it messed with his head.
Hebrews 11 starts with this famous "what is faith" statement:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (vv. 1-2)Okay, so faith is confidence and assurance. But confidence and assurance in what? Here's a popular conception of faith: "Faith isn't believing God can. Faith is believing God will." That notion of faith is flat out wrong.
The truth lies in the examples the author of Hebrews gives. Verses 3-31 tell of person after person who believed God, and that belief led to obedience. The really interesting paragraph is verses 32-38. The first half of the paragraph describes all sorts of victories won through faith. And frankly, that's where most of us would like to stop reading. That's what leads to the theology that "faith = results." But the paragraph goes on.
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. (vv. 36-38)But wait. Lots of people would say that if these sorts of things happen, that's proof that your faith is not strong enough. Here's what the writer of Hebrews says next:
These were all commended for their faith...Did you hear it? "All." That's right, those who suffered in horrible ways were just as faith-filled as those who experienced great victories. Now let's think about the suffering we experience in our lives. Are we expecting God to make everything alright? If so, we are reading only half of the truth about faith.
So what is faith, then? Faith isn't insisting that God do our will.
Faith is following.
It is saying to God, "No matter what happens, I want to do your will."
And that's where we are reminded that communion with God changes everything. There's no way we can have this follow-even-if-it-means-suffering perspective without being in direct, ongoing relationship with God. Otherwise we will bail. And those who bail do not have their names written in the annals of faith.