Inspiration is oftentimes gradual, but it is a gratifying moment to fully see it. Moreover, it is sometimes the negation of a subject that best instructs—“A is not ___; A is ___.” The path of discovery, in some cases, is just as great as the discovery.
I have partly learned what faith is by understanding what it is not. I know what Hebrews 11 tells about faith, but reading about faith and living it are two drastically different sides of the same coin. One is theory, the other is praxis. Our reading stands to gain immeasurable depth when we’ve had to live out principles we’ve only read about.
Hebrews 11:6 always baffled me: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” I could never unconvince myself that God exists, but was this all faith required? I sensed that I was merely scratching the surface.
Thank You, Josh Groban
Josh Groban was on my radio one day crooning his very moving song Believe: “You’ll have everything you need if you just believe.” No, I retorted, first mentally then aloud. It couldn’t be true: believe what? The reaction wouldn’t subside, and a lesson on real Christian spirituality came into sharper focus.
The song verse chalked up so much that I have witnessed with some Christians that makes me shudder. Permit me to explain it in the negative. It pains me in my heart to watch Christians who see faith only as a cure to life’s ills or as a last resort in circumstance. Faith is cliché for them. All we can hope to do is pray. God is merely our way out when there is no way. Faith is a name-it-and-claim-it gimmick. Romans 8:28 is a helpful analgesic.
Please hear me: Christ spread a message that centered profoundly on his Father and a kingdom proclamation of privileged righteousness. To see him, by his own admission, was to be introduced to his Father and to understand life—God-enriched life—fully offered, the same life enjoyed eternally in the Godhead. Christian faith and holiness that embodies this message is surely not an opiate or a trite superstition that passes for spiritual gravitas.
The Groban song was but a proxy for all those I had occasioned over the years whose roots hadn’t gone this deep to know any better.
I and Thou, O Lord
The unveiling was gloriously simple: there is no magical formula, no incantation. Though faith is the “assurance of things hoped for…the conviction of things not seen,” it is never an easy-button. And before faith is any of the scriptural and theological definitions we know it by, it is FIRST relational and personal. This is what I was not seeing in Hebrews 11:6.
“Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists.” I knew God was there, but I didn’t understand that before all the great possibilities of his power and my obedience was our relationship and that it is the touchstone to everything. He wants me more than anything he desires for me or that I desire from him, and by transformation I should more and more want him above all things. It is a living relationship that marks the division between real faith and mere magic.
“And that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” We don’t “just believe,” apart from spiritual orientation or purpose…believing for belief’s sake. Christian faith is exclusive and incompatible with other ideological patterns of conviction. In our faith endeavors, whether the resolution we seek comes or not, God is who we desire, the very end of all our longing. He is the reward.