Learning to Stand, part 3(Eph 6:16)
I have always had problems with faith.
I don’t mean that I struggle with the substance of what I believe; in truth I find the christian worldview deeply compelling and intellectually well-founded.
And I thoroughly endorse the insights of Matthew Bates that ‘faith’ in the New Testament most often refers to ‘allegiance’ to Jesus (“Salvation by Allegiance Alone; Rethinking Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King”).
No, my issue is more with the way that we as christians often talk about ‘having faith’. To me at least it has always seemed to imply making an intense mental effort to convince myself that something WILLhappen, and then straining to suppress any lurking thoughts to the contrary. If that specific something then turns out notto happen, then clearly I didn’t ‘believe’ hard enough!
So now I have guilt (as well as disappointment)!
I’m not convinced that this is what Paul meant when he encouraged us stand firm, holding up “…the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” Yes, there have been times when I have had a simple and settled conviction that the Spirit of God was going to work is a certain way. But this was never an intense effort at ‘believism’; merely a peaceful confidence in something that I sensed God has assured me about.
But undergirding this is a much more fundamental sort of faith. It is the robust assurance that my God is ‘a good, good Father’ and that I am truly – and unshakably – loved by him. Like any good father, he loves to give good gifts to his children, and I know that he enjoys receiving my requests. He does not require me to perform mental gymnastics to convince myself that he will respond to my prayers. Or to persuade him. Kindness is his nature. Yes, there are occasions when in his wisdom he knows better than to give me what I ask. And in many situations – more than we understand – there are complex dynamics at play that at times constrain what is immediately possible (even for the sovereign Lord of the cosmos). But I believe – I have faith – that God is ‘for me, not against me’.
Once, long ago, the Creator was accused of being a manipulative and freedom-hating killjoy, who had no desire to see his creation to flourish. It was an attempt at character-assassination. As others have observed, the whole of the biblical story (and most especially the cross) can be seen as God’s response to this accusation.1
Those malicious lies – like fiery arrows – still get aimed at me. But I refuse to swallow them. Whatever happens, I have faith in the loving-kindness of God, who will work creatively and over the long term, to bring good from every situation. That settled confidence in my Father’s unwavering goodness is the shield that enables me to stand firm.
1Sigve Tonstad: God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense