Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Case For a Broader View of Faith

It's okay that my room is not cleaned and hasn't been for a week. It's okay that I ate only cannoli today for lunch and haven't worked out in three weeks. It's okay that I look in the mirror and never like what I see. It's okay that I'm tired of working hard and a lot of times just want to give up. It's okay that God has shown me what I should be doing, and I still don't think I'm good enough to do it. It's okay that I am a troubled soul even though I have everything I could possibly need. It's okay that I should be seeing a counselor but can't afford it so I'm resorting to social media therapy. It's okay that I know hope is found in Jesus, but I still feel hopeless a lot of times. It's okay because I don't have to feel good about any of this to make a decision to live according to truth.
A clean room is beneficial, but the truth is, it's not eternal. Cannoli are not beneficial long term, but the truth is, they won't kill me today. My body isn't where I want it to be, but the truth is, I'm not unhealthy or overweight. I might not like what I see in the mirror, but the truth is, God does, and his opinion is the only one that really matters. In this very moment, I feel hopeless, but the truth is, I'm not hopeless, because my hope is and forever will be in Jesus, the resurrected Savior. I don't know if I will ever feel good about all of the above, but the truth is, I don't need to feel good about any of it for it be true and good.

These are a friend's humble words flung out onto social media. With them, she raised the veil for a rare glimpse of authentic faith. She is not a new believer. Rather, she has a master's degree in Christian education from a Christian university and is a leader in her local church.

This is a faithful kind of doubting where there is hope and trust in spite of and in the midst of continued human nature. This is what true faith really looks like.

Faith is hard and complex. Although we like to romanticize it, it's not glamorous. It's a slog through the mud, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Our flesh is made of dust, and Christ is living water. Mud results from exposing the one to the other, and that's precisely what makes clay malleable. This is the very condition Jesus needs in order to craft us into his image. The work of Christ is both filthy and holy.

Courage exists only in the presence of fear. Heroism exists only in relationship to self-preservation. Faith and hope exist only amid despair, lament, and woe. The dichotomies are essential, yet Christians often focus only on the positive traits as if they exist in a vacuum.

Western Christianity distances itself from doubt, sorrow, and mourning and exalts success, victory, and strength. But we should esteem the questions we are afraid to ask and own the doubts that still remain, because the truth is, there are questions that will never have adequate answers. Faith is being at rest in the unknowing of things.

Yet we Christians strive to keep a secret from others — and maybe even ourselves — the fact that we don't have it all together. We do so because uncertainty and shortcoming are not virtues in our societal norm. This notion skews our understanding of strong faith. Our lingering, pesky doubts and failures might be construed as evidence that Christianity is a farce and should be dismissed, or that our faith is not winsome and is, therefore, ineffective.

So we tell a tale with a happily-ever-after ending replete with nary a hardship. We craft a false narrative of the Christian faith where sin is unequivocally conquered and forever banished from the kingdom. While it's not a fairy tale. it won't become a reality until after Jesus rides in on his white horse.

In the meantime we don't want our incompetence to detract from God's name, character, or actions. So we compensate by obscuring our frailty and focusing solely on God's greatness, another trait that can't exist in a vacuum.

The law teaches that sin is defined only by the presence of holiness. God's vastness is all the more vast in light of limited humanity. In our weakness his strength is all the mightier (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So by scrubbing our humanity from the outward expression of our Christianity, we trivialize all that God is and does. His love and forgiveness are all the more merciful when they are couched in the rightful context of our impotence, depravity, and utter need.

We learn early in adulthood how to spin our failures into something more palatable to our Western sensibilities — to fail well, if you will. We spin our failures into something good: a life lesson learned, a more informed perspective through wisdom gained, increased compassion toward others, or an essential part of the path to a different success. While these aspects of failure may be valid, we are sometimes guilty of projecting success onto our failure to clean up God's image, to insure that Christianity doesn't suffer from our still-flawed humanity.

The truth is, sometimes we fail, and there is no lesson God is teaching us Sometimes we fail because failure is part of human life, and there's no way to spin it into success. We cannot divorce pain, sorrow, suffering, anguish, depression, fear, doubt, anger, sin, and darkness from our faith. These are the earthen dust we are made of. Sometimes we face these issues simply because we live in the time in between —after the Garden but before the new heaven and earth.

What would happen if we welcomed a broader understanding of faith, keeping an eye on our deep brokenness as we look at and to our God as the remedy?

For now, in this age of in-between, it is ours to embrace the tension between doubt and faith, challenge and consolation, earthen and divine. Just as confessing our faith in Christ is powerful, so is naming our doubts. The tension is uncomfortable and keeps us vulnerable, but what is faith if it isn't entrusting ourselves to God when so much remains unknown, unseen and left wanting?

God is not ashamed of our continued fight with the flesh. It's where he has purposefully placed us in this age. The truth is, because we are still fully human, faith is not enough or our final solution. It leaves us longing for more, as it should, because now we see only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). And while faith is not an easy or complete answer to our complex circumstances, it is the only hopeful and ultimately victorious answer.


This post first appeared in Reach Out Columbia, as the first in a three-part series on the role failure plays in our faith and in God's master plan for his children.


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