My heart is glad right now. When I began writing this blog 23 months ago, I did it primarily to pick up chicks. But beyond that, I did it because I think that life is best lived in conversation and that we would all be better people if we could learn from each other's experiences and thoughts. That is why I am so happy when the Bloggolution sidebar on the right is added to, because that means that another of my good friends has started a blog. There are a couple new ones over there, as well as Jim's revived one, so be sure to check those out.
Having been involved with church throughout my life, I've sat through many Bible lessons. Many of these lessons concern the topic of faith, and rightly so. Faith is one of the key concepts in the Christian life. Most of the time, whoever teaches the faith lesson will naturally ask, "So what is faith?" And one student will inevitably answer with the famous passage from Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." I can't really improve on that definition. The Bible tends to put things pretty well. I wonder, however, if there can be a big difference between being able to spout out a well-known verse on faith and really understanding faith. Because what I have been realizing is faith is something other than how I tend to think about it.
In the perceptions of many (including me, usually), there is a dichotomy between thought/reason/logic and feeling/emotion. When a person acts, they either do it based on what their mind tells them or what their heart tells them.
One danger to faith is overthinking. We don't always do a great job a jumping unless we see a safety net. A tendency can be to look at a situation and reason out the best course of action. If, logically, our decision will be successful, safe, and relatively predictable, then it is worthwhile. If, on the other hand, it doesn't make sense and seems irrational, we'll abstain. Unless, of course, we are acting on faith. In our minds, faith means abandoning what makes sense and what normally happens. Where does faith rest, then? In our emotions. Because if reason and emotion are different from one another, and if reason and faith are different from each other, then emotion and faith must be one in the same, right?
This sort of understanding of faith expresses itself in how we judge which people are "faithful." If a person steps out and does something that doesn't itself make much sense, and they say something like, "I just feel like this is what God wants me to do," we'll think, "Wow, that person just has so much faith." Acting on feelings and intuition is how we've often come to understand faith. A faithful person is one who does crazy things for God, not because they think that's what God wants them to do, but because they feel like that's what God wants.
I think this is a misunderstanding of faith, however. It is true that our faith should not be based on our reason or logic, because sometimes God works in ways that our beyond our finite understanding, and he calls us to walk roads that we may not be able to see clearly. At the same time, our faith should not be based on our feelings. God may want us to take actions that don't feel right. True faith stands neither on reason nor on emotion. It stands on God. We can be wrong with regard to what we think, and our emotions can change and be misleading. But God is secure. He's the only truly firm foundation on which we can build our lives. He is the vine; we are the branches.
I've needed to wrestle with this even over the last couple weeks. There are times in which I do not think that I should be in Oregon for the next three months. Surely my ministry would be more effective if I were in an environment that I was already more comfortable with, right? If I didn't have to go through all the steps of building all new relationships and learning a new town and learning to drive a new car. At other times, it certainly doesn't feel like I should be in Oregon either. I miss my friends and family, and how can I serve God when I have these negative emotions weighing me down? In the midst of these forces is when faith is needed most. I'm not in Oregon because it makes sense. And I'm not in Oregon because it necessarily feels like where I should be. I'm in Oregon because God loves it and has something for me to do here. And that's good enough for me.
One of my favorite Bible verses about faith is Romans 4:18. When speaking of God's promise to give the aging Abraham a son, Paul writes, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations." There was no reason for Abraham to reasonably think that he would gain a son. He and his wife were at the age for shuffleboard, not pregnancies. Abraham also couldn't have felt like he would have a son. He probably felt more like he should be drinking fiber and watching CSPAN. But because God said it would happen, Abraham believed; he had faith. His faith rests in God.
So where is your faith? Is it in the power of your mind? Or in the strength of your emotions? Or in the God who never fails us, who keeps his promises, and picks us up when we fall down, and who leads his sheep like a Good Shepherd?