I once knew this man who I considered to be a great person of faith. I think he prayed more hours per day than I was even awake. It seemed as if he had a direct line to God. He spoke as if the Lord spoke directly to him. When he went through a particularly difficult time he continued having confidence that God was going to answer his prayers. He was, as the television preachers tell us to do, believing in his miracle. He kept the faith.
Until he didn’t.
He’s an atheist now. The main reason is because God didn’t come through on His promises to the man. Tragedy struck. He prayed. Tragedy continued. The mountains didn’t move, even though he had the faith of a mustard seed hundreds of times over. To him the only fitting conclusion was that his faith was nothing more than a fairy tale.
Truth be told his faith likely was a bit more in a fairy tale than the living God. After all, faith isn’t the ability to hang onto promises I made up, but it’s the ability to trust in what God has clearly communicated. As Calvin so aptly put it, “we must be reminded that there is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word.” (Insitutes, 548)
A good picture of faith is the little boy jumping off a high rock into the arms of his daddy. He just knows he can trust his daddy to catch him. It’s as simple as that. It isn’t blind faith because he’s seen daddy’s arms. He has watched him lift heavy stuff and catch things. He knows his dad’s character and that he can be trusted. And so he leaps. That’s biblical faith.
There is a brand of Christianity which has a much different idea of faith. A fitting picture of this type of “faith” would be a little boy grabbing hold of scissors and cutting something that looks like daddy out of a cardboard box. He calls it daddy, treats it like daddy, and even at times it holds up enough to break his fall. But at the end of the day it isn’t daddy and when the cardboard collapse he ends up bruised and battered on the floor and somehow blaming his real dad because the cardboard cut-out didn’t catch him when he fell.
I’m not saying that God only speaks to us in His Word. Nor am I even de facto ruling out that God can clearly communicate things to us today, much in the way He communicated to Abraham or Moses. But you aren’t Abraham or Moses. In these last days God has definitively spoken to us through His Son. That means something.
And here is at least one thing it means. When you get these impressions, or these promises, or even something you are calling a Word from the Lord, then whether or not it comes true has a bearing on if it really was from God.
If you feel that God promised you that your sick uncle was going to be healed and your sick uncle isn’t healed then you have no right to claim that God backed out on his promise. Instead what you ought to do is either conclude that you had a bad burrito and didn’t hear from God or that you are indeed a false prophet. Because God never lies. That’s the biblical picture. What he said to Abraham came true. What he said to Moses came true.
It isn’t a lack of faith for you to even wonder, “Did I really hear from God?” That’s just good common sense. It’s not even a lack of faith to wonder if what you perceive to be a promise from God is actually a promise from God. That’s not a lack of faith it’s actually believing the Scriptures that the human heart is deceitful and that we are finite sinful human beings who can at times be wrong.
You aren’t responsible for believing promises you’ve dreamed up in your head. In fact if you look at the communication of God in the Scriptures it usually isn’t for the purpose of giving us insider knowledge. It’s for the sake of the gospel. The gospel is the goal of God’s communication. When we turn away from this we run into trouble. Again I turn to Calvin:
“Therefore if faith turns away even in the slightest degree from this goal [the gospel] toward which it should aim, ti does not keep its own nature, but become uncertain credulity and vague error of mind. The same Word is the basis whereby faith is supported and sustained; if it turns away from the Word, it falls. Therefore, take away the Word and no faith will then remain.” (Calvin, 549)
Faith is not primarily concerned with blindly wrestling with God’s activity in the world and trying to interpret His actions. I’m not called to have faith that God is going to do some particular thing (i.e. heal a sick uncle), I’m called to have faith that whatever God does do He is good and I can trust Him.
Faith is primarily concerned with wrestling with what God has communicated through His Son in His Word. Am I going to believe this promise? Am I going to believe what God’s Word says about this situation or am I going to believe my feelings? Am I going to obey this Word of Christ even if it means pain and discomfort on my part? These are the questions we need to be asking.
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