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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

That little but loaded word “faith”

Many have devised their own means of making things happen without the helping hand of God, but it is important to note that it pays to have an unwavering belief that He will take care of all our needs when we believe He can, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza 

“It’s all about faith in God; do you believe that God can change your life, satisfy every longing of your soul, provide all your needs? Ask Him to. Need more faith? Ask Him for it. Don’t even know what it is to have faith? Ask.”

This Facebook status by Ishta Nandi provoked an interesting exchange on faith. Faith, that five-letter word whose power Elijah knew so well that he depended on it and prayed that it might not rain and indeed it didn’t for three years and six months! (James 5:17).

It is this faith that is under the microscope today; that little but loaded word defined in Hebrews (11:1) as “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen…the evidence of things we cannot see yet.” It means that it pays having an unwavering belief that God will take care of all our needs, just like the troubled woman who believed a little touch would cure her 12 years of bleeding. “For she said within herself, if I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole” and she touched and got instantly healed. And Jesus turned and said to her, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Mathew 9:20-22).

Yet today, telling a young man who has been jobless for two years that God will make all his dreams come true if only he trusts Him is bound to elicit a response like that of the doctor in Hortense Calisher’s great short story, Heartburn, after a patient tells him he has a live frog lodged in his chest. The poor doctor yells, “I don’t believe you!”

Certainly, many of us have been through situations where we have prayed passionately, only to see all our great expectations come to naught. But as Nandi puts it, “God doesn’t respond to our begging and pleading, He responds to our faith!

Indeed, several episodes in the Bible corroborate this. The Roman centurion whose servant had been in torment, paralysed, felt unworthy to host the Lord but with unshakable faith asked Jesus to command the sickness to go without necessarily entering his home. And a marvelled Jesus told his followers, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mathew 8:5-13).

This kind of faith seems to have gone with the era of Jesus as many, even Christians, have devised their own means of making things happen without the helping hand of God. Steve, a professional teacher, is a fervent born-again Christian, attends church dedicatedly, knows most of the classic hymns word for word, reads his Bible, tithes and is a gifted speaker on the things of God. Steve is today pursuing his second degree, this time in law, but is struggling with tuition. Now he is considering applying for a dead year to work and raise tuition. When I asked him why he couldn’t ask God to clear his financial need, he gave me an ambiguous answer yet the Bible says “All things are possible to them that believe.” (Mark 9:23).

Others find it implausible that there is a better world beyond the one we all live in. Self-confessed agnostics, mostly authors, critics, essayists and evolutionists have written “eloquently” on the inexistence of God, with some indirectly calling for the spurning of believers.

In 1928, shortly after American poet T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) embraced Christianity, his friend and author, Virginia Woolf, (1882-1941) was so horrified that she wrote to another friend about it saying, “I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality and goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible that he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.”

Such perspectives as Woolf’s have swayed many into stubborn unbelief whereby they have chosen to enjoy their “heaven on earth”, leading - with wild abandon - a life of extravagance and hedonism and mocking the ascetic life of professed believers. This is what second century Roman Theologian Tertullian meant when he put it that faith resembles folly to the eye that has not been opened by the grace of God.

The uncertainty regarding the power of God can even be traced to the New Testament epoch, where Thomas, who had been with Jesus all through His ministry, refused to believe the Lord’s resurrection until Jesus appeared to him personally and showed him the scars of nails in His palms. Jesus also chided him, saying blessed are they that have not seen but still believe (John 20: 24-29).

That’s an aspect that most believers have ignored in favour of the physical assurance that doubting Thomas was lucky enough to receive. So we continue to maunder in doubt and unbelief, alienating God’s miracles in our lives, leading the slow miserable life of struggle and want. The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). And if God is not pleased with our faith, how then can He grant all the desires of our hearts?

As it is, the secret to having all our dreams fulfilled lies in learning to have faith, not in gods but in the one true God, otherwise Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wouldn’t have survived Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Daniel 3). And according to preacher Andrew Wommack, “Believing that God can do something but not believing that He will is not faith.”

Luckily, God knows how frail our faith is and will help our unbelief if we cry out to Him (Mark 9:24). And as Nandi advises, “We build our faith by finding out more and more about who God is, because when we love Him and seek to obey Him, we aim to learn about Him and what He requires of us.”

--Sunday Monitor, April 25, 2010