“By faith Abraham … set out [for a place], not knowing where he was going.”
How’s your faith these days?
I ask that question because there are events, times, and seasons in each of our lives when everything we thought we knew or believed is called into question. The narrative of our life has been ruptured. We no longer know what we believe about God, life, or the world. We’re not sure where to place our trust or in what to hope. Some events leave us wondering, “If this kind of thing can happen to us, then how do we live now? How do we move forward?”
That’s how the last two and a half months have felt to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true for you too.
Well-meaning people might say, “Just have faith,” “Get more faith,” “You need a stronger faith.” That has never been helpful to me. What does it even mean after tragedy strikes, our heart has been broken, our world shattered? I wish it were as simple as ordering up some faith but I don’t think it is. I think we are always working out our faith. So I want to rethink with you what faith might mean and look like for us today.
I will not tell you what you should believe or even what the Church says you ought to believe. I don’t think it’s that easy. Instead, I’m inviting you to join me in wrestling with some questions and, perhaps, new ways of understanding and experiencing faith.
I grew up with the idea that faith meant accepting and agreeing to ideas or concepts about God (even if they didn’t make sense or match my experience). Maybe you did too. Faith was about my belief in God. I think that’s often how we hear today’s second reading (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16). We assume it is by Abraham’s faith, his belief in God, that “he obeyed and set out for a place …, not knowing where he was going.”
But here’s what I wonder. What if it’s just the opposite? What if it was by God’s faith in Abraham that Abraham set out for a new homeland even when he didn’t know where it was, how he would get there, or what he would find? Haven’t there been times in your life when someone emboldened and encouraged you, comforted you, stood by you, believed in you, had faith in you, and it made a difference? You did more than you thought you could, you overcame what you thought was impossible, you got through a situation you never thought you would.
What if faith is more about what God believes about us than what we believe about God? What if faith is our experience of God desiring us, calling us, connecting and reconnecting with us? What if God’s faith in us is a call “to live as fully as we can manage” in this moment? (Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, 232) What if God’s faith invites us “to re-image ourselves as larger than our history” and as more than what has happened to us? (Hollis, Swamplands, 127)
If that’s what faith is like, then what is God’s desire for you today? In what ways is God calling you? What difference does God’s belief in you make?
A Questioning Faith
I used to think faith meant living with absolutes and certainty, having no doubts or questions. Today that feels more like fear and fundamentalism than faithfulness. Let’s not forget that Abraham “set out, not knowing where he was going.” His life and journey were as open ended as are ours.
Maybe faith is the willingness to show up and live with uncertainty in an ever changing world. What if faith isn’t about having or even needing to have the answers but about asking better questions, deeper questions that help us discover meaning and live more wholeheartedly?
If that’s what faith is like, then what are the deep questions in your life today? And what would it be like to follow those questions? What if doubts and questions aren’t failures of faith but prayers and invitations for the Spirit to offer a word of wisdom and guidance? (Charleston, Ladder to the Light, 28) What’s your better question today?
Fear and Faith
There have been times in my life when I tried to manufacture faith or get more faith as if it were a thing to be amassed and possessed. I suspect we’ve all said or thought to ourselves, “If only I had more faith.” The problem is that’s never worked for me. I’ve never figured out how to get more faith.
Maybe that’s because the issue isn’t about the quantity or size of our faith. Maybe Jesus really meant what he said about faith the size of a mustard seed being enough (Matthew 17:20). Maybe faith isn’t something we acquire or get for ourselves but something we’ve all already been given, something innate to us, a way of being.
What if the issue isn’t the size or quantity of our faith but our fear? More often than not when I’ve struggled with faith fear was somewhere in the mix. Maybe the enemy and thief of faith isn’t doubt but fear. Maybe that’s why in today’s gospel (Luke 12:32-40) Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” He’s not asking us to ignore or deny our fears but to face them.
What are you afraid of today? What is robbing you of faith and keeping you from setting out for a new homeland, re-imaging your life, and living as fully as you can manage in this moment?
I’ve come to believe that faith, God’s belief in us, is the courage to deal with our fears. Faith will not, however, eliminate our fears. Instead, it shows us “that something is more important than what we fear.” (Hollis, Swamplands, 116) Do you know what that something is, what is more important than what you and I fear?
We are. You and I are more important than what we fear.
If that’s what faith is like, then I wonder what doors are being opened to us. What possibilities lay before us? And what would it be like for you and me to say yes to the faith God has in us?
Here’s what I think that would mean for us: By faith Mickey set out, by faith Jane set out, by faith James set out, by faith Lisa set out, by faith Willie set out, by faith Anna set out.
By faith you and I set out.
So, are you ready to set out? No, probably none of us are. But together, by faith we can.