Friday, February 22, 2008

Without Faith

There's a verse in the Bible which says that it's impossible to please God without faith.

Cynical people might say, "Well, sure. It's impossible to please God no matter what you do, so why try?" Sometimes, I must confess that I've felt that way, particularly when going through hard times which have felt extremely unfair to me.

But even though it might feel that way sometimes, it contradicts the evidence which can be found in the scriptures. God doesn't expect perfection. Abraham pleased God. Moses pleased God. David pleased God. John the Baptist pleased God. None of them was perfect. None of them pleased God all of the time. But they managed to please God more often than most of us do. And there have been millions of others who have pleased God, to greater or lesser degrees, throughout the centuries. They pleased God because they had faith.

What is faith? It's the evidence of things hoped for but not yet seen. Faith, by definition, requires that one choose to believe that things will get better, even though such a belief seems to defy the circumstantial evidence in front of one's eyes.

Some would say that faith is inherently irrational. I think that's untrue. It isn't so much a matter of whether or not one is rational, as it is a matter of what evidence most influences one's attitudes.

For a person who lacks faith, external circumstances trump the evidence of God's character, as demonstrated throughout history in the form of God's dealings with people. For a person who has faith, it's the other way around. There's evidence to support both points of view, so it's a question of deciding which evidence matters the most to you. It isn't easy to ignore circumstantial evidence and focus on God's character instead, but it can be done.

Reading the Old Testament, I am struck by how often God put the nation of Israel into a position of disadvantage precisely so that they would be forced, when they prevailed in spite of such circumstances, to acknowledge that they could not have prevailed solely by relying on their own strength. "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' saith the Lord." The scriptures say that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. God does not despise the weak, God welcomes the weak. The ones God despises are those who foolishly and incorrectly think that they don't need Him.

It doesn't take faith to sing songs of praise to God when everything is going great. Any fool can do that. Faith is continuing to sing songs of praise even when one is locked up in prison and all hope seems gone.

Some modern preachers misrepresent faith in such a way as to cause great disappointment among those who are deceived by their messages. Faith is presented as some type of magical formula for success or some type of foolproof self-help program. Such a presentation can lead to false expectations, and that can lead people to fall away from true faith.

Did the Christian martyrs who died in the Roman colosseums lack faith in Christ? On the contrary, it was their faith which enabled them to stand fast for Christ, even to the very moments of their deaths. Their faith did not guarantee that they would be spared from suffering or pain.

If God had promised carefree lives to all of those who put their faith in Him, we would be justified in losing faith when things didn't go our way. But He never made such a promise. On the contrary, Jesus promised that those who chose to follow Him would suffer as He had suffered. He promised that we would have troubles in this world, but He also told us to be cheered by the realization that He had overcome this world.

As I write this blog post, I am facing a frightening situation in my life. Specifically, I am facing the possibility of eviction from my home. Such an eviction would be devastating in some respects, particularly with regard to goals I've set in my life.

I like to think that those goals were inspired by God. I'd like to succeed as a Christian artist, musician and writer. I'd like to launch an ambitious Christian ministry of the arts which would make a huge positive difference in our culture. And I believe that I have the ability to do those things, if given the opportunity.

But even assuming that I'm correct in thinking that those goals were inspired by the Holy Spirit, none of those accomplishments would count for anything if I didn't have faith, because it's impossible for a person who has no faith to please God.

Do you understand? On Judgment Day, God will not be impressed with my accomplishments or with yours. He will only want to know a few things. Did we have genuine faith in Him? Did we love Him with our whole hearts? Did we love our neighbors as ourselves? Did we make the most of the resources and abilities which were given to us? Did we do our best to abstain from doing evil, and to make the world a better place by obeying Him? Did we endure to the end, even when faced with pain and suffering which would have caused others to abandon their faith in God?

If we can answer "yes" to those simple questions, we need not fear that God will despise or reject us.

But I'm not pretending that it's easy. I'm not claiming that I've arrived when it comes to perfect faith. I am seriously struggling at this point in my life. So I earnestly solicit your prayers. And I wouldn't have any objections if you were to offer tangible help as well, so that I could achieve my full potential and help others to increase their own faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Mark Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

(773) 509-8126

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