Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
These words from the letter to the Hebrews were the basis of one of the first sermons I prepared. In my youthful way I used the bible as a sort of resource book and enjoyed finding definitions that would help me understand its ideas. Faith seemed a very special word then and it remains so for me now.
Christians among others are often called ‘people of faith’ these days but what does that mean?
The word of ‘faith’ is used to mean
BELIEF – this is ‘what ‘ I believe. It might be a creed or my grandmother’s favourite saying or the most pertinent quotation of my much-loved author. It is about the content of faith.
TRUST – this is ‘who’ I believe or what I am willing to commit myself to, whatever happens.
FAITHFULNESS – this describes what I am consistently prepared to be without variation or change.
Jesus commended such faith in all three aspects in his ministry but added a fourth meaning. It is most clearly seen in the story in Mark 2 of four friends who bring a paralysed man to Jesus. They are not deterred by difficulties in getting him to Jesus and we are told Jesus ‘saw’ faith. So I want to add
HOPEFUL LIVING to our understanding of faith. Their actions arose from the hope that Jesus would do what was needed. This wasn’t casual wishful thinking but a conviction that in Jesus there was the source of the healing for both body and soul.
It would have been a great deal of effort to carry their friend to Jesus but behind the effort there was a deep confidence. A Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard defined faith as floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If we are afraid and struggle, we become exhausted and drown.
The buoyancy of the water keeps our faith afloat. We have to trust the power of the ocean.
The American author Denise Levertov who came back to a faith in God after much struggling captures the same thought in her poem ‘The Avowal’
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon the air
and air sustains them;
so would I learn to attain
free fall and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
There are times when faith is a struggle especially when we are trying to work at what we believe and know we have to move on from an understanding that used to help us. Often in such times we might think we are losing our faith but this is a common experience. We need to learn that faith is more than belief; it really is trust. Trusting God with the little that we can work out and being ready to wait for yet more light and truth to be given.
In times when I feel my faith is very poor and incomplete I often lean on this prayer of George Macleod
O Christ the master carpenter
who at the last through wood and nails
purchased our whole salvation;
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
so that we who come rough hewn
to your bench
may here be fashioned
to a truer beauty of your hand.
Rev John Rackley