Friday’s Essay - Forcing Faith

12Aug

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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I think we all know situations that cause us to become confused about what God’s doing. As a matter of fact, they might even cause us to question our faith. Now, sometimes these situations are dramatic and life changing, you know, like a death or divorce in the family or maybe an unexpected illness or the sudden lose of financial security. Of course, these are major disruptions that can and probably should cause of us to question a whole lot of things, including the existence of a loving and gracious God. But even though I think we’d all agree that some of this big stuff can throw us for a loop, we don’t want to neglect those smaller issues that may effect only us. And in some ways, these may be even harder to handle, because everybody expects us to be weighed down by the tragic and the overwhelming. Those disappoints and frustrations that hit us where we’re most vulnerable, they often either go unnoticed by others or draw comments like “you need to buck up” or “remember, there are people who have it much worst than you.” I’ll tell you, the resulting isolation can feel just as bad as the problem itself. For example, suppose a person you believed was a friend, a person whom you trusted, a person for whom you cared and you thought cared for you, what happens when things occur that cause you to wonder if you were just deceiving yourself; how should you feel and what should you do? And how should you handle it, if you’ve considered your friend an example of a follower of Christ? Of course, I think we all need to recognize that having feet of clay is a characteristic of our shared humanity. Still, when you’ve been hurt and pushed aside by a brother or sister you trusted, that can be a painful experience, too, one that can lead to the same kind of questions that arise from situations that would seem to be more severe.

But regardless of the perceived severity of the cause, I think we all face times when our faith is not only tested, it’s begins to crack under the strain, and I’m talking about situations when either our sovereign God seems less than loving or our loving God seems less than sovereign. But you know, it’s at those times when we feel detached from the one who combines both freedom and love, we might need to do something that Christians seldom talk about but that I believe is crucial, and I’m talking about forcing faith. In other words, I think there are times when we might need to decide that we’re going to trust God, even though we’re facing situations that make that kind of trust challenging. You see, there are times when we might need to make a difficult choice, that in spite of death or divorce, in spite of sudden illness or financial stress, in spite of friends, even Christians, that disappoint, we’re intentionally going to look pass that stuff so that we might see God, in other words, the Father who never stops loving and the Son who never stops saving and the Spirit that never stops inspiring. I’m telling you, in spite of what might seem to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we may have to stand up on our hind legs and say that the one who’s loving in his freedom and freely offers his love, right now, holds us in his hands. Now that’s what I have in mind when I say that we might need to force faith.

And I’ll tell you, doing this kind of thing has solid Biblical precedent. For example, just think about the 74th Psalm. Now, it’s important to know that this psalm was written after the Babylonian destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, something that the psalmist described when he wrote:

Our God, why have you
    completely rejected us?
    Why are you so angry
    with the ones you care for?
Remember the people
    you rescued long ago,
    the tribe you chose
    to be your very own.
Think of Mount Zion,
    your home;
walk over to the temple
left in ruins forever
    by those who hate us.
Your enemies roared like lions
    in your holy temple,
    and they have placed
    their banners there.
 It looks like a forest
    chopped to pieces.
They used axes and hatchets
    to smash the carvings.
    They burned down your temple
    and badly disgraced it.
They said to themselves,
    “We’ll crush them!”
Then they burned every one
of your meeting places
    all over the country.
There are no more miracles
    and no more prophets.
    Who knows how long
    it will be like this?
Our God, how much longer
    will our enemies sneer?
    Won’t they ever stop
    insulting you?
Why don’t you punish them?
    Why are you holding back?

You see, the psalmist had every reason to doubt either the power or the concern of God, maybe both. And yet, after describing the problem that had crushed his spirit and sapped his faith, he wrote,

Our God and King,
you have ruled
    since ancient times;
    you have won victories
    everywhere on this earth.
By your power you made a path
    through the sea,
    and you smashed the heads
    of sea monsters.
You crushed the heads
    of the monster Leviathan,
    then fed him to wild creatures
    in the desert.
You opened the ground
for streams and springs
    and dried up mighty rivers.
You rule the day and the night,
    and you put the moon
    and the sun in place.
You made summer and winter
    and gave them to the earth.

You see, he’d make the decision to trust in the God who sure seemed to have abandoned him. He chose to force his faith.

Now, it would be wonderful to believe that somehow God will protect his people from all situations that may result in questions or doubt. We also might try to convince ourselves that, if our faith is strong enough, it’ll never waver, but frankly neither is realistic or grounded in scripture. We’ll all face things, both large and small, that cause us to question and to doubt. But when we’re in the middle of these situations, I think it’s important to make the intentional decision to believe, to trust in God. In other words, when we feel extremely vulnerable, we just may need to pray so that he might help us force our faith.
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