When the ancients spoke of faith, they used a word that described a signature on a contract or a title deed. Faith was the oath that lay beneath such a document. A buyer may not have yet taken full possession of the property, but the closing documents gave them the faith that they one day would.
Faith, then, was not wishful thinking. It was not “blind.” For the heroes of old, it was a promise; a promise as good as the name of the person signing the contract. They believed that God’s word to them was trustworthy. That was the source of their faith.
I don’t know much about title deeds, but I know a little about another act of faith. As a minister, I’ve officiated my fair share of weddings. Though the names, faces, and stories change, most of these young, dreamy-eyed lovers who come to the altar all act the same. They are all filled with hope, love and visions for the future. They are overwhelmed with all these romantic notions of marriage.
And this is all good, for these wistful effects are all necessary ingredients for their happiness. These will serve as fuel to launch them forward. “I promise love, honor, cherish and protect, forsaking all others,” they say. And when they exchange their rings, and walk away married, they also launch out into one of the greatest acts of faith possible.
Those marriage vows will not protect them from the trials of life, matrimony, and family. Those vows will not pay the mortgage. Those vows will not prevent birth defects in their children, or ensure success with their business ventures, or keep the effects of economic recession outside their home.
Their faith in one another will not mean the end of sickness, disagreement, poverty, or any variegated means of gut-wrenching suffering. But if those vows mean anything at all, then their faith will carry them through these things. There is bound to be trouble; faith does not and can not stop that. But faith moves a person through it, even when they don’t know what is waiting on the other side.
Enough of this faith that professes the ability to change our circumstances; we need a faith that changes us. For if faith secured for every person who claimed to have it, a soft life, never a disappointment, abundance on every hand, the elimination of doubt, and the absence of fear, hospital bills, hunger, attorney fees or loss – well, then God owes a great many people a colossal apology.
We don’t need romantic, utopian faith. It is useless, nothing more than an opiate to dull our senses and keep us from seeing the way things really are. We need realistic, vow-keeping faith. We need a faith that says, “I know life is hard. I know things don’t always work out. I know that into every life some rain must fall, but he who promised is faithful to me – more faithful than any lover or spouse could ever be – and together, we will make it through.”
My favorite profession of faith does not roll off the lips of one of the Bible’s great well-known heroes of faith. It comes from a simple man, a faceless, nameless hero we know precious little about. His story is found in Mark 9.
This unknown man brings his sick child to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal the boy, if it all possible. Jesus replies, “All things are possible if you will believe.” The man, impulsively shouts back to Jesus – “I believe, but Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.”
That is the journey most of us are on. We believe – at least we want to. We have faith – tiny and feeble – but faith nonetheless. And we have doubts: Bone crushing doubts. That’s okay too. Countless heroes have gone before us, dying in the darkness, never making it to the light.
Did they doubt? Yes. Did they persevere? Absolutely. They held to a promise God made to them, that he would make everything right, even if they never lived to see it. I suppose that is the faith we all need.