Faith as Freedom
So why is faith even necessary? Put simply, it’s the only way we can relate to an unseen world and an unseen God. And it’s a positive thing, which is why it’s important to embrace the challenge of faith as an opportunity. We were made in the image of God which, biblically speaking, means that we were made to reign – to influence our world wherever we live, work, play and learn. Dallas Willard describes Christian discipleship as being in "training for reigning." Faith is that space where we’re free to spread our wings. Instead of God continually looking over our shoulder and saying, “Do this, do that!”, we’re free to make our own decisions and learn from them – yes, with the help of God’s Spirit. There is a lot of liberty in faith, which is easy to forget. We wouldn't struggle if there wasn't so much freedom attached to faith.
I love the passage where Jesus says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” ‘Go ahead,’ Jesus says, ‘make your best decision and act, based on what you know about me and what you’ve been able to glean from my teachings. We’ll go with that, for now.’ He knew and knows that we'll make different decisions as disciples and churches. He's much more patient than we are, and a lot more tolerant with us than we are with each another. (It's this lack of tolerance for our inevitable differences that is tearing apart my denomination right now.)
So yes, faith provides us with an opportunity to spread our wings without fear of being shot down (though sometimes I wish he would shoot us down, and sometimes by his grace, he finally does). Faith also gives us space to explore – to explore what we believe and even the nature of faith itself. Just as explorers of the outer reaches of space or the inner reaches of the human soul need to have faith, faith itself needs to be able to explore. We are disciples, and the faith of a disciple needs to be able to ask questions, to probe, to voice doubts and skepticism. I think that’s why Jesus was so enigmatic at times – okay, most of the time. Jesus said it is the faith which asks that receives, which seeks that finds. Faith also knocks, until not just the answer but the Answerer himself opens the door.
Of course, if God does speak or call, our faith must be willing to obey, which is part of the adventure of faith – acting without knowing if you heard correctly, and without knowing what will be the result if you do.
Sharon has been editing some accounts of healing for our brother and sister-in-law, Roger and Sue. They've been missionaries in Africa for thirty-six years. God has used them to accomplish the most remarkable healings, and yet the journey of seeing God respond more and more frequently to their prayers has been gradual, involving a faith that is constantly learning, is willing to be stretched, and to take great risks.
The teachings and actions of Jesus require an inquiring heart, a heart that embraces mystery and dares to believe that a smidgen more of God’s ways will be revealed, if not entirely understood. Faith ushers us into that holy of holies where we can know and be known without the shackles of certitude, even if the only evidence we can point to later are a few scribbles in a journal.
Faith is where our longing is met, if not satisfied. It is the arena of no-holds-barred honesty – both ways. Brunner called it the place of encounter; for Jacob it was the place of wrestling. Faith launches us into life, especially into our calling. Faith is the adventure of being present, with or without fear, to the slowly unfolding filled-to-the-brim moment of the now. It takes up pain and suffering as necessary for expanding our capacity for delight and love, as well as preparing us for whatever future awaits us. Yes, faith is tethered to hope. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
So you see, the need for faith is a gift, not a curse. While I struggle with it at times, it offers me freedom I wouldn't have otherwise. It's a gift from God that's meant to bless us, part of the trinity of faith, hope and love that are essential for abundant living.