Monday, 6 July 2009

Faith Like a Mustard Seed - Or a Lab Rat

I spent Saturday with my grandmother, participating in a Hallmark channel movie marathon from the comfort of her couch. One of the movies' heroines had dealt with the loss of her husband by renouncing her faith in God and was being counseled by a wise old missionary who advised her earnestly that "God's ways can't be understood."

I was immediately struck with the dichotomy the movie offered. It's the same one we are offered everywhere. On one hand is the person who seeks to understand, portrayed alternately as the truth-loving scientist and the hard-headed empiricist; on the other hand is the person who accepts without understanding, depicted either as a noble idealist or as a pie-in-the-sky dream-chaser. The options are only two. Either we can utterly relinquish all claim to that which cannot be held in the hands and counted like peas, or we are forced to shut ourselves into the walled gardens of our fantasies and reach for our ideals by wishing upon stars. Perhaps it is this divide that has left 'faith' romanticized almost beyond repair. It has come to mean a idealistic clinging to what I want to believe at the expense of all that I know. By contrast, to insist upon reason is to reject out of hand all that is not see-able and smell-able.

Hallmark's gentle missionary was presented more as a noble idealist than a brainless fool... but her words made me feel tired. Is this all we really have to tell people? You don't need to understand - just accept it? Must faith be a blind leap into the dark?

But no! God's ways CAN be understood - more and more, as I come to know him. He doesn't ask for blind belief, but action that is based on what I DO know.

It is true that God asks me to trust him when I don't like or understand what he is doing - but he doesn't leave me there. He does let me see some of his plan. I do eventually come to understand the 'why's, as I come to know God himself.

He doesn't explain it all up-front. I do have to trust him - for a little while. The difference is this: I know who I am trusting. He asked for a little trust in the beginning, when I knew him a little; now that I know him better, he asks for more. But it's only a little while that I have to wait without understanding. God is not the enemy of the intellect - he created it. He does ask that we subject our understanding to him, but only for a while, and only to the degree that we know him.

God is not fully encompassed by reason, but he is never unreasonable. Every life winds through dim wastes, and when I find myself in its dark corners, I am driven to reach for his hand. But when I emerge into the sunlight again, understanding casts its rays backward onto the way that I have come and illuminates the reason why. And then, too, with every experience I know more surely the One who has chosen it, and that I can trust the hand that has led me. As I come to know God, his choices for me seem less and less incomprehensible, and more and more I can appreciate the Good he offers, though its wrappings frustrate and sadden me.

My confidence is not based upon the fact that God will give me what is comfortable. It is based upon the fact that God will give me what is Good. How do I know that? Trial and error. I understand how, contrary to appearances, the things that he has already given me have been Good. The things I have chosen for myself have not always been, but His choices have - every time.

A lab rat can exercise that much faith.

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