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faith

November 23, 2010

Have you ever stopped to ponder what it might have been like for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, knowing that each day they would completely exhaust their food supply? Have you thought what it would be like knowing that they would go to bed with no food, but that the next day their supplies would be fully and miraculously replenished? It is an interesting, thought, really, and one that is worth considering.

In the Wilderness

MannaImagine that you are an Israelite father or mother and that you have three or four young children depending on you. Imagine putting these children to bed in the evening, knowing that there is not a bit of food to be found anywhere in your tent. Just to be sure, you wander over to the fridge and open it up. The glare from the light shows nothing but the glistening white of the inside of the Kenmore. There is nothing on any of the shelves; nothing in any of the drawers. There isn’t even a mostly-empty jar of relish left over from when you made burgers a few weeks earlier. There isn’t a clove of garlic or an old stick of butter. There is nothing. You close the door and open the freezer and as you wave your hand to brush aside the mist, you see that every corner of the freezer is empty. You turn to the nearby pantry and, looking high and low, see that there is not a bag, not a box, not a jar to be found. You have no food. Nothing.

As you tuck your daughter into bed that night, she says, “Daddy, what will we eat for breakfast tomorrow?” And with utter sincerity and utter confidence you say, “God will provide.” And, despite the bare cupboards and the empty fridge, you are able to go to sleep that night with full confidence that there will be food for you the next day. When you wake in the morning, you unlock the tent door, step outside, and see the world around covered in food like frost on a cold winter morning. You are able to quickly and easily collect enough food for the day, and can head inside knowing that the children will have all the food they need that day. As you nuke their mannapancakes, you whisper a prayer of gratitude that God provided again. Yet again.

But you also know that God has provided for only that day. The manna that lay on the ground was not enough for today and tomorrow. As the sun rises in a few minutes, the manna will melt into the ground and be gone. God has not provided for a week or a month or a quarter—he has provided for only one day at a time. You have heard of people who doubted God’s providence and hoarded manna, packing it into Tupperware and stuffing it into the deepest recesses of their fridges, freezers, and cupboards. But when they took it out and tried to eat it, they found that it was rotten and disgusting, crawling with worms and smelling worse than sandaled feet in a hot desert. You know that as day fades into night, and as you prepare the evening meal, you’ll find that you have just enough manna to eat, and that as you close your eyes in sleep, you’ll lie in peace, knowing that God will provide again tomorrow. But only for tomorrow.

April 23, 2008

Here is another excerpt from James Spiegel’s Gum, Geckos and God. This brief passage deals with how and why we trust God (or fail to trust God).


The other day I was sitting in a faculty meeting, trying not to doze off during some committee reports. As I looked around, I mused over how much each of my colleagues understands about his or her discipline. It occurred to me that if there was a single mind that possessed all of the knowledge in that room, its intelligence would be surpassed in human history. I also considered how easy it would be to trust such a person if he or she were to counsel me on some matter. From there I extrapolated: What if that person had all of the combined knowledge of everyone in Indiana? In the United States? Of the entire world population? Even if God had merely the sum of all human understanding, he should be easy to trust. Yet his wisdom and knowledge infinitely exceed the best human comprehension. Still we struggle to trust him. How twisted is that?

Faith is essentially the practice of trust. And our routine failure to properly trust an infinitely wise God reveals something of our own perversity. We all desire to control our circumstances, and faith is a surrendering of that control. So we naturally tend to rebel against faith. But God graciously counteracts this tendency by nurturing us. Like a good parent, he consistently demonstrates his love. And we, like kids, must trust him on this basis.

August 27, 2007

It strikes me often how life is cyclical; how things I wrestle with and ponder and pray about will come to the forefront of my life and faith a month or a year or two years later. One of the biggest blessings of having a journal (which is often how this site functions for me) is that I can go back and see how I dealt with these things in the past. It is good to see how situations repeat themselves but how my responses may vary with time and Christian experience.

In the past couple of years I’ve often given a lot of thought to the nature and strength of my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. These times of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be pictured as something like a line graph. Certain points along the x-axis are very high along the y-axis and, I trust, almost unshakable. I believe, for example, that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken, or at least surely not destroyed. I never struggle with whether or not God exists. Beside that there are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is inerrant; God has saved me and adopted me into His family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have a good deal of faith and I praise God for this.

As we travel down the x-axis, down towards the long tail (that portion of the graph which skirts the 0 on the x-axis, but doesn’t quite reach it), we come to areas where my faith is not quite so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier. They are areas where I tend to see emotion come into conflict with knowledge—with what I know to be true but often don’t accept as truth.

This gentle slope continues almost until the line almost touches against the x-axis, the place where my faith seems to just run out. It just stops. Just like that we come to the edge of my faith and are left with those areas where my faith is vague and distant and shows little conviction. I know certain things are true in my head, but my heart rebels. And what is lurking down here? The one thing I’ve found through all my heart-searching is the faith that God will take care of my family if I cannot; that He can do far better at taking care of them than I can. You see, I desire heaven. I truly do want to be in heaven and to see an end to this life which is so filled with pain and discomfort and all manner of things that will be absent in heaven. I do desire to be with the Lord and know that this desire is healthy. Yet I must desire it just a little less than I desire to stay right here. And the principle reason for this, I’m convinced, is that I don’t trust God with my family.

I know that if I were to go to heaven I would leave my family here without me. Aileen would be left without a husband and my children would be left without their daddy. And who would take care of them? Who would support the family financially, bringing in the money to buy food and clothing? Who would put a roof over their heads? Who would continue my work in teaching my son to play baseball and who would tell my daughter she looks beautiful when she puts on her favorite pink dress and spins across the room? Who would cuddle and tickle the baby every morning? Who would make sure the doors are locked and quietly assure the children that “daddy is here, everything will be alright?”

I have given my family to God. I have said to God that He is free to do what He wills with them and I will accept His decision. And I’ve meant it, as much as I can. Of course I know that God is not dependent on me in this way, but it was a faith-building exercise for me. Likewise I have given Him my life, begging Him to live in and through me and to use me however He sees fit, even if that means bringing me home to Himself. But despite my pleas and despite my apparent faith in His goodness, I am still not ready to leave my family. Maybe in my head I am, but certainly not in my heart.

I guess what it comes down to is the harsh truth that I trust God with my life, but not with theirs. I trust that He will provide for them, but only through me. The hypocrisy in my heart is terrible, I know. Somehow I believe that God needs me to take care of my family. Somehow I believe that He will provide for them, but yet I don’t believe He can or will do it apart from me. Somehow I must believe that I am the one taking care of them.

But there must be a second factor at work here. I must also have too low a view of heaven. If all that God has revealed about heaven is true, and I believe it is, I ought to desire it more than anything. I should feel the same anticipation as the apostles who spoke continually about their hope being not in this life, but in the life to come. It is clear to me that I am basking in temporary, fleeting pleasures that are merely a shadow of what is to come, and enjoying these so much I am not looking forward to the real thing. I am licking my lips in anticipation of the crumbs that will fall under the table rather than anticipating the great feast that is to come.

And I guess the third factor is that I do not, in my heart of hearts, trust the church to fulfill its role in caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure they would be there initially and for a few weeks the freezer would be stuffed full of macaroni casseroles, but my faith does not extend to six or eight months down the road when I have long since been forgotten and the deepest loneliness sets in to the family.

So this is my confession based on much reflection. It is almost embarrassing to write about this. It is humiliating to come to the edge of my faith. Yet I trust that with His help He and I will be able to push the edge of my faith further up that slope. And God is good to reassure me, even through the very people I am so hesitant to leave. Just yesterday afternoon my daughter turned to me, completely out of the blue, and said, “Daddy, I don’t have to be scared if I wake up at night because God is holding my hand. It says in the Bible that God holds us in the palm of His hand. God will always take care of me.” What joy it brought to my heart to hear that simple expression of my daughter’s fledgling faith that there is a God and that He cares. And somewhere, somehow, despite the rebellion of my heart, I know that He will protect them no matter what, with or without my help.

August 15, 2007

Trusting our instruments rather than our sight or instincts.

A few months ago I was watching a program called “Mayday,” which I believe is actually several other shows all rolled into one and branded for a Canadian audience. It is a show about disasters, and most notably, plane crashes. It sounds morbid, I admit, but I find it interesting (though I’ll admit that it has made my children inordinately afraid of flying. They are now convinced that every plane crashes). This particular episode was playing in the middle of the night at a time when I was awake with some variation of the stomach flu. So I sat and watched and let it take my mind of my illness.

On this night the show followed the story of a plane that had nearly crashed years before. The plane had been flying along just as it should and all appeared normal when suddenly it began to experience all kinds of strange problems. It gyrated across the sky, plummeting thousands of feet at a time and turning violently to one side. One and then two of the four engines stalled and failed, leaving the plane without the power it needed to maintain level flight. The pilot and copilot responded instinctually, doing their best to right the course of the aircraft. Meanwhile hundreds of passengers waited in abject terror, not knowing if they would live or die. The pilots fought valiantly and eventually found they were able to control the plane. Mysteriously, the engines started again and they were able again to provide sufficient power. The pilots directed the plane to a nearby airport and landed safely. Only a handful of passengers experienced serious injury though the plane sustained heavy damage from the immense loads placed on it during flight.

In the aftermath, investigators found that almost everything that had occurred had been the fault of the pilots. When the plane encountered some turbulence the plane’s flight manual told the pilots how to react. But they relied on instinct rather than the book. And then, when the plane began to experience further complications, they ignored the instruments that should have directed them to the source and solution of their problem. They swung the plane violently from side to side attempting to right it because they ignored the aircraft’s instrument that told them where the horizon was and how to keep the plane level. They ignored the instruments that told them that their engine problem was not as serious as they thought. Blinded by the stress of the situation, they ignored the manual and did things their own way. But for the hand of providence it could have cost them their lives and the lives of hundreds of passengers.

I often jot down little phrases or sentences, things I want to ponder and consider at another time. Not too long ago I wrote down the words “trusting the instruments (flying blind).” As I thought about those words I was reminded of this story from “Mayday.” Those pilots refused to trust their instruments, relying instead on their flawed understanding of the situation. Even though they thought they could see clearly out the front of the plane, they were in fact flying blind because they refused to heed the information conveyed to them by their instruments. In Polishing God’s Monuments Jim Andrews makes a similar connection, talking about a similar incident, but one that led to the plane crashing to earth.

What made this even a double calamity was the lethal convergence of two factors: bad weather and pilot error. The investigative report of the incident indicated the unfortunate pilot was flying in heavy fog. It went on to explain that when a pilot is flying in those conditions, it is vital that he rely solely on his instruments as opposed to flying “by the seat of his pants.” This is because without a visual point of reference, one’s senses can be easily fooled into thinking the plane is doing the exact opposite.

Though the pilot in this story was apparently quite experienced, he was notorious among his peers for having one fatal flaw: he tended to rely predominantly on the feel of the plane and his visual reference, rather than to trust the guidance of his instruments. In the report, his colleagues remarked that they could never understand why such a well-trained pilot was so disposed to this grievous error, though they warned that for new pilots, it’s not an easy skill to master.

Neither is it an easy spiritual lesson to learn.

We are prone to this same foolishness in our spiritual lives. Rather than trusting in our “instruments,” in the revealed Word of God, we so often trust in our instincts and our internal guidance. Rather than relying on what is given to guide us and what is far more trustworthy, we rely on things that are always changing, always imperfect. As Andrews says, there is a difference “between walking by faith and walking by feelings—trusting our instruments rather than our sight or instincts. In the fog of life our feelings will mock our faith and fairly scream at us that God has walked out on us, but our instruments will always reassure us that he is still there, walking right beside us.”

This is not to say that our feelings are useless or that we should never heed them. God gave us feeling and emotion for a reason and they often serve as useful guides to what is happening in our hearts. It often seems that those who place the greatest emphasis on revealed truth are those who place the least emphasis on feelings. This should not be so. But we must always realize that only one of these is a standard; only one is firm and unchanging; only one is perfect.

It is good to have the revealed Word available to us. It is this Word that provides the unchanging standard, the instruments that can reassure us, even when the fog is heavy, when the engines have stopped and when we don’t know whether we’re going up or down.