What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to believe in God’s promises? What does it mean to have confidence that God is who he says he is and that God will do what he says he will do? What is the nature of that faith, that belief, that confidence?
There are times during this long and wearying pilgrimage when we undergo severe tests of our faith—tests that are often related to our losses and bereavements. Even if we are never tempted to cast off all allegiance to Christ or to throw away all desire to follow in his ways, we may still be challenged to believe—or not believe—that what God says is true—true about life and death, true about earth and heaven, true about time and eternity. We may face the kind of challenge that calls us to live in one way if we believe and to live in another if we do not.
There are days when we believe as an instinct, as the natural impulse of the heart and mind. In such days we easily and immediately regard it as unassailably true that heaven is real, that Providence is kind, that God is working all things for good, that even our deepest griefs will someday prove to be light and momentary afflictions when measured against an eternal weight of glory.
But then there are days when we believe as a decision, as an act of the will. While some days the most instinctual words out of our mouths are confident, other days they are hesitant. Some days we have all the boldness of Peter and other days all the hesitation of Thomas. On some days we proclaim, “I believe” but on others we plead, “please help my unbelief.” Or perhaps the best we can do is pose our faith as a question, a kind of self-interrogation: “I do believe, right?”
While we prefer the former days, we have to learn to embrace the latter, to learn that faith is not passive but active, not always an instinct of the heart but often an act of the will—and to learn that faith is no less real when it comes as a decision rather than a compulsion. Faith is often choosing to believe in the face of grief, the face of adversity, the face even of doubt. Faith is not less than intellectual, but is certainly far more: it is grasping and reaching toward divine promises, taking hold of what God has said to be true, clinging to it with whatever conviction we can muster, and pleading—pleading earnestly—that God will be powerfully present in his grace and comfort.
Trusting God, we learn, is not just a matter of recalling knowledge in a moment of need, but applying the whole heart, soul, strength, and mind to accept and believe it—even when the heart is broken and the soul weary, even when strength is sapped and the mind bewildered. Faith is complicated, not simple, and difficult, not easy. Like so much else in life, faith takes practice and rewards diligence. Faith brings us far beyond the end of ourselves and leaves us utterly dependent upon the goodness and mercy of a loving God.
What does it mean to trust God? It means that in our lowest moments we will resolve to believe that what God says is true. It means that even in our darkest valleys we will determine to take God at his word. It means that even when we don’t know what to do or where to go, we will look to God with faith and, as either an immediate instinct or a deliberate act of the will, anchor ourselves on the One who has promised that his every word proves true and reliable, that he will shelter and protect all those who run to him for refuge.