Saturday, April 30, 2011

Do You Have Enough Faith?

Regarding unanswered prayers, I've heard quite often in the Church that people don't have enough faith. There tends to be two different meanings to this statement. The first is that people are not trusting the evidence that they have that God is trustworthy when it comes to the unknown. The second is that people aren't trusting God to give them what they want.

I don't have a problem with the first; its the second that causes serious issues both inside and outside the Church. In the previous post (What is Faith?) I had mentioned the importance of knowing the nature of the person that we are looking to put trust in. If you don't have a proper understanding of that person's character, then any trust is likely to fail us. In the case of the second statement, if we believe that by placing faith in God we will be made healthy or rich, we are bound to have our faith in God shaken or even destroyed.


If we have a proper understanding of God (that He is more interested in shaping our character to be more like His for an eternal relationship with Him, than our current comfort level), then we will realize that pain and suffering are actually a boon. Unfortunately, the wrong idea of what faith in God should produce is coming from both inside and outside the Church. The entire culture is obsessed with the individuals' existential pleasure. That obsession is reflected in our theology (See "God You Way, Right Away"). This cultural permeation of the Church has caused many to teach that God always wants us to be healthy and be monetarily secure.

Many Christians have recognized that this "health and wealth" "gospel" is a false gospel and have labeled it as such. However, the real danger comes when Christians who would not verbally accept that false gospel, yet tell people that the reason they are sick or are in a financial hardship is because of their lack of faith. Most of the time the implication is that if the person had enough faith, God would heal them or give them a truck-load of money to fix the problem. When the person is not healed or does not get relief from the economic hardship, they lose their reason to trust God, and I've seen some completely leave the faith.

On the other side, though, this is true in a sense. The reason that God puts us through hardships is precisely because be don't have enough trust in Him- we are still trusting in ourselves (an untrustworthy source). But just because we start to exercise our faith, that does not mean that God will immediately pull us out of whatever discomfort we are experiencing. God's molding us into the character of His Son is not a one-time investment; it is a life-long commitment. If it were a one-time investment, man would take credit for passing the test, then slide back into a life that is everything but reflective of God's character.

As a Christian who wishes to grow in my faith, it is important for me to understand this part of God's character. As a defender of the Christian faith, I must understand what I am defending before I can defend it. Also, if someone is arguing against the Christian faith, they must recognize that this is the character of the Christian God and argue against it, not some strawman. Pain and suffering are not a problem in the Christian worldview.

I must understand the true character of man as a morally fallen being in order to relinquish my trust in man (thus increase my trust in God); while the non-Christian must understand that a morally corrupt nature being the character of man is part of the Christian worldview, and argue against that. If man is not morally corrupted, it follows that there is no need for Christ's sacrifice. It also follows that man can choose his own way to God- if not exalt himself as God. However, if man's nature is morally corrupt, then it follows that we may only come back to God on His terms.

Related Posts
Is Faith Emotional or Logical?
What is Faith?
Is Blind Faith Biblical?

4 comments:

  1. While I do think that so-called health and wealth preachers tend to imply a sort of realized eschatology, I think evangelicals have been too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Health and wealth is threaded throughout the bible.

    While I agree that it would be with improper to blame a person's lack of faith as to why they are dealing with poverty or illness, we see Jesus all throughout the gospels speaking of these things as Satanic oppression. It seems backwards to tell someone that they are suffering from some sort of satanic oppression because God's forming their soul. I would argue that the formation of the soul comes from resisting these things in faith, not merely resigning one's self into a passive submission of suffering from things that it Christ himself fought against.

    Jesus is preparing a bride, someone he desires to be co-rulers with him (Rev. 2:26-28, 3:21, 5:10, 2 Tim 2:12). We'll suffer because satan is still the god of this world, and he'll fight us for every inch, but through redemption we have the authority to fight and overcome.

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  2. Erik,

    Thanks for the comment. You provide a good counter-balance that needs to be recognized. However, I do think that it too needs to be nuanced. You mentioned that it would be backwards to attribute all suffering to Satan. That is supported Biblically also. Jesus did described some sickness as being the oppression of Satan, but we have to recognize that Jesus did not state that ALL physical ailments were from the Devil. For instance, Jesus did not attribute a man's blindness to Satan in John 9. He rather attributed its presence "so that the works of God may be displayed in him" (v 3).

    Jesus also made no mention of oppression by Satan in the healing of the Centurion's servant (Matt 8, Luke 7). Jesus was going to heal the servant before he had heard the amount of faith that the Centurion had. When He heard, the focus changed to that. So, it is clear that suffering is used to build faith. This would support what you said about not being passive. I'm certainly not submitting that we should be passive in dealing with our struggles. We need to actively trust God, not necessarily to heal, but to get us through the situation and build our trust in Him. God's will may be that we be healed, but it may also be that we are not. Either way, we must trust Him, and do what we can to further his Kingdom with the circumstances that He has given us.

    Finally, we have to remember that Christ's miracles (including the healings) was not to show who had enough faith and who did not. The purpose of Christ's miracles was to verify his message (John 3:1-2) of eternal life with the Father being only found through Him (John 14:6). The fact that people were healed is a result of the miracles. The fact that they had a certain amount of faith was a side-note (the faith of the blind man was never mentioned) that was commended when it was displayed.

    Neither a lack of faith, nor Satan can be necessarily known to be a factor in suffering. However, we should still fight against suffering. Because man has been created in the image of God, he has intrinsic worth and dignity. We should do all in our power to help aleiviate the suffering of individuals and to support them in their suffering, even if the means is through our own suffering. If we can have a positive effect on the Kingdom that is directly the result of our own suffering, we bring great glory to God. And that brings us closer to Him.

    So, there is no need to consider suffering in our lives necessarily a bad thing. It is only a bad thing when we are passive by letting its presence stifle our part in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20).

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  3. Hey Luke,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm sure we agree more than we disagree. I do have a few contentions with your reply, and I hope you find my responses constructive.

    You say that faith was merely a side-note and imply that their faith didn't play much of a role in their healing. The plain view of the multiple passages just do not bear out such an interpretation. Jesus told the woman with the issue of blood that "your faith has healed you". (Mk. 5:34) The two blind men in Matthew 9, Jesus told them that "According to your faith be it done to you". He also told Bartimaeus that "your faith has healed you".

    Moreover, in Nazareth the gospel writers tell us that Jesus *could not* do any mighty work save heal a few sick and that he marveled at their unbelief. So it seems from just a straightforward reading of the gospels that Jesus healed in response to faith. Moreover, Jesus repeatedly rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith, and in response to the shaken father of the epileptic whom Jesus' disciples could not heal, in Mark 9, Jesus didn't seem thrilled with the lack of faith, saying - ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Faith is cited for the divine response, which doesn't really seem controversial because through faith we receive salvation and continual forgiveness from God.

    I don't think that suffering from sickness brings glory to God, it seems that Jesus saw fighting sickness and disease as spiritual warfare against the kingdom of darkness, ("binding the strong man").

    Peter was more explicit - "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

    We see this mindset also in the writings of the early church fathers like Tertullian, who argued "diseases and other grievous calamities” were the result of demons whose “great business is the ruin of mankind.” Athenagoras, Origen, Clement, Justin Martyr and Tatian made similar points as well.

    Now, again I wouldn't say that there is a demon directly behind every disease, but it does seem from the Bible that there is a corruption in nature that wasn't God's original intention, that there is an evil corruption in the earth that Christ fought in his incarnate state, his apostles fought during Jesus' earthly ministry and after Pentecost. This is part and parcel of the great commission, and it's hard to fulfill such a mission if we're bedridden and diseased.

    Finally, regarding your interpretation of John 9. It's a common passage that comes up, but I think if we take a harder look we see that Jesus isn't saying the man was born blind so God would get some sort of glory out of it. In most translations, Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:1–3). This response is considered evidence that blindness is as much the result of God’s activity as is the healing from blindness. However, the words “he was born blind so that” are not in the original Greek. The Greek simply has, “let the works of God be revealed in him.” Jesus then shows what the work of God is by healing the man. Far from suggesting that God causes blindness (as punishment or for any other reason).

    I just don't see any scriptural warrant to suggest that we cannot overcome illness by faith and obedience, or that God wants (or gets glory) out his children suffering from illness or disease.

    Does that mean we understand why some fail to receive? No, it doesn't. Nor is it helpful play the role of Job's comforters and tell someone sick that they sinned or don't have enough faith. But we can point them to Jesus, who loves us enough to became a curse for us, who died for us and bore our sicknesses and infirmities. We don't have to appeal to some mysterious purpose of God as why tragedy happens.

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  4. Erik,

    I found that response quite constructive (thank you), and it leads me to think that we might actually agree on this issue. I think that I'm taking a more general approach to prayer and the miracles of Jesus, while you are focusing on the miracles and prayers of healing.

    I really like that you brought in Job. I will likely get to that later in our conversation. I need to ask a couple questions that will lead to others, first, though:

    1. Does "enough faith" guarantee that a person's prayer/request of God will be answered in the way they desire?

    2. What does "I offer myself as a living sacrifice" mean?

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