If I could hold it in my hand, I imagine that it would be round — a sphere composed of a changing mixture of light and dark through a hazy mist.
When I wrap my fingers around it’s vapor-like substance, it slowly disperses through my fingertips and loses all shape and form. When I bring it close to examine, the individual subtleties disappear.
This strange, elusive orb appears in greater clarity the less rigid my grip becomes. My examination of it’s substance becomes clearer the further I hold it from me. The individual parts can’t be defined apart from observation of the whole.
Faith is a mysterious thing.
What IS Faith?
I can pull the definition out of my apothecary box of Christian education.
“The substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Tumbling out right behind is the Hebrews’ “Faith Hall of Fame” — a long list those who trusted and received because they had demonstrated faith.
But to be honest with you, the Hebrews definition doesn’t sit well with me. It seems overly-simplistic and even—dare I say—trite.
Maybe it’s because it’s been overused (and abused) in greeting cards, posters, home decorations and the like. When it’s used so casually and frequently, trying to hear it in a fresh way can be like driving down an old dirt road with well-worn tire tracks that leave a big hump smack in the middle. There’s no hope of veering off those familiar tread marks unless you steer determinedly off course, violently shaking your vehicle and self in the process.
But rest assured—life experience will do that for you. It will shake you right out of your expectations and into the real experience of the thing.
It’s not just that I’m having a hard time looking at the verse with fresh eyes. It’s that the author has left out an integral and, to me, the most relatable part of the idea of faith. Even in the rest of the chapter, it’s conspicuously missing.
What’s missing you ask?
I don’t think that Noah, when God told him to build a boat in the middle of land, obeyed with no reservations. I imagine that he probably looked around him and thought… “This is the craziest freaking idea….”.
But we’re not privy to that part.
The struggle was real with Sarah — wife of Abraham. In the book of Genesis, we’re told that Sarah laughed when she heard God say that she would give birth to a son.
But the author of Hebrews doesn’t mention this. Instead, it’s said that, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”
Sarah’s faith struggle is side-stepped, and a full-throttle, no-holds-bar jump is made into the conclusion—that she considered God faithful.
The conspicuous absence of the very human element of doubt is unfortunate. Maybe it’s just me, but my personal experience with faith has never been easy. There’s always struggle — a struggle to understand. A call to trust. A letting go….
This struggle to know and understand has become integral to the faith process for me. I have to struggle in order to know.
I wonder if it’s the same for everyone? If so, I wish we could go back in time and have the author of Hebrews re-write this exposition. I suppose it wouldn’t carry the big point that was being made through the entire letter to the Hebrews — but it would stand alone better.
In my mind, anyhow.
Faith = A Hypothesis (kinda)
When I married my husband, I decided to trust him with my life and heart. I couldn’t know for certain that he would be a dependable partner, or a good father. All I could do was evaluate what I had experienced and seen from him up to that point in time, and make the educated guess that he wouldn’t let me down.
And lucky me — he hasn’t. Not one bit.
Similarly, I can catch glimpses of God through the world around me, through others experiences of trust in Him — and then I either decide that I will trust that there’s a loving God… or not. I end up making an educated guess that this God is trustworthy — a kind of hypothesis. Will he prove to be faithful? I can‘t know, unless put my trust in him initially.
When I trust, a pathway for knowing the divine opens wide.
A Purpose for Faith
So, what in the world is the reason for the mystery? Why can’t God definitively show me that he exists? Why can’t he just tell me out loud that he loves me? Why can’t he just explain the difficult things in life to me?
I can only come to this conclusion — that this whole faith life has a purpose, and it’s a big one:
The only way to trust is to have an element of “not knowing” in which trust can manifest. The mystery provides an opportunity for trust, which leads to a different kind of knowing — a heart knowledge as opposed to a head knowledge. An experiential knowledge instead of a book knowledge.
And here’s what I’ve learned through this ongoing faith struggle…
When I finally surrender the grip of having to understand, and instead open my heart in trust, this mysterious substance of faith appears with such clarity that I’m often brought to tears by the wonder of it.
And it’s here — in this surrendered place — that I’ve found peace and experience the divine.
(And doubt paved every step of the way.)