Day 10: The God Bottle
Behold, the soul of him is puffed up and is not upright, but the just shall live by his faith. Habakkuk 2:4
Faith – We all know the second part of this verse. Paul quotes it in Romans as the centerpiece of the theology of grace. “The just shall live by faith.” We don’t earn our way to God. We come to Him by faith. Ah, but now there is a problem. Just what is this faith, anyway? Does this verse say, “The man justified by faith shall live,” or “The just man shall live by his faith.” You might have to read this twice to see the difference. Is “faith” something that I have to acquire and accumulate in order to live a life pleasing to God?
You might say that the first reading is correct. We are justified by faith (whose?) and for that reason we live. But listen to the way Christians usually talk. “God will remove the barriers in your life if you have enough faith.” “You need more faith in order to see God bring about a miracle.” “She had great faith, so God answered her prayers.” All of this kind of talk makes it seem like “faith” is some sort of elixir in a God bottle. We need to collect more of it to be prepared for a crisis. If we can just purchase an additional supply (say “Hail Mary’s”, put in some extra offering, do a few more good deeds), then we will have it on hand when we need it the most. We want more “faith,” but we’re not quite sure how to get it. It’s definitely not on eBay.
Part of the translation problem is that neither Greek nor Hebrew have punctuation marks. So, we don’t know where the comma is supposed to go (or even if there is supposed to be one.) We have to take our guidelines from the rest of Scripture. What we discover, of course, is that “faith” is not like medicine. In fact, it’s not a substance at all. It is a word for relationship, and just like any other relationship, you can’t bottle it or store it or purchase it on credit. The relationship exists only in equitable exchange. You don’t have a “relationship” with someone you never speak to. The idea that “faith” is something that I acquire is as misguided as the idea that children are something I own. In fact, the Hebrew word for faith, ‘emunah’, is typically a word about character, the utter reliability and fidelity of someone, particularly God. Faith is my active attitude of total reliance on God’s absolute trustworthiness. That means that my “faith” is demonstrated in the action of putting myself in His care, no matter what the circumstances! Until and unless I act on His reliability, I just don’t have faith. I might have a set of written beliefs that I can recite, but I won’t have any active relationship. Faith is only found in the action, not the declaration. Israel claimed to have “faith” in God, but their actions revealed denial of His claim on them. The truth is that they were faithless.
How much faith does it take to please God? The question itself is misguided. If faith is the action of trusting Him, then I either act or I don’t act. I either trust Him, or I try my own way. There is no half-full measure here. So, how do I get this faith? God grants it, freely, abundantly, continuously. From God’s side to the relationship, nothing impedes your trust in Him. All you have to do is act accordingly.