I believe that faith has a point, though I have often wondered exactly what it is. I believe there is a reason that faith is necessary, though I have often wondered why. I think these questions are worth exploring.
“Seeing is believing” is a truism that characterizes the world that we live in. Some people are generally skeptical and not willing to believe anything (give themselves to an idea) unless they are overwhelming convinced. Other people are quick to believe the things they want to believe, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. People are kind of funny that way.
I believe both extremes are rooted in the same vein. We are born in sin and naturally want to control our own destinies. Skepticism is one way we hang on to that control. Believing in something we want to believe is just another way of clinging to the control of our own destiny (gullibility and naiveté aside).
We want to prove ourselves. The skeptic wants to earn the proof of what he does not believe (without it). He wants to be the judge and to satisfy himself, or dismiss a thing for lack of proof and to disprove what others believe. The opposite is to strive earnestly to prove what one believes (what one wants to believe), to convince others and to shore up belief even in the face of contrary evidence.
I have often wondered why God does not make His presence more apparent. He could move mountains, make the earth shake and thunder from the heavens, but He does not do that. As the Nikita Khrushchev reported about the first man in space, “[Yuri] Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” (Some people attribute the statement to Gagarin himself – Wikiquotes)
God certainly has made Himself known in spectacular ways at times, but not very often. There must be a reason. The reason, I believe, lies in the importance of faith.
We do not need to look very far in God’s Word to see the paramount importance of faith. Faith is what set Abraham apart from his generation. (Heb. 11:8-19) It was Abraham’s faith that God honored. Abraham’s faith was “credited to him as righteousness”. (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3) Abraham’s faith, not his actions or his love or anything else, was counted as righteousness.
Paul makes clear in the first 8 chapters of Romans that Abraham’s righteousness was not earned by anything Abraham did. It was purely God’s grace in response to Abraham’s belief in God. It was nothing Abraham did, but what God did – imputing righteousness in response to Abraham’s faith.
We can not understate the importance of faith. When the crowd asked Jesus what are the works that God requires of them to receive the Bread of Life, Jesus responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe[i] in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) As Paul makes clear in Romans, it is not work at all; at least it is nothing of which we can boast. (Rom. 4:2) Righteousness that comes from faith is credited to us as a favor, not as wages for our work. (Rom. 4:4-6) It is not something we earn.
These passages provide some indication as to why faith is so important. The primary problem with men is pride. We want “to do it ourselves” and take all the credit. We want to be like God. We are haughty in our own eyes. We give ourselves too much credit, and we would rather not acknowledge God if we can get away with it. This is the sickness of man; this is sin.
God desires fellowship with men. God is love, and He desires love in return. We are not robots. We are made in the image of God to have fellowship with God, but the pride and self-determination that led Adam and Eve to eat of the one fruit in the garden they were forbidden to eat stands in the way of God’s ultimate purpose: to have a loving relationship with his crowning creation, man.
But there is a problem. If we were to come face to face with God, we would be immediately and utterly overwhelmed. When Isaiah had an encounter with God, his response was this: “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Is. 6:5) He was immediately and utterly convicted of his sinfulness and unworthiness in God’s presence. John describes his encounter this way:
“[He was] clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Rev. 1:13-16)
The description in Chapter 1 of Ezekiel is even more incredible. When Ezekiel saw the Lord he “fell face downward on the ground.” (Ez. 1:28) We would be overwhelmed by God if we encountered Him directly.
These people who encountered God already believed. They were already “all in”. God does not show Himself to us precisely because His presence would overwhelm us. We would have no choice but to believe, no choice but to bow in His presence. How could we respond but in obedience in the presence of God – whether we want to or not. And, that is the issue.
The purpose of God by which men would choose to have fellowship with God and be in right relation with God, as creatures made in God’s image, without selfishness or pride, requires that we come to God without God compelling us. God does not desire that we coerced by the obvious and utterly overwhelming disparity between the glory of God and the comparative insignificance of our selves. God is looking for our love that is not coerced, but which is our choice.
This requires distance between us and God. We need to be willing, without coercion, to leave our own lives behind in favor of God who made us. Yes, God is evident by His very creation, but we are not so overwhelmed by it that we cannot choose, and convince ourselves in the choosing, that God either does not exist or is not important to our existence.
This is where faith comes in. This is the point of faith. Faith is intuition of the truth without overwhelming proof. It is sensitivity to God and His purpose and willingness to fit into that purpose by choice, not by coercion. For me this reasoning is the point of faith and explains why faith is of utmost importance and at the very heart of God’s purpose and will for men.
I could be wrong. There could be other reasons why God has highlighted the importance of faith. To me, it makes sense that God does not overwhelm us with His presence, as He wants our willingness flowing from voluntary, and not coerced, relinquishment of our own selves to God and His purpose. He is not looking for automatons or reluctant fellowship; He wants real fellowship borne out of love, respect, gratitude and genuine desire to know Him.
[i] 4100/pisteúō (from 4102/pístis, “faith,” derived from 3982/peíthō, “persuade, be persuaded”) is the same word used by Paul in Romans 4:3 when speaking of Abraham. It means believe (affirm, have confidence). Pisteuō is used of persuading oneself (self-based believing) and faith-believing, i.e. believing in conjunction with faith (4102/pístis, God’s inbirthed persuasion, what pleases Him). Usually the context alone indicates which sense is meant. Faith-believing leads to, or proceeds from, God’s inbirthing of faith (4102/pístis). Faith-believing, which is belief responding to God (his inbirthing of faith) is that faith which God credits (counts, imputes to us) as righteousness.
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