Christian myths – or myths about Christianity – or myths propagated by Christians and those opposed – what is reality, what do we/should we believe, what is the truth about some of the claims made by or about Christians – mythbusters is a great fun TV series – but also a great idea. What is true? What’s not? What is plausible, proven or busted? Christians should ask these questions constantly. Test the Spirit – don’t just swallow everything you hear uncritically!
So Little Faith
Matthew 17:14-21 “…a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade” – faith is a blind trust to fate. He must (if you haven’t seen the movie then I’m about to spoil it for you)… he must step of a ledge into nothingness in an act of faith and trust – which is not so much faith in God, but rather trust that his father got it right. Is that what faith can do?
Faith can… move mountains, rebuke demons, heal sick kids – and raise the dead, stop the rain, start the rain, part the seas, change the course of rivers, bring food, change water to wine, knock down walls, defeat armies and avoid death. James writes…
James 5:13-15 “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”
Through faith in Christ we inherit what has been promised to Jesus – we receive his inheritance by sharing in his glory – we receive life and freedom, we grab hold of the teachings about Jesus and we share the good news – by faith in Christ. We are to take hold of faith, to be known for our faith, to pursue faithfulness, to help others in their faith, to pray for greater/stronger/more faithful… faith, and more.
What People Say About Faith
Whatever the Bible says about faith, and its power, Christians believe a whole host of things about faith – and across the board Christians don’t agree amongst ourselves about the boundaries and abilities of faith.
Consider: what views are there about faith that you have heard? Maybe ask around and see what people believe?
Some of the things I’ve heard…
- “If you have enough faith you will be healed!” Meaning healing here on earth right now – and in most cases immediately! If you are not being healed then you do not have enough faith!?
- “If you have faith you will be wealthy!” Materially wealthy on earth! If you are not wealthy as a Christian then you are not acting in faith!?
- “Faith means having no doubts!” Doubting/questioning is a sign of faithlessness!?
- “Faith fixes everything. Before I came to Christ my life was a mess – but now nothing goes wrong – my life is amazing!” I have heard this so often it’s amazing. “Now, whenever I am going shopping I pray in faith that I will find a parking spot, and I always find a parking spot. That’s faith in action.”!?
A Year of Trying Times
We had a very hard 18 months a few years ago. We moved house (which is apparently right up there with the whole stress thing)… my grandmother died, I had a family member in increasing pain eventually requiring a major hip operation, I spent the 3 months working in pain with a back injury, followed by a month completely incapacitated by pain (flat on my back and for the first few days wanting God to take me), followed by 2 months of recovery and physiotherapy (I don’t know why the medieval world complained about the rack – did wonders for my back). To top it off I caught every bug going around because my immune system had been mucked about by the drugs. And then we were robbed, including my computer with about a year of sermon and teaching materials not backed up (my fault I know). Now – as a story – it’s not really up there with the worst ones – no earthquake or Tsunami destroying my life or livelihood, didn’t lose an arm or a leg surfing, didn’t get diagnosed with cancer – so I understand entirely there are people in far worse situations.
But – thinking about faith and the power of faith… I’ve been a Christian for over 35 years. I try to be faithful – but I’m not perfect. I’m certainly not lacking in faith – I believe what the Bible says about Jesus to be true and to be applicable to me – and I try to live by it. I live a faithful life – I am a minister and work pretty hard at not just my ministry but my personal growth in Christ and faithfulness to his service. And over the years my faith has stood the test any number of times – I am not going to change my mind, I hold my beliefs and faith very strongly (in so far as it’s up to me – and thankfully for the most part, it’s not).
But – thinking about the power of faith… what was happening?
If faith fixes everything then surely I’ve got a problem.
If the prayer of the righteous man that James talks about means immediate healing then I have a problem. My back problem was dealt with, without surgery, but it hasn’t gone away. I could stand to lose a good amount of weight and I’m sure that would help my back no end – but my back will still be damaged. Does that mean that I don’t have enough faith? Does that mean I have a problem in my relationship with Christ?
Well – if the answer is yea – then it’s also yes for pretty much every Christian. It would also be true for Paul the apostle, for Job in the OT, for Stephen the first Christian martyr, for the apostles – all of whom endured suffering without relief – or at least without relief for a significant period of time, and quite often suffering that ended not in miraculous healing or release, but in death. Paul says about himself…
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul had a thorn in his side – we don’t know what it was. But it was long term, made him suffer and he had to endure. However – is there anyone who would be dumb enough to say that Paul is anything other than a prime example in the Bible of faith? Others – us – are to follow in his footsteps – and frankly we’d be hard pressed to keep up with Paul. Who would have the hubris to say Paul lacked faith – or that his suffering was due to a lack of faith?
However – let’s go further. It’s not just the thorn that we should consider – it’s also Paul’s delight in weakness – a delight that confirms to him Christ’s power and strength. The thorn was a given under God’s sovereignty and for God’s purposes, though it was of Satan. From Satan’s point of view it was a torment – from God’s point of view it was to strengthen Paul’s faith, to make him rely on Jesus and to see that in his weakness Christ’s power was at work. Jesus says…
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Paul is an example of that – rest doesn’t mean the burden is gone – simply that in Christ’s strength and power and might and mercy the burdens of this world can be dealt with and be understood to be part of God’s power working in us to make us like Christ.
The example of Job
When it comes to suffering and faith the name of Job always seems to make an appearance – so not to disappoint… reality is Job is an amazing example.
Job 3:23-26 “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
Read the story again – it has its moments and it’s a somewhat torturous path to get from beginning to end – when I read it I want to slap his 3 mates… but consider… he was in such mental, physical and spiritual agony that he wanted to die. Some of us have been there – even in small ways after a small amount of suffering – so I guess we might be able to understand, even a little, what brought him to that point of wishing for it to end. What do we know from the Scriptures about his suffering?
- It was from Satan – Satan is not called the tormentor for nothing!
- It was by God’s permission and under God’s control. Satan could do nothing unless permitted by God
- It was a test of Job’s faith – a refining through suffering, like gold is purified of impurities!
- God declares in the end that Job, above all men, was faithful and importantly – did not sin!
Job had to endure his suffering – and be freed from it in God’s own time. He cried out to God not only to be released but simply to understand and no answer came for a long time. He was faithful yet suffered – and lest we think otherwise God very clearly declares him to be his most faithful servant – yet he suffered. Job had faith – I guess from our perspective faith far greater than the size of a mustard seed – faith that could move mountains… yet he suffered terribly!
The Example of Jesus
What about Jesus? Jesus’ own suffering is surely our greatest example. We’d be pretty game and foolish to declare that Jesus lacked faith. Yet he suffered! He suffered and died an agonising death.
Matthew 17:20-22a “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I don’t really understand why, when we read that passage, that we don’t read what comes next?
I don’t really understand why, when we read that passage, that we don’t read what comes next?
Matthew 17:22b-23 “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.”
If anyone had faith to move mountains – surely Jesus had enough – not that he did it – but enough to walk on water, enough to wither fig trees, enough to heal the sick, enough to cast out demons, enough to raise the dead.
But under God’s plan he suffered.
And he didn’t shrink from that suffering – he embraced it as God’s plan. He walked towards the suffering. He did not change the circumstances. He did not demand from God that the suffering be taken away – he asked “Father, if it is your will – take this cup from me”… but clearly it was God’s plan that Jesus suffer, not just death but humiliation, torture and agony, the betrayal of friends, followers and family, the jeering crowds, the gloating high priests, the murderer crucified next to him… at no point do we see Jesus saying that if only he’d had enough faith… then…!?
The Myth Busted
The myth is that faith will fix everything – that enough faith will lead to health, wealth and a lack of suffering.
The truth is that faith will most often lead to suffering – and that’s by God’s design, plan and under his control not Satan’s. It’s through suffering that we learn to rely on Jesus rather than ourselves. It is through suffering that we see God’s power at work in our lives as we come to greater faith.
Practically speaking – what can I say about my own suffering – death, sickness, theft?
- Was it Satan is attacking me and my family – meaning the that the suffering is a sign of faith?
- Was it God causing me and my family to repent?
- Was it a sign of a lack of faith?
You will hear each of these views in churches. And I would say, none of them is quite true.
What is true – from the Scriptures – is this.
- God is constantly bringing us to repentance through suffering, he is refining and testing our faith and causing us to rely on him. We know that this is part and parcel of faith in Christ.
- We also know that Satan is still at large, chained and defeated, but still lashing out, still active, still dangerous – and still a bully, a coward and a prat – Satan’s rule of this world means that we should understand that evil, sin and attacks on Christians should be seen as Satan at work – if the book of Revelation makes anything clear it should be that.
- But we also know that Satan is not outside God’s influence, power or control.
Faith is trusting in Christ no matter what this life brings – knowing that in the next we will receive life for eternity unfettered by the things that drag us down in this life. Suffering here on earth is not a sign of faithlessness – but rather part of the work of God to bring us closer to him. In the end – it’s not my quantity of faith that has any meaning whatsoever – but Christ’s faithfulness that means everything. What Christ inherits – I inherit. Where Christ spends eternity, I will spend eternity. What Christ receives he offers to share with me and you – if only we will give up the pretence of control over our lives and trust in him, in his death and resurrection – by faith and action Christ Jesus dealt with sin and the power of death and he offers that victory to us. I tell you what – in the end – I don’t want to put my trust in the quantity of faith I have – I want to put my trust in Christ’s proven faithfulness.