In an age of fear-based thinking, and trust me, since 9/11 America has been binging on fear-based thinking (which in part explains the dramatic rise, one could say explosion, in gun sales since then) sometimes people have even forgotten what faith looks like. In an age of fear, the lust for something concrete, something secure, some kind of absolute certainty about something is palpable. And this whole fear-based environment has effected, or better said, infected the church. People don’t want to live on the basis of reliable assurances from a reliable God, they don’t want to live on the basis of something that requires faith, or if they are prepared to make a small amount of room for faith, their motto is ‘trust, but verify’.
A culture of fear leads to paranoia and mistrust of almost everything— the church, the government, those immigrants, your neighbors, your employees, the manufacturers of cars, drug manufacturers, doctors, lawyers, and the beat goes on. One of the effects of this whole climate change in America is that church people too have been bitten by the lust for absolutely certainty. So Gospels that guarantee ‘eternal security’ when it comes to salvation play well. Gospels that suggest that if you just know how to ask Jesus, health and wealth will be yours for sure play well (and of course if it doesn’t happen, ironically it is said to be because you lacked sufficient faith, but the message had spoken of a guaranteed outcome after praying to the right deity in the right way, not of faith).
All too often, modern American Christians are rather like Peter once he stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water. Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus who said ‘come to me’ before long, Peter looked down at the choppy waters of the sea of Galilee and gave way to fear. His brain said “those waters are deep and I can’t even swim, how can I trust Jesus’ command to come to him”? And fear won out over faith. So it is today that people want a Gospel that doesn’t really require faith. They want an ironclad election, an ironclad guarantee of salvation, even sometimes an ironclad knowledge of how to synch up Biblical prophecy with current events so we can know with some certainty when the end is at hand and Jesus will return. Unfortunately, none of this has to do with the real Gospel.
Consider for moment Hebrew 11.1— “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and a conviction about things not yet seen”. Faith is forward looking. It has to do with assurance about the future, not certainty about how it will all play out. You know who holds the future in His hands, but it is not given for us to know what the future holds in detail, because were we know all of that, we would not need to live by faith day by day. Sight would replace faith, and we do not yet live in the age when we see face to face, and know as we are known.
Notice that we are told that the assurance should be enough to give us a certain conviction about the future. It always requires trust, trust in a reliable God, not trust that I’ve got it all figured out. Another way to translate that key verse is ‘now faith is the very substance of the things we were hoping for, and proof of things we cannot yet see.” I prefer the translation conviction for elenchos in the second clause, but the point in both cases is ‘sight’ is not involved, absolute certainty gained through ironclad knowledge is not involved. What is involved is faith. I like to put it this way— “God reveals enough of the future to give us hope and strengthen our resolve, but not so much so that we don’t have to live by faith day after day.”
One thing is for sure— we need to stop fear-based preaching, fear-based thinking, fear-based living (including fear-based spending of money) and get back to the Gospel, get back to the Good News that God is in charge, whatever current events may seem to suggest, and we need to live on the basis of good solid Christian faith day by day. If we do that, who knows— maybe we can even walk on water. Give Peter credit, at least he stepped out on faith and tried. The rest of the disciples just gripped the sides of the boat and said to themselves “no way am I going to try that, its too scary”.
One more thing— remember Abraham. Genesis says “Abraham trusted God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”. Abraham moved on faith from Ur to Haran, and then to a destination which God said he would tell Abraham later. Just start moving on faith, was the message. Just take your beloved son up the hill and trust me. It’s no accident that in Rom. 4 and in Gal. 3 Abraham is given by Paul as the paradigm of what our faith ought to look like. Trusting God, moving forward without seeing the outcome, and oh yes, it was this kind of trusting of God that was credited as righteousness. Without faith by which is meant unconditional trusting, there is no right-standing with God.