On Faith, Hope, and Fear
January and February were difficult months for us Andrews types. The new year brought with it two car accidents, a health drama, and a broken furnace in the coldest week of the season. I would love to report that we handled it all with faces “set like flint,” hearts full of faith, and unflappable confidence in God’s goodness, but that wouldn’t be honest. Instead, we hunkered down, forgetting our responsibilities, alternately trembling and petitioning God for relief. Now, from the other side of the trouble, I’m reflecting on the incidents, trying to see if I’ve learned anything from these fiery trials.
I find that I have. Close readers will find a clue to my “lesson” in my use of “learned” in the last sentence. It betrays my assumption that trials are all designed to teach us something that we have either failed to realize or failed to perform in the past. Each one represents a new chance to “do it right” this time. By extension, faith, that “substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen,” is something we perform, either well or poorly.
In the middle of my personal crisis, waiting for medical reports to come back, I confessed to my church family that, in spite of all of the positive words from my doctor and medical community, despite my history with God, despite even my own better judgment, I could not shake the fear that gnawed at my insides. I was the “ye” of “little faith” in the scripture.
Astoundingly, the voices I heard coming back to me (both from the congregation and the pulpit) rendered something entirely unexpected. Their judgment was kinder than my self-evaluation. When I heard it, I laughed aloud. Here’s what they said to me as I quivered like a leaf, awaiting the deliverance of God: “You are a woman of great faith, full of wisdom and maturity.” Their paradoxical announcement sounded like the Lord’s words to the cowering Gideon, hiding in the wine press to thresh his wheat.
The discrepancy, however, between my confessed fear and their declaration of faith has made me think hard about the nature of faith itself. In times past, I’ve associated the word with the “heroes of the” that usually precede it. I’ve assumed faith, the kind that can move mountains, is synonymous with unflappable confidence in the face of the unknown. Faith is something God’s children perform, well or poorly, and as for me, well, it was most often poorly.
Yet how about that Gideon? He really was hiding in a winepress when God called him a “mighty man of valor.” Was God making fun of him? We do. And how about those others listed in Hebrews’ litany of saints who are remembered for their heroic faith: Abraham, who endangered his wife to save his own skin; Lot, best known for incestuous relations with his daughters post-destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; Peter, who denied Christ three times at the time of His arrest for fear of the authorities. The list is long, and the characters notorious, not for their good performance, but for their infamy. If these are men of great faith, then what must faith really be?
In moments of great weakness, we see our need and cry out to the only One strong enough to rescue us. Is this not faith: the acknowledgement of our impotence and God’s power? In this way, faith is not synonymous with strength, or independence, or self-confidence – but weakness, dependence, and lack of agency. That’s why it is the substance of hope and the evidence of the unseen. Knowledge of our dependency leads us to hope in God. Perhaps quivering in the corner is evidence of the “All” we cannot see.
Maybe God was laughing over Gideon when He greeted him in such a controversial way. If He was, I imagine it wasn’t in a tone mean and disdainful, but glad and guiding. What’s more, God’s announcement wasn’t wrong; for, He knew what He would do with this dependent man, the battles he would win, the enemies he would put to flight. He laughed because He knew that Gideon’s dependency was the secret to victory against the enemy. He laughed because He knew His own mind and the future He commanded. He laughed because He delighted in Gideon.
I turn from my own recent experiences with renewed hope in the faithfulness of God, not only because, like the Psalmist of Psalm 34, He has delivered me out of all of my fears, but also because He has promised to remain as I have ever known Him to be, the One on whom I can cast my true cares, trembling and impotent. May my confidence, if I am to have it, always be in His Son, whose unflappable faith sent Him to the cross, despising His life for my sake, and never in my own ability to “get it right.” May I ever look to Jesus, even from within the wine presses of my own life, for His faithful, declarative word: “Behold, the Lord is with thee, mighty woman of valor.” Praise Him, the One “who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not yet exist.”