What is Faith?
The other day I met a lovely, friendly, intelligent Christian mom. She asked about Grace and I explained that Grace has cancer.
“I’m just going to say she doesn't have cancer,” she replied. She was totally serious.
“But she does,” I said, also totally serious.
“Well I’m believing that she doesn’t,” was her reply.
This has been a somewhat common response from the Christian community, but it still surprises me every time. As this isn’t the first medical crisis my family has experienced I can attest that this type response hasn't just been towards pediatric cancer. We’ve heard it many times, in many different situations, from many believers, in many different words.
The lady and I went separate ways and I didn’t talk to her more about it. Later I wished I had. Sometimes I have pretend conversations in my head when I’m trying to work problems out. My in-head conversation with this lady went something like this:
“Why don’t you want to say that Grace has cancer?” I pretend asked her.
“Because I believe that Jesus has healed her,” she pretend replies.
“But she has cancer right now. If we don’t say it, isn’t that just wishful thinking?” I say.
“It’s not wishing. It’s faith,” she says.
“But is it faith to pretend? Why can’t we say the truth? She currently still has cancer.”
“Because it’s not worth mentioning what is going on now. It’s faith to focus on the future of what God will do,” she says, not doubting that for a second that God will perform a miracle. And if the miracle hasn't happened yet then her belief system says that pretending is the same thing.
Somehow, somewhere, Christians were taught that pretending away reality is faith and that God never allows suffering into the faithful Christian's life. This type of faith is courageous but this faith has never walked the cancer ward at the children’s hospital. This faith hasn't seen the unanswered prayers of parents (even Christian parents) grieving when their children die. It’s the faith that many come into the hospital with, but they leave changed. I certainly changed...and my faith is stronger now for it.
Perseverance vs. Miracles
In modern, American Christianity we focus on the “blessed” parts of the Bible and I think we often ignore the parts that contradict our expectations of God. In the book of Acts I used to only see Peter’s amazing escape from prison and but I glossed over the fact that his dear friend and fellow apostle James had just been executed by Herod. I saw the miracle of Peter as an act of God and the death of James as an oversight of God.
At most of the churches I’ve attended in the past the hard parts of the Bible were never explained as part of God’s plan. The hard parts were always assumed to have happened because of human sin, or divine oversight, but certainly never as an intentional part of God’s will. Because many Christians believe that God only wants us our lives to be full of “happy” and “blessed.” When pain or hardship came it was taught to me as punishment for sin, or the will of the sinner. "Bad" and "hard" experiences were taught to be curses, not blessings.
If we look at John the Baptist, there is a lesson here that terrifies many Christians. John the Baptist sends word to Jesus and says, “Are you the Messiah?” (Messiah means the one who saves and has the power of God to do miracles.) In other words John was really asking, “Will you be saving me from death in prison?” Jesus’ response is one that many of us would see as a rejection. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who believe God will rescue them.” Instead Jesus says, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” Soon John, whom Jesus said was the greatest man to have ever lived, is beheaded ISIS style.
We often miss the part that God blessed John through his death. We know that because John did not turn away AND he died as a result, AND Jesus’ words are always true that a blessing would come from God. Therefore the blessing happened. It just didn’t happen here on Earth. What’s more, John’s death somehow fit into God's plan. His death was not caused by God, but it certainly was not stopped by God. Jesus did not rescue him. The prayer for a miracle was rejected.
Why am I saying this?
Because through our journey with Grace’s cancer we had many loving Christians respond to us with the unsaid belief that God only works through “good” things and that “good” things only happen when you have enough faith. And when “good” things aren’t happening you should pretend they are because that is faith.
I don’t think that is faith. Or at best, it is a very small faith. I think it takes much more faith to glorify God in our suffering. Praying for miracles seems like it would take the best of our faith but trusting God in every painful moment is faith. Trusting that he has not forsaken us is deep faith. Trusting that he is good even when life is not good…that is a faith that can often only be born out of times of severe trial.
I believe that faith happens more in our brokenness than in our victories.