“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1-2
Someone once interpreted the scriptures to teach me: “faith is (mostly) not about you.”
This was a curious proclamation to me, since I had heard so much, even from Jesus, about “ye of little faith.” The ones of “little faith” seemed to doubt the goodness of God, tried to stand in the way of God’s progress. I read Jesus’ words and wanted to be of “big faith” instead. So I willed myself to do faith bigly.
Until I found myself in places of doubt, wondering why God would let certain things happen. Until I sat in church and heard the call to confession and realized that I was doing the very things for which we asked forgiveness. There was much I had done that I should not have; there was a ton of stuff I left undone.
My bigly approach to faith was not working. Instead, the faith I needed might be as tiny as—in the words of Jesus—a mustard seed.
That was when it came to me (and later I would see that many theologians had come to the same conclusion): Faith belongs to God.
Faith is a gift. Faith is grace. It is this thing that connects us to the eternal in moments we could not have summoned on our own. Faith is not something that we will ourselves to have, it is given to us freely from the One who has everything to give. We do not will ourselves to faith bigly.
Meanwhile, the experience of faith is everything but passive. This is why I love this passage from Hebrews 11. My basic rubric for understanding a life of faith comes from this one line. “Faith” is God’s. “Hope” is ours. “Conviction” is God’s. The world of the unseen is ours. God does the hard parts. God gives us faith and conviction, assurance. Meanwhile, we do what we can to summon hope.
We live in the world with so many things that we cannot see, nor can we anticipate.
Hebrews 11 gives us a template for responding to this. Draw on the faith that God gives. If you cannot summon it, that is not your fault because faith comes from God, not from you. And since faith comes from God, when you cannot conjure a sense of assurance, then that is not your fault, either. All you can do is the other part: hope. You can try to orient yourself to a sense of possibility in the face of despair or uncertainty.
God takes care of the rest, whether you believe this or not.
God, give me faith, assurance. Help me in the practice of hope. Show me your light when I cannot see it. Amen.
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Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.