Friday, July 24, 2015

The Gift of Faith

I've heard it said that faith is a gift from God and that apart from this gift, no man can believe at all. This is in stark contrast to the idea that most of us buy into, which is that faith is an act of the will, and if only we would choose to believe, we would. The more I live in this life which requires great faith, the more I understand that maybe both are true. 

But there is a big difference between man's faith and God's faith.

Man's faith is a little bit contrived. It's a little bit obsessive. It's certainly an act of the will, one which must be performed again and again and again, whether man believes it a lot or only a little or merely as an idea. Man's faith is subject to worry more than God's faith is; it's easy to lose sight of the believing when the waves start crashing all around.

I suppose this is the difference between the Lord who walks on water and the disciple who starts to sink. Ye of little faith. Why did you doubt?

Because with man's faith, I don't think we can help but doubt. As a conscious act, man's faith is a constant weighing. How much do I believe God vs. how scary are those waves right now? How much will I allow myself to rest in His promise vs. how persistent are the pernicious whispers that are saying just the opposite? How much am I willing to choose to believe and simply let go, and how much, though I profess to believe, am I holding onto nonetheless? See, man's faith is calculated. Which means, of course, that when any variable changes, when anything either comes or goes, man must figure his faith all over again and choose once more how much he believes. 

It's kind of exhausting. 

And yet, for most of us, if we can figure out the equation and choose consistently enough in favor of faith, we would call ourselves faithful persons. We would say that given the choice, we choose faith. But it's still a contrived faith. It's still a stressful faith. It's still an exhausting faith, one we can never quite settle into, one in which we can never quite find rest, because we're always, by necessity, doing the math. 

Which brings me back to the idea that faith, true faith, is a gift from God. And you know? I'm starting to believe that, too. 

It sounds weird, that God would have to give us the ability to believe in Him. That God would have to give us the ability to trust Him. We spend so much of our time waiting on Him to give us a reason to believe, a reason to trust. Must He also give us the ability?

I'm not going to pretend to understand. This is one of those mysteries of God to me, but here's what I do know: Sometimes...sometimes, I work so hard at believing. I keep choosing God over and over and over again and calling it faith. I keep doing the math, calculating the risks, settling on faith. And it's hard. And it doesn't always feel like I really believe at all because with every breath, all these doubts keep creeping back in, and I have to decide again and again until faith becomes my obsession. Until choosing faithfully becomes compulsive, and not in a good way. It's spiritual OCD. And as much as I come to settle on faith, I find that by my own calculations, it is impossible ever to settle into it. 

That's where the gift of faith comes in.

By God's grace, it just happens. There comes this moment when I don't choose any more to believe; I simply believe. It's subtle. If I wasn't paying attention, I could easily miss it. But there comes this moment when I finally know, for sure, without all the math, without all the measures, without all the calculations, what I know. There comes this moment when peace settles over me, settles into me, when I feel like I can breathe again. And it's not because I have chosen to believe. It's never because I have chosen to believe. 

It's has been given to me.

And with it come peace and joy and a host of other things I could never have simply because I chose them.

It's a weird moment, for sure. For so much of my life, I thought that faith was the gift that I could give to God. That trust was something I do for Him. But all that ever got me, I think, was an ulcer. On my own, I cannot believe. That doesn't mean I don't choose faith again and again and again; it just means I know the limitations of my own volition. I know the boundaries of my will. I cannot choose the kind of faith that permeates my spirit. I cannot choose the kind of faith that stills my soul. I can keep giving myself over to something called faith again and again, but it is not until I am taken by it that I will ever truly believe. This kind of faith is a gift. It is a measure of God's grace. It's new math that doesn't require the recalculations.

And it draws me back to the one gift I truly can give God, the one thing I have to offer Him: my thanks. My undying thanks.

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