Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On Faith

As Israel stands in the journey between captivity and the Promised Land, God describes for them in great detail what their faith should look like. And He paints a stark contrast between what their faith should look like and what they might get it confused with.

They shouldn't confuse it, He says, with the faith they had in Egypt, which was a totally different kind of faith for a totally different kind of people. In Egypt, they were His people, but they were also slaves; they had no autonomy, no free will like they have now in the wilderness. They don't get to "come;" they were a people who had to "do." And that's a big difference.

They also shouldn't confuse it, He says, with the kind of faith that the people of Canaan have, the Promised Land into which they are entering. These people have a faith that is rooted in the goodness of all they have, and that can seem tempting when Israel comes in and takes possession of all of it. But Israel should have a faith that rests on all God is. Again, a big difference. 

Really, what we're seeing is that in the wilderness, God ties Israel's faith to His character, to who He is, rather than letting them have a faith like all the other nations, which is tied to the land, to the place. God is with them, so they can put their faith in His presence. And they should.

But perhaps a bigger story, something we should be taking away from this little section of Leviticus, is that faith really only develops in the present. It only exists in the present. What you had in the past was faith then, but it's not now; it doesn't work here. And what you have in the future may be faith then, but it's not now; it doesn't work here, either. 

The only option you have is to believe in the present. That's faith. 

That doesn't mean that what you had in the past and what you may have in the future aren't valuable in the present; they very much are. They just aren't faith. What you had in the past becomes thankfulness, gratefulness. In the wilderness, Israel can be thankful for a settled place in which they were able to do what God required of them, but a settled place faith doesn't work in the wilderness, not when the nation of people is moving around. So they are thankful that they learned "how" to worship in a place where it was easier, but now, they are challenged to change how they worship to accommodate the new season. They are asked to expand what they know, but they must be thankful to know something they can now expand. Thankfulness for the past contributes to a present faith, but it does not replace it. 

In the same way, what you look forward to in the future is hope. Israel can look forward to the Promised Land, to all of the abundance and goodness that the people of the land are currently enjoying that fuels their worship, but abundance and goodness are strangers in the wilderness, so it doesn't make much sense for Israel to have a faith today that is rooted in these things. That's foolishness. (And we know it because we still see modern versions of this - those who thank God for what He hasn't done yet and live 100% believing He will do it tomorrow...when tomorrow never comes.) It's a blind kind of faith, if it tries to be faith, but it's a beautiful hope if we let it be just that. And hope for tomorrow informs today's faith; it keeps our eyes on the God who can provide such things. In this case, the God of goodness and abundance. And it deepens our dependence on and appreciation for Him, by the sheer contrast of trusting what comes in the future amid the realities of today. 

Most of us would say, "I have trusted God with my life" or even "I will trust God with my life." But how many of us choke a little harder when we have to say, "I am trusting God with my life"? The faith we used to have is easy because it's familiar, and the hope that we have is enticing because it's everything we could ask or imagine. But faith doesn't live in the past or in the future; it only exists in the present. You can only ever truly, fully, wholly believe in and trust God You can't trust God tomorrow today, and you can't trust Him yesterday today. Only 

So what kind of faith do you have? 

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