Thursday, April 9, 2020

Blessed Assurance

So let's talk about this for a minute. If we are a people of faith, won't God protect us from the virus? Shouldn't we just go and live our normal faithful lives and demonstrate what it means to be held in His hand, wrapped in His arms, covered by His blood? Isn't ignoring the world and holding onto heaven the most faithful thing we can do, not just now, but always?

This is a tough one, and it requires a careful reading of the Scriptures.

There are certainly times in Scripture where God tells His people that they should have had more faith. For example, when the prophet has the king stomp on the arrows, the king only stomps three times and is told he should have stomped six or seven! He should have gone all-out in what God was asking him to do, gone all-in. He should have done it with zeal and with passion; he should have made someone else have to stop him.

And of course, we know that in the Gospels, there is the story of a demon that the disciples could not cast out, and Jesus starts ranting about persons of little faith. This kind of demon, He says, can only be cast out by prayer and fasting - by bigger acts of faith, the way we define them. There's also the story of Peter walking on water, then falling because he looks around him and loses faith. Nor can we forget Jesus's teaching on faith the size of a mustard seed.

Most certainly, then, God wants us to have faith. Big faith. Big, hairy, audacious faith.

But there's a difference between these types of stories and the story that a certain segment of the Christian faith is trying to write for itself right now: in the Scripture stories, God spoke first.

God told the king to jump on the arrows. He gave the disciples power to cast out demons and sent them into the region to do it. He called Peter out onto the water. In these instances, there is a clear and specific mandate from God about how to approach a very specific scenario and what He desires of them, what He is enabling them to do.

By and large, those claiming the protection of a dutiful faith in their lives claim such protection not just for the pandemic, but for everything. They stand on solid ground that they've paved themselves, declaring that this is where God stands, but they don't have a direct word from Him about a specific situation; they have put their trust in faith, not in God. In these situations, it is the faithful who are speaking first.

Which is essentially challenging God. It's daring Him to disappoint you. (He can't, of course, because under this paradigm of faith, any apparent failure on God's part is actually your own failure and you just have to "do better" and "believe more.") But it's what happens when we think we set the rules, when we decide how to frame our lives in God's hand instead of simply letting Him hold us.

It's dangerous.

If you don't think it's dangerous, just glance through the Scriptures and look at what happens to men and women who dare to challenge God. They are burned alive with their illegal incense, swallowed up in fire with their profane offerings, swallowed whole by the very ground on which they stand. Things don't end well for those who taunt God. Ever.

And the truth is that every promise of God has come with a requirement for man's preparation. Abraham had to take the stuff with him to build an altar on that mountain. Noah had to build a boat. Mary had to carry a baby for nine months and actually give birth. When God gives us something to do, it requires something of us. His is an active engagement, not a passive one; He wants us to get involved in the world and in the story He's writing in it with us and through us.

Having faith in God doesn't mean ignoring this world or forsaking it; it means engaging with it, brokenness and all. It means accepting that this is where He's put us - this is where He loves us - even though it's not perfect here. It means preparing for both what He calls us to and what the world throws our way. It's listening to His heartbeat and feeling the pulse of this place.

So won't faith protect us from this virus? The Biblical witness doesn't seem to suggest it will. Rather, it calls on us to be a people prepared and engaged, even in the broken places. So let's do that. And let's let God speak first. 

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