One of the things that we ought to love about the biblical story is that it's full of characters just like us. Even characters that we'd rather pretend that we don't really relate to very much, men and women who show their sinful side just a little too easily and, well, at least we're a little more quiet about it!
I think that's where our minds go when we start to look at some of these characters - to sin. We create this dichotomy in which these characters are both righteous and sinners, and then we say that we, too, are both righteous and sinners. We get some things right; we get some things wrong. We follow our own hearts more often than we'd like to admit, and it gets us messed up.
Then, we talk about redemption and about God's grace and about how beautiful and wonderful it is that God includes men and women like these - like us - in His story anyway, and we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we, too, are written into His narrative. He's doing something with us, just like He did something with all of these others.
But I think we're missing something when we try to make things so simple. I think we're missing what these very human characters can really teach us about what it means to have faith.
When we talk about these characters and their faith, what we really talk about is that they had it. That's it. "But David, the murderer, the adulterer, believed in God, so God used him mightily!" "But Daniel, the exile, believed in God, and God rewarded him for that!" "But Abraham believed in God, and it is credited to him as righteousness." (That last one is actually in the Bible.)
So we get this picture of imperfect persons who just have to believe in God and God graciously redeems them for it. Which is great. That is the big idea of Christianity. But it doesn't feel like much of anything when we are struggling to believe. When we are faced with the weight of our own sin and trying to figure out how we get to glorious from here. When we don't understand what faith really looks like in the moments when we are most desperate to have some.
The truth is that these characters can teach us about what real faith looks like, but only if we're willing to look deeper than our first instinct and deeper than our shallow understandings and really look at what's going on.
Take a scene from Saul's life. Actually, we could take many scenes from Saul's life, but let's start with this one:
Saul engages in a battle that the Lord has sent him into. This, we say, is his faith in action. God told him to go and he goes. Yay, Saul!
But God tells Saul to destroy everything, leaving nothing behind and taking nothing home. Yet Saul decides to bring back quite a bounty of things with one intention: he's going to offer them to God as a sacrifice. Then Samuel, the priest, shows up and condemns him for not following God's command, and we condemn him, too. Boo, Saul! You blew it, dude!
Then we create this narrative of faith that says, "Just do whatever God asks you to do." And we sit here saying all kinds of things to ourselves like, "It's not that hard, bro." "God told you exactly what to do, and you couldn't even do it." "You deserve every bit of that smiting for not being able to do the most basic, simple thing." "Excuse me, did God stutter?"
And just like that, we've determined what faith is. And we've determined that Saul apparently didn't have very much of it. And then, we conclude that God condemned him precisely for this reason - because his faith was weak. Because he couldn't live by the faith that he claimed to have.
What if that's not true? What if none of that is true? What if there's more going on here, more that we can relate to as human beings trying to figure out faith?
I think there is. Let's talk about it this week.