Faith Must Be Based on Trust, Not Signs and Evidence
What I am about to share we see every day in the media. Example, two neighboring nations with a long history of enmity, stare down gun barrels and rockets aimed at the other. Years of bitter violence have eroded any hope of peace. We even see the horrific disregard for life when men, women, and children are gassed. Too many coffins have been carried through the streets. Too many vows for revenge have been uttered through clenched teeth of grief and anger.
And now, after all these centuries of hatred, negotiators for the United Nations try to bring leaders to the table to begin the process of peace. The first task is the most difficult one, and that is to establish a way for the warring nations to trust each other. How do you disarm in the face of the enemy? How do you trust, when there is little way to prove the intention of the enemy? Trust is hard and risky work.
On the other side of the world, two adults, married for 20 years, have waged their own war over the years of their troubled union. He said things he should not have said. She withdrew emotionally, and left unsaid things that should not have been left unsaid. He poured himself into his career. She poured herself into the children. And one day, one of them became emotionally involved with another person. It seemed like a safe and exciting diversion at first. But the emotional bond led to physical intimacy. And before long, the secret was exposed. Now, a marriage counselor is trying to lead the couple back to a place of renewal and hope for their marriage. They both want the marriage to survive, but the first and most difficult task seems overwhelming. How do they trust each other again? Trust is hard and risky work.
A young adult is seeking a vibrant faith in God. But he has so many questions he wants answered first. His searching heart is honest, but skeptical. He expresses his doubt to the priest, such as questions about scripture, about the presence of evil, and questions about the reality of God. The priest listens patiently and wisely, before saying to the young man, "I cannot offer you compelling proofs to solve all your doubts. I do not have a set of answers you can memorize to answer all of your questions. What I have is to ask you to begin at the beginning of any relationship with God. I want to ask you to trust, to develop faith, to throw yourself, questions and all, into the mystery of God."
Once again, trust is hard and risky business. But for those who are willing to take the path of trust, the reward is great indeed. At the end of the path called trust, there is not necessarily the answer to all of life's questions. There is something far more valuable. It is God himself. One Old Testament lesson tells the story of one such person on just such a path toward trust. His name is Abram. It is a story of a man who asked God tough questions, who lived through difficult circumstances, and who found that God could be trusted anyway. It can be our story, too. Trust in God does not prevent us from expressing our doubts to God. One of the things I like about the Holy Scripture is that it tells the stories of human encounters with God without trying to clean up the heroes. Abram is certainly one of the great heroes of scripture, but even his story is presented with both his soaring moments of faith, as well as his low moments of doubt and failure. Abram is just like all of us. Sometimes we find faith comes easily, and sometimes we cannot find any evidence that God exists or cares in our lives. Abram is drowning in uncertainty about the promises of God that he would have many descendants and father a great nation. That promise was easy to believe, and joyous to anticipate, when Abram was a young man. Then, all the world seemed alive with hope. Anything seemed possible.
But in our present text, Abram is pushing 80. The old dreams have faded into fantasy. He is no longer sure he heard God right in the first place, or sure if God still remembered the promise. For at 80, Abram still hasn't fathered the first child, let alone a multitude. So he does the natural thing. Abram asks God for some sign, some proof, or at least an early advance on the promise. How many of us would have given up long before our 80s?
This does not seem like such a far-fetched request. Do we not require earnest money in advance when negotiating real estate contracts? Doesn't the hotel require the first night's lodging cost up front in order to hold the reservation? We want to see some sign of the good faith of the bargaining partner, to persuade us to take the risk of further trust. Does God expect us to do less with the risks of faith?
And the answer is "Yes." God does not relate towards us in the ways we relate to each other. God does not offer early payoffs on faith investments, to persuade us to keep the faith. He is not a Divine slot machine, giving out occasional rewards to keep us at the table. No, God knows that trust is eroded by proofs and tests. God offers us a relationship with Himself not as a set of proofs. Such proofs and signs would diminish the role of faith, and weaken the relationship God seeks to build with us. Can a distrusting lover who hires a private detective to spy on his beloved build trust by daily reports from the detective? Probably not.
God called Abram to enter a deep and terrifying darkness, and in that state he saw a symbol of God passing between the animals. God was willing to enter a sacred covenant with Abram, not because God was forced to negotiate, but because God desired to reassure Abram that their relationship could be trusted. Did Abram still have to use faith in the light of this enhanced promise? Oh, yes! It would still be another 15 years before he would see his first son.
God knows that all of us who would follow Him must learn to grow in faith, not in the demand for signs and evidence. There is only one path that leads to God. There is only one way to survive the long stretches without confirming signs of God's presence. That way is called trust. Learn it well. It is all you and I can bring to God and it is all that will bring us to God. It is enough. Trust is enough. Trust me. Better yet, trust God.