by Rod D. Martin
September 16, 2016
We tend to misunderstand the word “faith.” Sometimes we mysticize it. Other times we treat it like a substance, as though it were cough syrup of which we need one more dose.
Both of these approaches are wrong.
Faith is trust. Faith is my belief that if I sit in this chair, it will hold my weight without breaking. Faith is my certainty that if I marry a certain woman, she will not run off with the pool boy.
Faith is the trust of a child in its father, sometimes the unthinking trust, that if there’s a big scary monster daddy will fight it, that when it’s dinner time there will be food, that when there’s a boo-boo he’ll make it all better.
That’s faith. And fear, by contrast, is its opposite.
When we think of God, too often we think of a distant impersonal being. But He has told us how we are supposed to relate to Him: as a small child to its Father. Once you imagine yourself as a five-year-old with Daddy, the rest of Christianity begins to fall into place for you. Yes you sin, but He knows you have the attention span of a gnat and makes allowances. Yes you are frail, but He is strong. Yes He shouldn’t even take notice of your whining bratty self, but in fact He loves you, with all His heart.
In Galatians, Romans and Ephesians, Paul makes this quite formal. While the Jews had no concept of adoption (probably the main reason Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of being “born again”), Roman law was quite explicit on the subject. An adopted child (in Romans times more often an adult) was forever severed from his biological family, forever a part of the new. Unlike a natural child, he could never be disowned. And an adoption was a public legal ceremony, in part because the debts of the adoptee were wiped away. These were the things Paul’s hearers heard him say.
But Paul’s teaching was not merely a metaphor for various (admittedly vital) theological concepts. Paul, like Christ before him, taught of God’s literal fatherhood. And the Lord had rather specific things to say about it. For instance:
“I will be a Father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. (2 Cor. 6:18)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:29)
Do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them. But you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. 6:31-33)
Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:9-11)
Again, this is not merely a metaphor. God explicitly teaches us to rely on our adoptive position as His sons and daughters as the reason for our provision, and as for the basis of our trust in Him for it. Who, after all, does not love their own children? And our security lies in that, though we were not His children – indeed we were His enemies – He loved us so much that He made us His own, brothers and sisters of the only begotten, or natural, Son.
So where does fear enter into this? And what could possibly be our basis for it?
When you were small, your mommy and daddy (and when we are encouraged to call Him “Abba,” this is Aramaic for “Daddy”) seemed like superheroes: “my daddy can whip your daddy,” and make all things better. Our heavenly Father really can. Our Earthly father didn’t always give us our way – thank goodness! – but He always gave us what we needed and what was good for us. Our heavenly Father does this same thing, but flawlessly and consistently.
So we have no need to be afraid. Sometimes we are justifiably: we are, after all, children, and our circumstances sometimes overwhelm us. Our Father is there for those times, waiting for us to run into His arms.
But when we are fearful without good and immediate reason – as is too often the case – we are not only lacking faith, we are actively being hurtful. The sort of pessimism and fearfulness that we so often fall prey to is really a slap in our Father’s face. We are calling Him a liar, we are saying His promises are not true. And if you can imagine your young child distrusting you that way, you can begin to understand His feelings when we act thusly, and start to repair that needless relational breach.
We must crucify the fear in our lives. It is needless, it is pointless, but above all, it is hurtful to the One Who has loved us to His own great hurt. We should be better sons and daughters than we are.
— This article was originally published as part of my “Beyond the Church Door” series in the Florida Baptist Witness. A slightly longer version of this essay appears as the forward to Dave Jeffers’ Eavesdropping on God, Book Ten: Facing Our Fears.