Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Victorious Faith

I heard the strangest thing Saturday afternoon. An acquaintance from my homeschooling days urged me to overcome my thyroid cancer in the power of Jesus Christ. I must have looked like I didn't hear her, because she repeated it.

"It's funny," I said, "but I was just thinking of all the Christians who have died from cancer, despite their belief in Christ's power."

"Overcome cancer in the power of Christ." Two days later, I still can't get it out of my mind. I turn it over and over, trying to grasp her meaning, looking for some way to make sense of it. Does she really believe that faith is some sort of magic talisman, and if I wave it fervently in front of a disease that it will turn tail and run like a dog afraid of its master's whip?

With one word of faith, does she expect that I can bring turncoat cells back in line, stymie their malignancy, and keep them from spreading further? Does she believe that raw faith can be distilled into so potent a concentration that it will eliminate the need for surgery, make iodine-based chemotherapy and radiation treatments unnecessary, and let me avoid a four-day isolation from my children?

Is faith a relationship with an unseen God, or is it an invisible fetish we use to keep illness from our homes? Does it teach dependence on Christ, or does it ward off misfortune, corporate downsizing, food poisoning and baldness instead?

What an amazing thing faith must be to this woman. With faith like hers, I'm sure I could get myself a mansion, a private jet, or even a set of fancy cars. And to think I never knew I had this power. All I have to do is believe, and God comes running.

What an appallingly seductive theology. I feel dirty just trying to understand it. It's horrible to see how easy it is to start thinking of God as your personal servant, who will omnipotently do your bidding as long as you cut him a big enough check from the faith account.

When the filth has filled my spirit and I can no longer stand the grime, I take a bath. I lower myself into the Scripture and start scrubbing. After a while I start to relax and feel the clean coming on.

Faith? I've got that. There are times I feel I should wear a T-shirt that says "World's Biggest Idiot" for believing in God at all, but my faith is real, and it's not going anywhere.

Faith gave me clarity when I discovered the impotence of my prepackaged evangelicalism in the face of real human need on the missions field. It gave me peace of mind when I became an unemployed father with a mortgage to pay. And when I lost my son, and it seemed as if all light and all hope were gone from the world, I didn't lose my faith. I clung to it, like a drowning man clutches a rope thrown from his ship. My faith is imperfect, but it's real. Getting cancer hasn't shaken it at all.

Forget the stories of people who have claimed victory over cancer, obesity, heart attacks and even baldness. Real faith isn't found in believing something in the face of common sense and all the evidence. Faith is found in people who wanted to do right by God, even if it got themselves killed. Men like Abel, who offered God a pure sacrifice and were beaten to death because of it; or men like Moses, who by faith gave up the wealth and comfort of Pharaoh's court and spent years in the desert.

Sometimes, like Daniel, the faithful are spared unhappy endings, but those are the exception and not the rule. The only promise Jesus makes for this life is that of a cross. "Follow me and die," he says. "There is no other way."

Here, then is how the faithful have triumphed by the power of Christ "They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them."(Hebrews 11:37-38).

Faith doesn't promise eternal health or endless happiness, but it does promise the uncounted reward of knowing Christ in all his suffering. When we find ourselves lost in the Long Dark Night of the Soul, we endure because it is Christ himself who makes us complete, Christ who bears our sorrow, and Christ who makes us beautiful at our ugliest.

I'll take that kind of faith any day.

Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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