Greetings from the Moderator OCTOBER 2020
Photos of the wildfires in the California and Oregon are almost unbelievable. The smoke is so thick that fire-fighters can’t see more than a few feet in front of themselves. No sky or landmarks appear to guide them forward. They are lost in the smoke and the fury of the flames. Yet they keep fighting, moving forward despite logic crying that it is not safe, not healthy, and maybe not even effective. They keep going by faith in their skills, their training, the fire-fighters alongside them, and the conviction that giving up is not an option.
When we get lost in the smoke and flames of our lives, it is faith that keeps us moving forward - not faith in ourselves, but in the God who calls us, loves us, and promises to be with us in all the storms of life. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” (Isaiah 43:2, NASB)
I love the “definition” of faith in Hebrews 11:1!
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NASB, NEB, NRSV)
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV)
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” (NLT)
All the translations express the paradox of faith: certainty, confidence in what is not yet a reality.
At first glance, faith does not come from the head; it is not the product of left-brained thinking. The left brain is more verbal, analytical and orderly; it is tied to logic, sequencing, linear thinking, and facts. The right brain has a more visual, creative, and less organized way of thinking, and is tied to imagination, intuition, arts, rhythm, nonverbal cues, emotions.
We associate faith with the heart (emotion) because it involves belief in something we can’t see or touch. The danger of a faith based solely on feeling and emotion is that it leaves us open to a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys. Peaks are exhilarating - while we’re on them. A mountain-top experience can strengthen our faith and motivate us to go deeper in our walk with Christ. A “Damascus Road” experience can stop us in our tracks and unexpectedly confront us with the reality of God’s power and holiness. We don’t seek out valleys (or deserts), but they can make us yearn for God’s presence. The lows and crises in our lives can help us recognize our brokenness and compel us to (re)turn to God. Scripture tells of both peaks and valleys in the lives of God’s people, sometimes one after the other. In I Kings 18-19, Elijah goes from an emotional high on Mount Carmel to a depression so deep that he asks God to take his life. His obedience to God eventually leads him to renewal of heart and purpose.
The Bible also provides evidence that faith is not mindless. The first 8 chapters of Romans are a left-brained, logical exposition of the gospel by Paul, who was trained in rabbinical law (Torah).
Paul's rational approach to faith is also evident in I Corinthians 15, as he defends the resurrection as central to our faith. The open chapters of Hebrews speak to the mind with a series of arguments about how Christ is greater than the angels, greater than Melchizedek, etc. But then comes Chapter 11, a catalog of men and women who acted in faith when all logic shouted “No!”. Noah was told to build an ark, Abraham was called to the undefined and unknown, and Moses didn’t panic when the Hebrews appeared trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea.
Psalms confirm our faith and relationship with God involve both heart and mind. The psalms reflect every possible emotion: joy, sorrow, anguish, wonder, praise, anger, despair, hope, confidence, contrition. The emotions are deep and honest, not sub. Contrast those with the acrostic psalms, carefully crafted so that the first word of each verse, phrase, or couplet starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order. Some examples are Psalms 24, 34, 37, and 145. Psalm 119 has 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, and each verse of the stanza starts with the same letter. That’s an amazing blend of heart and head! The acrostic is hidden in our English translations, but we can see that these are cohesive psalms, not just a collection of sentences starting with the same letter. (Overview of the acrostic psalms: see https://psaltermark.com/2013/07/30/acrostic-psalms/ or https://truthonlybible.com/tag/acrostic-
I assert that our experience with God - data and facts - makes faith possible. Moses, the prophets, and the psalmists recount many stories of God’s actions in the past - and that history enables them to stand fast in faith. God’s past faithfulness is the basis for us to trust God now and in the future. Our early faith is based on the experience of others, for example Bible stories we heard from our parents. In II Timothy 1:5, Paul spoke of Timothy’s faith “which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice.” But faith isn’t inherited - it is modeled. We adopt the faith modeled by others and test it in our lives. Each answered prayer and recognition of God’s actions in our lives confirms and reinforces it, and faith matures and becomes our own. The Samaritans of Sychar told the woman at the well (John 4:42), “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” In the end, faith depends not on what we know but Who we know: God, the Great I AM behind the data, facts, and experiences.
God created us with heads and hearts, with left-brained and right-brained thinking. Both are important for the Christian life. Paul sums it up in I Corinthians 14:15, writing about spiritual gifts of prophecy (proclamation of the word) and speaking in tongues (speaking to God in an unknown language): “I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.” May you grow in whole-brained faith!
Singing the song of faith with heart and mind,