Three and a half years ago we were preparing to move. My husband and I and our seven children were packing up and saying goodbye to our church friends of six years. We were moving to be closer to my parents, who were getting up in years and didn't have anyone near to help them out.
It wasn't a move that we really wanted to make. My husband was leaving his work as a minister. We didn't know at that time if he would seek work with a church again. Our denomination had no established churches within two hours of where we would be settling. It would be a difficult career change. We'd never lived near family before. How would we handle so many children and take care of elderly people as time passed and their health declined? How would our children adapt to such a change?
As we worked toward our move, we began looking for a new job and a house to purchase. Jeff made several trips to the area to try to arrange both. Time passed, and nothing came into view.
We couldn't really delay our move, once the wheels had been set into motion. The last paycheck would come, and I was half-way thru my 8th pregnancy. To top things off, we had learned that I had a rare blood isoimmunization. The baby appeared to be fine, but the remainder of the pregnancy would require a high level of monitoring. I needed to get to our new location, find a new doctor and specialist who would take my case, and begin to settle in before the baby arrived.
We felt we were doing what God had asked us to do. We felt we had made some hard choices - choices to give up what we "knew," to do something we didn't really "want" to do. We were quite clear that we were doing what God had asked of us. We continued to prepare to move, continued to look, stood strong in our belief that God would show Himself on our behalf in a mighty way. Privately, deep inside, I was sure that He would come through in a really big way. I was sure that He would honor our obedience and would use this opportunity to show everyone how GREAT He was and how He rewards those who obey Him. I also wanted a little coverage for the "crazy" label that we wore. Yes...we heard the whisperings that we were "irresponsible." They hurt...but you know, we HEARD God, and we just wanted to obey Him.
Well, the time came close to the move. I did find a very wonderful doctor. But the house? Only one possibility came into view.
And it was the FURTHEST thing from glorious that I could imagine. It was a foreclosure that needed a new roof and complete gutting and remodeling. And to add insult to injury, it sat smack dab in the middle of the ONE TOWN I had told God that I would not live in. And it was 100 degrees for weeks straight when we moved in. And we only had a couple of window units.
I was so angry at God. It only lasted for a brief time, but I was very upset.
"Really? Is this the best that you can do? We have faith, we make the hard choices, do the difficult thing instead of the easy thing - and this is the reward? This...house? This filthy, broken-down thing? Is this how you show your glory? What are all of those people - the ones who already think we're crazy - going to think?"
"You could have really blown 'em away with your power, God. I don't get it."
Well, this story could go on for a long, long time. Jeff was unemployed for five months, and when his job finally did come, it was a job with long, long hours and not great pay. The remodeling work was long and slow. It still is. We struggled to find a church to fit into. We had medical emergencies - some very serious ones that we are still emerging from.
So much has happened. Some very good things too. But my view of faith has been upended. It was changed, fleshed out, and deepened during Jeff's illness this summer.
See, my faith was boxed. I never knew I believed in a formulaic God, but I did. I thought that if "I did this (obedience,) God would do that (reward.)" My desire to please God and do the right thing was sincere, but I think that I misunderstood.
Good rewards for good behavior.
I think that's too simple. Yes, sometimes life does work that way, indeed. Maybe that's how it is when we begin, because we need the encouragement to continue in our faith. But at some point, God asks us to go deeper.
If faith was so formulaic, Daddies would never get so sick. Our relationships would always be rosy because we'd put in the hard work and done the right thing. Babies would never die. Children raised "right" would always turn out "right." Husbands would always love their wives more than their own bodies. Meth would not rot teeth and steal food and love from children.
Retaining a formulaic view reduces God, and it sets our faith up for an epic fail. When hard times hit, when bad things happen even though we have done right, we find ourselves clenching and clutching at that faith. Somebody failed! God? Us? At that point, we are forced to examination and conclusion. Some, thru trials, will drop God altogether. If we remain in our faith, we have to make a choice. We will either try to continue to make the formula work, or we will choose to see Him with wiser eyes, a more accepting heart, and a broader view of eternity and how He works in this world.
Faith is not just "believing enough." It's not just doing right and then believing, like a child, that you get your sticker or your candy (or even safety or health or a nicer house.) That makes God like a genie, someone who is bound to our demands and our expectations. That would mean that we could manipulate God.
Faith doesn't always come that easily. Faith comes by believing in Him when things don't go right and relationships fail. It is believing God when we suffer depression or when our children are wounded or even when dressers tip and toddlers die. (How I grieve with them.) Faith is believing that in the end He works all things out, that on the whole He can be trusted. Faith means that even though He allows us to hurt, even though He might slay us, He will one day set all things right and heal all our wounds and restore our devastating losses. Faith is married to hope. Sometimes it is hope for today, sometimes it is a future hope, yet to be realized.
God asks us to love Him and believe in Him when 2 + 2 seems to = 5. He asks us to go beyond the immediate and to look at the Big Picture. He wants us to trust in His character, the core of WHO He is - even when things don't seem to go right. (Especially when things seem to go dreadfully wrong. That's when we need to believe Him the most.) He asks us to take the long view, to look ahead, to believe in His love and His goodness overall. He asks us to trust Him when He doesn't seem to make sense. Our faith moves from temporal and immediate to all-encompassing and long-lasting. It moves from "what we get" to "Who He Is."
That is faith, isn't it?
From Hebrews 11:
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.