We all have faith, says Steve Chalke, the question is whether we choose to put it in God
The tube train was packed as it trundled through central London. Most people were going about their business, oblivious to their travelling companions, but one young man had become preoccupied with the rather perplexed and obviously disorientated elderly gentleman who sat opposite him.
The elderly man kept looking down at a map of the Underground in the front of his diary, then up at the maps displayed in the train and out of the window as the train passed through each station in turn. From time to time he’d scratch his head and sigh.
Eventually the young man decided to go against the tube’s usual social code, approach the elderly gentleman and offer his assistance. Immediately his instincts were confirmed; this man was not English – he was Eastern European and on his first trip to the UK. Taking the diary that contained the map, the young man stared at it, determined to locate exactly where they were. He didn’t travel on the Underground very often, so he was no expert himself. But turning the diary one way and then the other, he couldn’t make head nor tail of it either. Finally, in frustration, he gave up and closed it – and that’s when he understood.
The diary was French. The map inside its cover wasn’t of the London tube at all – it was the Paris Metro!
We all exercise trust every day. Everyone. Bar none. We have to. We drive cars someone else designed, we eat meals someone else prepared, we enter elevators someone else serviced. Whether well-placed or misguided, whether intentional or subconscious, trust is, for most of us, a natural behaviour.
In other words, everyone lives by faith. There is no other option. Whether we place our faith in science, religion, education, government, the justice system or nothing more than the accuracy of the tube map in the front of our diary, each one of us lives by faith in whatever we trust to be reliable and true.
The decisions we make each day reveal what we hold to be true. We put faith into action every day of our lives. We trust that our votes will be counted, that the weather forecast is reasonably accurate, that the medicine we have been prescribed will work and that our banks will keep our money safe.
There is a widespread myth that faith is the exclusive possession of those who hold religious beliefs. But this is false. In fact, it turns out that the statements ‘I believe in God’ and ‘I don’t believe in God’ are, equally, statements of faith.
The difference between believing that God exists and believing that God does not exist is not the difference between the ‘presence’ and ‘absence’ of faith – it is simply a difference in the content of that faith and belief. Indeed, just as the world is filled with selfappointed salesmen for God, it is also filled with evangelical atheists who are equally determined to convert anyone who will listen to their belief system, their faith in the non-existence of God.
More than that, people often talk about the ‘presence’ or‘absence’ of faith as though it is something that is static; as though it is something that we either have or don’t have; as though it is either here or gone. But faith is more dynamic than that. Indeed, if we imagine it to be something concrete and permanent, we miss the point. However, once we recognise that it is something we all exercise – to one degree or another – then any struggle is not about whether we an believe, but about what – or whom – we choose to believe, and how deeply we express that trust.
The real question, then, is not, ‘Do you have faith?’ Rather, ‘Are the people, the organisations, the promises, the values and the relationships you put your faith in day by day, year by year, really worth your investment of trust?’
John Kavanaugh, a brilliant ethicist, went to live for three months in Mother Teresa’s House of the Dying in Calcutta on a personal pilgrimage to find guidance and a clear vision for the rest of his life.
On his very first morning, Mother Teresa asked Kavanaugh, as she asked everyone, “What can I do for you?” He requested that she pray for him. So she asked him what, specifically, he would like her to pray about.
Without hesitation, Kavanaugh, who had travelled thousands of miles on his quest, replied, “Please pray that I get clarity for the future.” “No!” retorted Mother Teresa emphatically, “I will not do that...Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”
“But you always seem to have clarity,” Kavanaugh spluttered, a little taken aback. With a twinkle in her eye, Mother Teresa laughed, “I have never had clarity; but what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
To follow Christ, as his apprentice, is an act of faith. It is an act of trust. An act of letting go.
Two would-be apprentices entered a dark room from the brightness of the midday sunlight. Both had been told that the room was filled with priceless treasure.
The first was in a hurry. He wanted to be elsewhere. More than that, he was cynical. He didn’t really believe the story he’d heard of the treasures that the room contained. However, he had decided to check for himself, just in case, before finally dismissing the claims as the old wives tale he was sure they were. Having entered the room at great speed, he glanced quickly around and, just as he suspected, saw absolutely nothing except the darkness. Turning on his heels he left, happy that he had proved himself right.
But the second arrived with a different attitude. He came to the room expectantly; hoping to discover the treasure. So, though at first glance he saw nothing, instead of leaving with his friend, he decided to linger and to wait for his eyes to adjust. And, as he did so, his hopes were fulfilled beyond his widest expectations.
God grants freedom to each one of us. He does not bully or threaten us into trusting him or into following Christ. He will not force himself on us. And he is not in your face the whole time; which is why it is possible for many of us to get by in life without recognising or acknowledging him.
Instead, God invites us into a relationship with him. He gently woos us but leaves us the space to make our own decisions and choices in our own time. He is a lover, not a rapist. Indeed, God has the kind of relaxed, gentle, attitude which means that those who do not listen will not hear; that those who do not search will not find.