When life hurts, and I mean, really hurts, our faith in Jesus sometimes hurts too. It’s hard to have faith when life hurts. Harder, I think, then when life is going our way.
When we are realizing our dreams, when relationships are thriving, when finances are flowing and the stars are aligning, having faith in God comes natural to us. And I suppose it should. Nothing wrong with that.
But when the wheels fall off or the shit hits the fan, when life falls apart and nothing seems to be going right, we feel our faith being tested. Sometimes deeply tested. This too, I think, is a natural response. To feel stretched in our faith when chaos threatens to fracture the wholeness of our lives reveals that we are human. And to be human means to hurt sometimes. Sometimes more than we want. Nothing wrong with that either. It’s just reality.
Faith is an interesting word. To me, and to many people I think, when we think of the word “faith” in our English bibles, we automatically internalize it as cognitive or intellectual belief in God. And when life is going as planned, our minds find it easy to believe in Jesus, because we really don’t need to use that much “spiritual muscle” when our lives align nicely with our creeds. But when life hurts, a faith that is internalized as merely cognitive recognition that God is good because life is good, will certainly almost always crumble under the weight of the paradoxical realities we face.
If God is good, then why all this bad? If God loves me, then why all this hate? If God provides, then why do finances fail? If God has gifted me in this way, than why aren’t my dreams being realized? Our minds alone can’t handle the paradox. And neither can a faith that solely exists in the mind.
The word “faith,” I suggest, has been westernized and categorized into something that the biblical writers did not intend. This causes us all to often to misread the Bible with western eyes. And this has damaged our ability to dig deep into our hearts and souls and to wrestle with God when life really hurts. It’s caused us to believe that biblical faith is a static, cognitive, “you either have it or you don’t” mentality that can solve your problems if you just believe enough or have all your mental notes in order about Jesus. It’s the kind of faith that fails to address or deal with the complexities and contradictions we face in real life. It’s a faith grounded in the mind, when it should be grounded in reality—both our reality and God’s. But is this the kind of faith the biblical writers talked about?
Faith in the Gospel of John
As part of my seminary studies, I took a course on the Gospel of John with a professor by the name of Dr. Ian Scott. He, like many other New Testament scholars I’ve read, suggest that the Greek verb for faith (pisteuo) is actually best translated as “to trust” or “to entrust” — it’s an act of trust that involves significantly more than cognitive belief or the declaration of a creed. Here’s what some other bible scholars have to say:
“Faith is a continuous activity of trust in Jesus,” says M.W. Yeung in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.
Faith, according to Louw and Nida’s Greek New Testament Lexicon, is “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.”
“Faith…is more a matter of relationship than of creed, says Gary M. Burge in his NIV Application Commentary on John. “On occasion it means accepting that a message given is true and trustworthy, but for the most part faith springs from confidence in the works Jesus has done and results in a desire to invest all hope in him. Faith is personal and transforming since it is dependent on a person who has demonstrated himself powerful and trustworthy.”
The Gospel of John is a very unique gospel in many ways when we compare it to the synoptic gospels. Perhaps the most striking difference is that John never uses the Greek noun (pistis), but has ninety-eight uses of the verb pisteuo. “This fact alone,” says Francis J. Moloney in his Sacra Pagina commentary on John, “indicates the dynamic, active nature of the Johannine understanding of belief in Jesus.”
John’s interest is to underscore the act of trusting in Jesus, as opposed to the content of intellectual belief. Faith is an active and dynamic trust in Jesus, especially when life hurts.
Faith as dynamic trust in Jesus
Trusting in Jesus when life hurts involves more than intellectual submission to Christian creeds. It’s dynamic in that it involves entrusting Jesus with our entire life. Dynamic faith digs deep into our hearts and souls where we are free to wrestle with God as we experience the paradoxical realities of life. “To believe” in John’s Gospel is to entrust our whole bodies to Jesus. It means entrusting our present hurts, our health, our families and relationships, our entire eternal future and even the future of the earth to God. It’s not only a submission of the mind to biblical truth, but a submission of our existence to the living God who is present and working through the Spirit of Jesus. This kind of faith accepts the reality taking place around us, and strengthens our innermost being when life’s hurts don’t align with our neat and tidy beliefs about how our lives “should be” as followers of a good and loving God. Dynamic faith entrusts our lives to the worthy and capable Trustee of the cosmos.
Faith as active trust in Jesus
John’s understanding of faith is also active. The verb John uses (a verb signifies action) clearly shows that faith is the act of trusting Jesus with our lives. But there’s even more to this active faith that John paints if we look at the Greek he uses. Often, he will add the preposition “into” (Greek eis) beside pisteuo, further solidifying that we are called to place our trust in Jesus or God. It’s an act of handing over our whole lives to God on a daily basis. The preposition literally means “motion into” and implies a trust that penetrates into the life and promises of God for a desired outcome. We can think of it as leaning into God.
When life hurts, God calls us to lean into Him, to invest our trust fully in Him. And while we shouldn’t discount the role of intellectual belief in the process of faith, we need to remember and internalize faith as the active motion whereby which we hand over our entire embodied reality to the Trustee of the cosmos. This brings our faith out of our minds as mere “creed” and into the reality we are facing, both inside and outside of us. It’s the only kind of faith that can accept and confront the paradoxical realities of life that we face. This kind of faith is not only active but deep, reflective and vibrant, a force of motion by which we penetrate into heart and life of God. When this becomes our faith, our trust in Jesus is solidified in our hearts and souls, helping us wrestle and grow with God when the hurts and disappointments of life stretch us. For when our dreams our vaporized, we begin to realize that trusting in Jesus is God’s dream for us.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Up next: a post about “why we can trust Jesus” with our lives. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.