Losing Faith in Translation
There’s a god on the Pentecostal shelf. It needs you to be god.
Your faith is it’s fuel. The more of it you have, the more it has to run on. The less of it you have, well…you get the gist. It doesn’t matter that you cross all other ‘t’s and dot all other ‘i’s, if you’re lacking in that essential commodity called faith, you’re a non-starter. Its will for your life is as supreme as your faith makes it.
There is a narrative that goes much farther. We are told you couldn’t get anything from it if you didn’t believe without wavering. James 1:5-7 and that is only the beginning.
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrew 11:6
Based on this narrative you are first invited to fellowship with a God whose relationships are convenantal. Then we are taught a lot about his infinite capacity for faithfulness. At every turn we are reminded that because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel is blessed forever, no matter. Faithfulness couldn’t stretch any farther. In the words of a prolific writer:
“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13
Having learned that much, we are reminded yet again that if we are ill, but do not believe he can heal us, then we may die in our infirmity. If we lack, but do not believe he is able to provide, we will remain deprived. If we aspire but do not believe he can work a breakthrough we will remain stuck; for as it is written:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.” Hebrews 11:1-2
Following from that we are given an inventory of people who had their dreams fulfilled by the power of faith, from Abel through Abraham to Samuel. Hebrews 11:4-38 Their faith split seas, brought down walls, turned barrenness around and confounded heathen kingdoms. Curiously the text concluded:
“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” Hebrews 11:39
So what’s the point?
There is a counter-narrative to that however. It is not couched in theories or theology. Our God is a story-teller, not a theologian. He crafts plots around individuals, families and nations to demonstrate what he does and how he does them. By the time he’s done dramatizing his disposition, your three year-old could very easily do a thesis on the sort of God he is.
Our God is a story-teller, not a theologian.
A man walked on water, we read. He turned water into wine and made a lot of bread and fish from a handful. He caused a fish to spit out money and cured blindness with spittle and sand. People got healed by touching the hem of his cloak and at his word demons scampered. Patience guys, God is going somewhere with this!
He saved his pièce de résistance for last orders. He was told his friend was ill to the point of death and what did he do? Rush to the bedside you might say. Wrong. He went on a walkabout. Word got to him his friend had died and lest you thought he didn’t care, as per the walkabout, we’re told he wept. Four days later, he showed up and reversed the course of nature. He commanded a decomposing corpse out of the grave and his friend walked out alive and well.
And where is God going with this? Patience!
This man kept 12 core believers around him all the time. They witnessed his lordship over the order of nature for three years and were given every reason to believe that with this man all things were possible. As the story progressed we found out the twelve still had doubts. One of them was so unbelieving that he lent his name to the state of unbelief. The account goes thus:
“The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25
We call him and all unbelieving after him ‘Doubting Thomas’.
If what we read in the books of Hebrews and James are indeed the nature and way of God then Thomas could expect nothing from God. God could have no pleasure in this fellow. But rather than discount with Thomas, Christ showed up just for Thomas.
“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” John 20:26-27
Thus Thomas was healed of his unbelief.
Thomas was not the first to be gifted a command performance in a bid to cure unbelief. A record in the book of Judges tells the story of Gideon. Gideon doubted what the angel said of him and when he was told he was needed for a mission he asked God to prove himself before he would sign up for a commission. God concurred. Judges 6:17- 22 Should that not end the doubts? Not on Gideon’s life.
There was no divine ticking-off for failure of nerves or displeasure at lack of conviction. God gave whatever it took to assure us he would do as he promised.
Gideon went on the divine mission, throwing down altars to vanities and building an army for God. Just to be sure he wasn’t backing the wrong God, he requested that God proved himself again, and again. And God did. Judges 6:36-40 There was no divine ticking-off for failure of nerves or displeasure at lack of conviction. God gave whatever it took to assure us he would do as he promised.
If you needed someone to carry on your legacy, you’d hardly bet on someone you knew would deny you. Hardly. Unless you’re Jesus Christ. He chose Peter knowing the latter would deny him three times in less than 24 hours. And after he’d risen an angel made a gesture to indicate that Peter had not lost his place in Christ despite Peter’s denials:
“And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” Mark 16:6-7
God had a knack of choosing people whose ‘belief’ in him in the sense described in the book of Hebrews could not affect a molehill, never mind moving mountains. He is recorded as often going the extra mile to calm frayed nerves. As a participant at a Redeemed Camp bible class remarked, God does his best to bring out the best in us.
God does his best to bring out the best in us.
But didn’t Jesus set much store by insisting that people believed in him? You might ask. That is precisely the question Karen Armstrong answered in The Case For God. Indeed he did, but not in the language in which you and I read the bible today.
“The word translated faith in the New Testament is the Greek pistis (verbal form: pisteuo), which means ‘trust; loyalty; engagement; commitment’….When the New Testament was translated into Latin by St Jerome, pistis became fides (loyalty). Fides had no verbal form so for pisteuo, Jerome used the Latin verb credo, a word derived from cor do: ‘I give my heart’. He did not think of using opinor (‘I hold an opinion’)….When the Bible was translated into English, credo and pisteuo became ‘I believe’ in the King James Version (1611)….But the word ‘belief’ has since changed its meaning. In Middle English, bileven meant ‘to prize; to value; to hold dear’. It was related to the German belieben (‘to love’), liebe (‘beloved’) and the Latin libido. So belief originally meant ‘loyalty to a person to whom one is bound in promise or duty….During the late seventeenth century, as our concept of knowledge became more theoretical, the word ‘belief’ started to be used to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical – and often dubious – proposition.” The Case For God pg 90-91
That is the etymology of ‘faith’. Faith in the language and culture of Jesus Christ was not about perception, learning, reasoning or intellectual assent to anything, it was about covenantal commitment to a cause.