08 December, 2007

Abandoning Faith for Faith

My computer was nice enough to give me a second chance to write this post. Hopefully, this time my work will meet it's high standards of perfection, and it will allow me to save my efforts.

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I was reared Assemblies of God. It was a charming little combination of Fundamentalism and Prosperity Doctrine. We believed that you had to live perfectly uprightly (no movies, no alcohol, no unprofitable speech, everything - as I recall it, anyway) and that God answered prayer (healings, job miracles, relationship miracles, the whole bit.)

We had the answers.

If you lived holily, and if you clung to Christ, and if you asked for your holy heart's desires wholly believing, you were pretty much set for life and afterlife. God could do amazing things for a man like that, a man willing to do selfless things for God.

Being raised there left me with a twisted view of God.

When Vanessa decided I really wasn't her type at age 18, the event left me baffled. Nothing, and I mean nothing, about her departure made a lick of sense. I was plenty upright. I prayed plenty. I lived plenty holy. I had plenty of faith ... and that's what I want to focus on, faith.

Looking back, I could not have had more faith than I had, at least not in the way I'd been taught. Faith was defined as "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). Well, Vanessa was certainly hoped for, right? And since that bad afternoon, she was definitely unseen. So, faith was surely going to be the bridge between her departure and her inevitable return!

And be twice assured that there was no shortage of faith. When they teach about faith they say believing is not good enough. They say you have to trust, and illustrate trust with the famous tightrope across the Grand Canyon metaphor. "Believing" a dude in tights can wheel you safely across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope in a wheelbarrow is not enough. Instead, you have to exercise "faith" by getting in the wheelbarrow and enjoying the ride.

I set a higher standard. I danced a jig in that wheelbarrow, and never looked back.

I never looked at another girl, because Vanessa was coming back. I wrestled with my heart and kept its sorrows in check, because God was planning the perfect answer to the perfect story. I just needed to wait Him out. I consoled myself that faith was my companion during the long, but surely finite wait.

5 years is not a long time, unless you're 18 (or 43, or breathing.)

It was only after 5 years that I finally let go of my illusions. And it was hard. The mental habits were hard to break, but harder was ltg go of the insane conviction (I use the term advisedly) that if I hung on just a little longer my dedication would be vindicated. In surrendering my wishes, I was sure I was disappointing both God and myself, not to mention poor, deprived Vanessa.

I now know there was no real faith in my time pining after Vanessa. What I had was something else. I also know, though, there was some real faith, and that it kept me alive for that five years and the little year that followed.

Let's talk about the difference between faith and optimism.

Optimism is a general outlook that things are going to be OK. Science, psychology, and culture all believe optimism is a great thing for people, and so does Codepoke. Optimism has been proven to extend life expectancy, quality of life, and desirability at parties - all good things. Optimism doesn't actually change whether life throws you lemons or truffles, but it causes you to taste a little bit of everything thrown your way and not throw the truffles back. (Not throwing the truffles back is a good thing.)

Pessimism is a general belief that everything goes sour eventually. You might see a truffle, smell a truffle, taste a truffle and have friends coming over for the first time in a month of Sundays to have a truffle, but by pessimism you know those truffles are really lemons in disguise. You're a realist, and you know only a fool would rely on ever getting a real truffle. So, the safest thing to do is figure out how to make people like you for your charm and good nature, rather than sharing a bunch of sour truffles with them. I think I'll call pessimists "truffle tossers" from now on. Why not? Nobody understands what I say anyway. So why not say whatever I feel like?! It won't make any difference. I'm just wasting my time blogging.

(In case you missed the joke, that last bit was me tossing truffles. So was the bit about pessimists winning friends with their charm and good nature.)

Relative to pessimism, optimism is a most excellent thing.

But it's not faith.

Just a little past Hebrews 11:1, the author of Hebrews (yes, it WAS Priscilla!) actually defines what faith is, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Faith is a firm trust placed in a promise, based upon the character of the person who makes it.

It takes several things to have faith. It takes someone making a promise, the promise itself, evidence of that person's dependability, and someone to trust the promiser. Faith is always a reasoned response to a promise plus visible, measurable evidence of faithfulness. Faith is a rich, full-bodied decision undertaken by someone with their eyes wide open.

People refer to "blind faith," but that's always a misnomer. What people call blind faith is really blind optimism. Blind faith invested in the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" is actually blind optimism, since there is no evidence of the FSM's dependability. Actually, optimism has to be blind. As soon as there's data to back up optimism, it quits being optimism and starts being observation. Faith, on the other hand, thrives in an atmosphere of fact and data.

Knowing all this would not have brought Vanessa back, but it might have kept my head screwed on in a generally forward direction.

The two facts, 1) that I wanted Vanessa back, and 2) that God was kind did not equal any promise by Him that Vanessa would be delivered with bells on. Instead, I was praying for something I wanted and being optimistic. I thought the powerful impressions made on the mush in my skull constituted a binding contract with God. He did not share my illusion.

But what about the optimism part?

I've been waiting for this moment. I get to mention a word now, that was never once uttered in the same breath with "faith" during my whole childhood.

Wisdom.

I was going to call this post, "The Dance of Wisdom," because when I first got the idea last week, I pictured the answer as a square dance in my head.

It's wisdom that tells us when to lean on faith alone, and when to add optimism to the mix. If you've ever seen a square dance, I picture optimism on the left, faith on the right, and wisdom in the middle.

Faith and optimism are both great dance partners, but it's wisdom that swings its partners round and round, and changes back and forth between them as the music plays. Sometimes wisdom grabs optimism for a couple dosey-does and keeps our chins up. At other times wisdom takes faith in arm, and spins her round and round and remembers what God really has and has not promised. Done right, balancing faith and optimism can actually be fun.

It almost makes me wish I could clap in time to marching music, but a man has to know his limitations. Watching me try to dance would not be a pretty thing. People with rhythm have walked up to me in the past and asked me to what I was clapping, because it sure wasn't to the song I was singing.

Wisdom wanted to tell me that Vanessa was gone, and that gone is gone, but I shut her up. I knew that listening to wisdom was abandoning faith. I spurned wisdom and crowned optimism as the queen of my judgement. I placed a sash over my queen's shoulder that said, "Faith," and told Solomon and his Proverbs that I had something better in hand. I had the crystal ball of my own heart's wishes, and if I wished anything this powerfully, it must come from God. God would make this wish come true. He had to. I had faith.

But the whole time that I was dancing exclusively with optimism, God was growing faith in the quiet back-reaches of my heart.

Looking back, my faith in God's love was far stronger than my optimism for Vanessa. I questioned God's method of bringing her back, for easily imagined reasons, but I never questioned His unchanging care for me.

And His care was a thing He really had promised.

It was the wreck of my make-believe faith that eventually opened my eyes to true faith. Seeing God keep, even in the smoking wreckage of my life, every promise He'd ever made settled my fears. My heart finally rested on the granite of His worthiness. His promise was always true, and His love was always faithful. Finally, faith began to get a little playing time in my life.

I wish I could say wisdom had. ;-) Shortly thereafter I married as foolishly as I'd loved before.

Such is life.

2 comments:

Kansas Bob said...

Great post CP!! I wonder about this..

"Faith is a firm trust placed in a promise, based upon the character of the person who makes it."

..it seems that.. maybe.. His character and His promises are inseparable. His promise to be faithful is dependent on His faithful character.. you get the point.

Now I think that.. as Charles Farrah says in his book From the Pinnacle of the Temple.. what some call faith is realy presumption. When people read the bible with their head.. like they might read a math textbook.. they come up with all kinds of spiritual formuls and presume that God has promised them something.

This is why faith, like trust, is always an issue of the heart.. unfortunately for most of us insecure control freaks living out of our heart is way too scary.

For me.. when I live this way life becomes all about releasing control.. flowing with the Holy Spirit.. giving up my expectation.. being content with where God has me.. and embracing hope (not optimism) concerning the future.

Sorry for the long comment CP.

Happy Sunday,
Brother Bob

eclexia said...

"Nobody understands what I say anyway. So why not say whatever I feel like?!" For a pessimist, you sure are funny :)

Actually, as someone who can easily be judged to be pessimistic, even when my heart is full of hope and joy and peace, I really appreciate this post. There is a place for optimism, but optimism does not equal faith.

I've been thinking about writing a post about how fatalism, while not a great thing in and of itself, has some spiritual advantages (just as optimism does.) But it probably wouldn't be understood :)

Personally, I think some things like optimism, pessimism, and, yes, even fatalism, are in large part cultural and personality traits. As such, lived out in people affected by sin and the fall, they are certainly imperfect, incomplete and indeed, often lead us to sin. But, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. What does redeemed optimism look like (I think you showed that well here--it's optimism restrained at times by wisdom and at other times unleased further than it ever could have gone on its own, without faith in God.)? What does redeemed pessimism look like (it looks like a very realistic view of sin, sorrow, suffering and pain, not at all minimized, even while being transformed by hope and trust in a sovereign and loving God.) What does redeemed fatalism look like? (Well, I guess you'll have to wait until I get my post together. I guess I'll have to wait till then, too, because this is one of those things that I feel so deeply and complicatedly inside myself, I have to work on putting words to it....)

You said, "But the whole time that I was dancing exclusively with optimism, God was growing faith in the quiet back-reaches of my heart." Ahhhhh! The faithfulness of God. What a beautiful picture. Thank you.