What Faith Isnt

I knew that misconceptions about faith often open the door to doubts because they can create false expectations or misunderstandings about the nature of God. For instance, if people incorrectly think God has promised to heal everyone or make everyone wealthy if they just exhibit sufficient faith, they can fall prey to doubts when illness strikes or bankruptcy looms. In order to arrive at an accurate view of faith, I decided to first clear out the theological underbrush by defining what faith isn't.

"What are some common misunderstandings about faith?" I asked.

"People mix up faith and feelings," Anderson replied. "For example, some people equate faith with a perpetual religious high. When that high wears off, as it inevitably does, they start to doubt whether they have any faith at all."

I interrupted. "Are you saying there's no connection between feelings and faith?"

"No," he said. "Feelings are connected with some dimensions of faith, but a lot of that has to do with people's temperaments. Some folks are just not wired to feel very much, even though they may have strong values and convictions."

"How about you?" I asked.

He chuckled. "I tend to be emotionally up and down. It took me years to figure out that this is not a fluctuation of faith. That's why we have to be careful about our feelings-they can be fickle. Let me give you an example.

"A guy once told me, 'I don't like my wife anymore.' My response was to tell him, 'Go home and love her.' But he said, 'You don't understand-I have no feelings for her anymore.' I said, I wasn't asking how you felt. I was saying, 'Go home and love her.' Then he said, 'But it would be emotionally dishonest for me to treat my wife that way when I don't feel it.'

"So I asked, 'Does your mother love you?' That seemed to insult him. He said, 'Yeah, of course.' I said, 'About three weeks after she had brought you home from the hospital and you were screaming with dirty diapers and she had to wake up dog tired and put her bare feet on the cold floor, clean up your miserable diapers, and feed you a bottle-did you think she really got a bang out of that?' He said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, then, I think your mother was being emotionally dishonest.'

"Here was the point I was making: the measure of her love wasn't that she felt good about changing the diapers, but that she was willing to do it even when she wasn't feeling particularly happy about it. And I think we need to learn that about faith. Faith is not always about having positive emotional feelings toward God or life."

"Okay, that's one misconception," I said. "What about the idea that faith is the absence of doubt?"

"Yes, some people think that faith means a lack of doubt, but that's not true," he said. "One of my favorite Bible texts is about the man who comes to Jesus with his demon-possessed son, hoping that the boy would get healed. Jesus says all things are possible to those who believe. And the man's response is so powerful. He says, 'I believe, but would you help me with my unbelief?"'/

Anderson slapped his knee. "Oh, man!" he exclaimed. "I can really connect with that!"

"So doubt and faith can co-exist?" I asked.

"Yeah, it means you can have doubts even when you believe. That was even true of Abraham. He clearly believed, but at the same time, he had doubts. You can see that by what he did at times and what he said. Now, I don't know where you cross the line into corrosive, eroding, negative doubt, but I do believe that where there's absolutely no doubt, there's probably no healthy faith."

"So doubt can actually play a positive role?"

"I think so. I always get a little nervous at what I call the 'true believer' mentality-people with bright smiles and glassy eyes who never have a doubt in the world, who always think everything's wonderful, everything's great. I don't think they run in the same world I do. I'm afraid of what's going to happen to them when something bad occurs.

"For example, I know a physician whose four-year-old child was stricken with cancer. I remember many nights when forty or fifty people would jam into a house to fervently pray for that child. Some of them thought, 'Of course he's going to be healed because we prayed.' And when he was not, it devastated them.

"Their theology had been misguided and unexamined. It had never been challenged by doubts or thoughtful questions. Doubts could have helped them develop a more substantial and realistic faith-to trust God in the face of death and not just in the face of healing."

Anderson's eyes bored into me as if to emphasize his next words. "You see," he stressed, "a faith that's challenged by adversity or tough questions or contemplation is often a stronger faith in the end."

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