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When Faith is Tried and Tested

It is so easy these days to feel “at a loss.” That’s how my friend described his emotions while observing how far away was the spiritual renewal he hoped for. A “tikkun olam,” as Judaism describes the “healing of the world,” is clearly very distant in our present world crisis, despite any faith we might have in the divine promise that peace will come to the earth.
Grappling with the mysteries of faith-trust these days, trying to keep a hold of it, there are times I too fall into doubt. I think about how many people need God’s help, and wonder how can he possibly look out for everyone who prays for it? It calls to mind a famous old passage in the Bible, Matthew 6:27-33, about the “lilies of the field.”

Kohr Virab monastery in Armenia
Kohr Virab monastery in Armenia
Jewish oil lamp

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is cut down and cast into the oven, how much more shall he clothe you, the ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom. O you of little faith! Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Seek the greater thing, and the lesser will be found therein; ask for the heavenly, and the earthly shall be included.”

One of the goals many world religions share in common is that followers of the path must learn to have an unshakeable trust. Is there a difference between faith and trust? I’m not completely sure, but I have a theory that faith refers to spiritual matters, “the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1) whereas trust pertains to the life we live in the material world, having a confident expectation that an agreement, a covenant will be fulfilled. Faith is a gift, whereas trust, we learn. One Christian help site explains that “trust is faith in action.” Faith-trust can also mean being at home with yourself, such that you are comfortable enough to go out to help and serve others.

There were two young women musicians I once knew up in the country, friends as well as musical partners, but they were like oil on water. Though they made beautiful music together, they were at completely opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum; one an atheist and a believer in socialism, the other an ardent fundamentalist Christian. Whenever some difficulty in life arose, the Christian woman would tell her partner not to worry, “God will take care of it.” The atheist was offended by this way of thinking, living as if faith in God would rescue you even from your own human foibles. She saw it as irresponsible—that no matter what difficulty her friend fell into, even as a result of her own carelessness, God would reach down and pull her out of the mire. I once listened to them argue about it. It was the presumption of the fundamentalist woman that offended her non-believing friend. In the church of my youth, we were taught that her attitude was called “presuming on God’s mercy.”

What do we mean exactly by presumption? Generally it means we are hoping God will do what we want him to do. Faith is trusting God or the Spirit will work with our lives and our gifts, and we believe in his promises to fulfill our hope that a kingdom of righteousness will arrive on Earth (whether we participate in it or not). Hoping to get what you want is not faith, that’s called presumption.

As we wait for God’s will or the “Universal Intelligence” to be manifested in the world, I think the only thing we can rely on is faith. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” and “your hands on the gospel plow.” We can do whatever works to restore flagging courage and lost strength, the same way Jesus did in his last hours, reciting Psalm 22 to himself as he suffered on the cross and death approached. Meditation on the psalmist’s message helped him shore up his dwindling resources.

I have to do something like this most days lately. When joy and hope begin to slip, I have my strategies, singing those gospel songs I quoted above, or re-reading inspirational quotes. In my case, another thing that works well is to plunge myself into a writing project even though I don’t feel up to it at all. In an hour or so, I have regained energy and enthusiasm.

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart, sing anyway.” (Emory Austin)

While I was on the Christian path, following the Father’s command to “Be you perfect,” I experienced difficulties following a command that seemed to merely require my acceptance. Our church taught that once we did accept it, salvation was assured. Over and over, I experienced frustration with this command to be perfect and decided I was not able to perfect my character. However I saw the possibility of perfecting faith. From Hinduism I learned a more gradual yogic approach that faith develops from trying out the idea then personally experiencing the truth of faith for myself.
As I continue to pursue and deepen spiritual habits, I become aware of help for my faith, support that confirms it, encouragement to keep the faith, to perfect my faith attitude.
“Your secret of the mastery of self is bound up with your faith in the indwelling spirit, which ever works by love. Even this saving faith you have not of yourselves; it also is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

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