There’s something in all of those who believe in God, that wants to please Him. I’ve written before about getting all our veges in a row, only to find that they’re the wrong currency. But there’s a big fat clue in Hebrews which says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Why is it so impossible?
Well, for starters, “whoever comes to God must believe He exists.” This is the part I’ve always thought was emphasised: you can’t approach someone who’s not there. So, a lot of sermons and apologetics have focused on “yes, there is a God, we’ve got kind-of proofs here, and here, and here; and in any case there’s no better or less fanciful explanation for this, and this, and this.”
The second part of the verse comes in for a bit of neglect: “and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The only time I’ve really heard much on this part was when the unspoken question, “Why do I feel God disapproves of me?” has been self-answered with, “You obviously haven’t sought Him diligently enough … He said He would be found by you if you searched for Him with all your heart. ALL your heart. So, if you’re having trouble finding God, guess what? You’re at fault. Again. Big surprise.”
(Yes, I know. Very negative self-talk. We’ll get to that. Sometime this year, I believe.)
But back on the topic of faith. Whenever I’ve thought about praying for things with faith (miracles, healing, character transformation) I’ve thought that the faith He’s after is my faith in His abilities. If I ask myself the question, “Is God capable? Is God competent? Is God powerful?” then the answer always has to be “yes”. Of course the God who made the universe is sublime and brilliant and incredible. He has to be. But despite the seeming guarantees of Scripture, what we like to call the “precious promises,” large numbers of us remain unhealed, unfulfilled, and ratty – and I have no explanation for that.
But lately I’ve been thinking along different lines. Likely this is an “and” situation rather than an “or” one. But here’s my thought. Instead of focusing on CAN God, what if I asked myself WON’T God?
Last year I felt that God was challenging me to see Him as a generous Father. “You don’t ask big enough,” He said. “It’s like you don’t really believe I’m a good dad who’s, ahem, dying to bless His kids.” Now there are reasons for this: strong childhood inculcation against Greed, Idolatry, Mammon, Ambition, Selfishness. But I’m no longer a child. The schoolmaster of the Law has left the building (though his influence rightly remains). And either God is a good, good Father, or He isn’t; or, His ideas of good are radically different from any “good” as we define it. This last is what I believed most of my life: let God be true, and every man a liar; denial, denial, denial. But there is no use in a good that isn’t good. That itself is idolatry – to worship a “good God” whose goodness looks remarkably like badness or indifference. I don’t believe either that that’s who my God is or that this pleases Him (though a determination to stick to Him whether we get our own way or not, may). I do believe that it may be legitimate to look at my misfortune and shake my head and smile and say, “Come on now, Lord. You love me much more than this.” That’s not entitled. That’s faith.
But here’s the thing. My faith needs to be not in the abilities of God, but in His character. And He is a self-confessed lover. “God is love,” the Bible asserts. He Himself is Love, capital L, agape, the unconditional, benevolent, transcendent love. This is not something about Him: it is His structure, if I can put it that way without reducing the complexity of His personhood to one ephemeral virtue. God is Love in the sense that He is composed of it, it’s all through Him like a tissue in a glass of water and water in the fabric of the tissue. It is His modus operandi, and it is also the state in which He Himself exultantly lives in His internal community of the Trinity.
So why did God not say, “Without love it is impossible to please God”? He could have, you know. The statement is more or less true. The two greatest commandments are all about love: for God, for neighbour, for self. (Yes, you heard me: you’re expected to love yourself.) I do believe (and I’m on shaky ground, so hold the phone) that it makes God happy when we love well. He loves love (though I’m not talking about eros) and as John Piper has pointed out, He loves Himself, because He is not an idolater and cannot fail to value what is supremely valuable. The fact that He goes on to love US should make us feel very encouraged, therefore, about the value He places on us.
It’s been said that God is moved by faith, not need. I believe He is not unmoved by need – only that it’s faith that tends to get Him to act. The picture is like a kid with a skinned knee, running past his dad. The dad sucks in his breath over the skinned knee; he feels how painful it is. But until the kid remembers that Dad’s the one with the tender compassion and the Band Aids, and comes to Dad knowing that Dad will make it better – Dad sits tight. He’s probably holding his breath, though. A smart kid knows that Dad is more concerned about his knee than he himself is. A smart kid goes to Dad to put Dad’s mind at rest by giving him the earliest possible opportunity to help.
Here’s the thing. If my faith is not merely in God’s competence, but in an unshakable conviction that He is a good Father who delights in delighting His kids, setting them up to succeed and grow and flourish and remain lovingly connected to Him as their source – then everything shifts. If I believe that God is not passive or unmoved but actively rewards those who seek Him, because He loves us and loves us to come to Him – then through His competence all things become possible.
God cannot love you a little bit. He cannot love you a medium bit. Love is not like an array of coffee cup sizes at Zarraffa’s. Love, by definition, is all in. It’s more like a switch – it’s either on or it’s off. It’s either fully committed, or talk-to-the-hand. God loves you completely. He cannot love one person more than another. He can have elbow room to move in their life to different degree than in yours, but it doesn’t mean He loves us unequally. Love is not quantitative; it’s qualitative, and it goes all out in a tailored direction or loses its definition.
This means that if you have faith in God’s love, and that faith is as small as a mustard seed, that is all you need to tap into the full, rich, deep, high, broad ENTIRE SEA of love that is God. Because with God’s love, an inch is as good as a mile. It’s not a bigger faith you need: it’s a bigger God, and they don’t come any bigger. Of course, if you do happen to have bigger faith, you’ll find the immersion experience in that sea far more thrilling. But you don’t have to feel disqualified if your faith is small. His love is vast, and any amount of faith legitimises a claim on it. It’s not about the size of you. It’s about the size of Him.
The thing about faith is that it comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. We could quibble here a little about Jesus being the Logos, the actual personified Word, and the point would still hold. Your faith will never rise higher than your level of revelation. When we pray, we pray according to what we know. The more we know about God, the more informed our requests can be, and the deeper our praise. But the way to know more about God – and thereby increase our faith – lies in getting revelation. You get that through the Word (either by reading the Bible, which is the written Word of God, or by spending time with the Word – Jesus, the embodiment of the testament of God). You get it also through hearing new things mined out of the Word by experts, the best of whom lives in you in the person of the Holy Spirit. You get it through songs and sermons and articles and soundbites and memes. But you don’t get it by passive wishful thinking. Faith is the gift of God, perhaps a treasure hunt. No hunt, no treasure. Little gems of revelation are waiting for you all over the place if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, if you are hungry for more of God. He is certainly hungry for more of you.