Faith, hope, charity.
Those three words are some of the biggest and most incomprehensible words to me. Poets and writers and theologians have spent hundreds of lines, words, pages, treatises discussing these words alone. Sometimes I think I have a taste of what faith or hope or love really are. Other days, I am entirely incapable of assigning any sort of definition to them.
Hebrews defines faith for us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But I wonder: what does that look like in reality? Abraham is an example of faith, David another, and Mary the greatest among them all. So we are given stories to help understand faith and examples to emulate perhaps because words that speak of eternal things can never be fully understood in this finite life.
Often I wrongly think faith means a dismissal of hardship or a denial of the realities of life. What I perceive as faith can even seem like weakness: forget your situation, put on a happy face, and have faith that all things work together for your good.
But that isn’t faith.
Faith is not a dismissal or a forgetfulness of reality. Faith is more than “putting on” joy and attempting to convince ourself of God’s goodness. It seems to me that faith begins in a deep and profound awareness and acknowledgment of the sorrow or seriousness of a situation. When the Lord spoke to David, promising that his kingdom would endure forever, David responded in faith that did not overlook the reality of his position. He responded with a profound belief that despite his own unfaithfulness, the Lord would fulfill what was promised.
“Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you.” (2 Samuel 17)
And Mary responded in perfect faith to the angel’s announcement, yet her first words were a question: “How can this be?” She acknowledges the seeming impossibility that she might conceive and bear the Son of God. If she had simply gone from hearing the angel to her fiat, I think I might dismiss Mary as almost inhuman. Faith does not silence questions.
Now, in our own day, we are called to faith: faith that good will triumph over evil; faith that salvation has come; faith that we are known and cared for; faith that someday, all will be made right. Yet, that often seems impossible.
Perhaps faith isn’t blind. Perhaps faith isn’t closing our eyes to the realities around us in order to believe. Perhaps faith begins with an acknowledgment of our own helplessness and our own fallen state. Perhaps true faith follows the example of Mary: we first receive the promises and declarations of God and then recognize the seeming impossibility. There is no need to gloss over our pain or fear or uncertainty.
Yet, upon recognizing our humanity and our position before an all-powerful, miracle-working God, we join with her words: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1)
So perhaps faith is the opposite of weakness: perhaps faith is courageously acknowledging the seeming impossibility of such good and great things while expectantly believing that the Lord will do as He says.