“If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” Job 23:8-10.
Sometimes people will tell you that God didn’t act in your life because you didn’t have enough faith. If only you believed harder, stronger, or with more certainty about what God could do, your prayer would have been answered. Whether its healing from cancer, a child’s salvation, or a mended relationship, if only you would have trusted God with more certainty for God’s action, you wouldn’t have cancer, your child would be saved, and your relationships mended. Or so it goes.
In some churches today, this “advice” often comes from those deemed more spiritual than others. Said differently, those who think they have God all figured out are normally the ones who try to dictate when God does or does not answer your own prayers. They know that God only (supposedly) acts when people are confident that God will. I think this is perhaps the most harmful spiritual advice anyone could give. It makes God into a vending machine; one can twist God’s arm into action by being “certain” it will happen. And it makes humans into robots. Let me explain.
Have you ever been told this before? Maybe your own context was different from the examples above, but many people, normal Christians, have been told this countless times. Usually one is encouraged to just believe harder, and show more radical trust by forcing God’s hand into action. If this has happened to you in the past, it is likely, if your prayers remained unanswered, you felt guilty as if somehow God’s inaction was your own fault.
Sometimes our sinful human actions can hinder God’s action in our own lives as we refuse the grace offered to us, but let me assure you that God’s inaction is not the result of your lack of certainty in believing it would be done. You cannot force God to do what you want just by believing with certainty. You can’t “claim it.” That’s just not how God interacts with the world on a normal basis. You can’t misquote bible verses and demand God to fulfill the promises you interpret out of scripture. Besides, being certain, claiming promises, and demanding things from God are not the same as having faith.
Faith is much more complex than the super spiritual Christians will give it credit for. They think it works simplistically as if having faith means God must answer any and all of one’s prayers. But that’s not faith. That’s misguided certainty. Faith requires trust in God regardless of one’s situation. It isn’t easy most of the time. And sometimes, faith can look like mistrust. In other words, sometimes you can think that there is no way God is going to answer your well-intentioned prayers, but still hold on to a glimmer of hope, and God will come in grace, responding to your requests. But even that doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes faith looks like the world is crashing onto your shoulders, too weighty to bear up alone, and lamenting before God of all the pain in the world. Sometimes faith is that unconscious hope, the smallest desire for God to make the world right, to save you, perhaps. But the thing is, faith rarely looks like certainty as most define it. Those two words are normally mutually exclusive. Its not faith if you are certain about it, in that case, it just is certainty. Faith often knows that the odds are stacked against it, but chooses to rely on the character of God regardless even though all hope seems lost in a given situation.
If God wanted us to be certain about everything, there would be some miraculous sign that no one could doubt was from God all over the world so that we would all instantly have facts about reality. But that wouldn’t require any faith, would it? And if you’re so certain about God’s plans, where is the faith in that?
Sometimes faith looks like your mind’s inner thoughts thinking, “I hope somehow the gospel is true, but I don’t know how I could ever know for sure, especially with the way the world is today.” The truth is, Christianity is complicated. There are always doubts and questions about things that seem incompatible with one another. But those doubts and questions do not require the absence of faith. Sometimes they are the product, the evidence of faith itself at work in the believer’s life.
To close, I encourage you. Have you far too often equated faith and certainty? If so, learn to see the beauty of true faith, with all of its baggage; trusting in God. Sometimes God surprises us.