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Something Already Received: Thoughts on Faith

Imagine, for a moment, the person you trust most in life. A parent, perhaps, or a dear friend, or a spouse of many years. Someone tested and proven beyond all doubt.

Now imagine this person has promised you something. A present. “Never fear, love,” he says, “I will have the most perfect present for you on your birthday.” Now, if this person’s word has been proven true over and over, and his ability and desire to deliver this gift are as certain as all the long years you have spent with him, then would you not be confident that he will deliver the promised present?

Of course you would. It may even be that your confidence in the gift not yet received would create in you the same emotions one would expect to see upon receipt of the unknown but wonderful present: joy, excitement, and gratitude. You would have these sentiments even before any gift is given, because your trust in the character of the giver causes you to treat the promised gift as something already received. In a sense, the promise is itself a gift, since it’s surety allows you to behave much as if you already received the present.

Now, this is a reasonable response to the promise of a trustworthy person, even though that person is finite and fallible and could possibly be prevented from carrying out his promise by forces outside of his control. If we could imagine a Giver both infinite and infallible, however, would it not follow for us to to confidently treat His promises as something already received? Would it not make sense for us to pattern our lives as if we had already received the gift?

This, I think, is how children are capable of their oft-lauded faith. You see, when a child’s parent or teacher tells her something, she believes it because all her experiences to date have shown the adult to be capable of far more than the child. The adult is able to provide shelter, nourishment, and comfort, and this proves to the child how far beyond her the adult is. Hopefully, the character of the adult is also shown to be benevolent. All this leads the child to the entirely logical decision that the word of the adult is trustworthy. So, when a parent speaks of Santa Claus, or a teacher explains the basics of science, the child puts her faith completely in the words she has heard. The possibility of doubt never even crosses her mind.

Now, this attitude of faith is fleeting, to be sure, due mostly to that deep-rooted seed of pride within us all. A child may not believe the stove-top is really hot, and it may take a tangible experience to prove the veracity of the father’s warning. A student may begin to doubt the value or truth of his lessons, especially as he begins to build his own set of experiences. The more he experiences, the less inclined he may be to listen to those who have gone before him. Their advice seems dated and obscure compared to the gleaming freshness of his growing world.

This, I suspect, is the crux of the matter, and the test to separate the humble from the unbearably proud: if a child grows to value his own experiences over the instructions of his elders, then he will loose faith in his parents and teachers and come instead to rely primarily on his own experiences and derivative beliefs. If someone could somehow grow in abilities and experiences without discounting the advice of others, though, that person would remain teachable and grow greatly in wisdom.

Again, of course, we are speaking of finite and fallible teachers, who can and often do allow errors into their lessons. If there were a Teacher infinite and infallible, though, would it not make sense to trust in His instructions, no matter how vast our own experiences were? We would be foolish to value our own ideas over the advice and warnings of one such as He.

The unifying idea is this, then: if we would properly fix our minds on the character of our Giver and Teacher, it would be far easier to trust in His words. His promises would be alive in our lives long before they are fully realized, and His instructions would far outrank our own feeble labors and desires.

The only infinite and infallible Giver and Teacher is God, of course, and this necessity for us to really comprehend His character is one reason I believe the writers of the Bible were lead to spend so much time explaining the nature of God. David, in particular, dedicates a great portion of the Psalms to repeatedly lauding specific attributes of God: His might, His faithfulness, His just ways, etc. David’s understanding of and confidence in the character of God allowed him to live out the promises of God in a very real and tangible way. If we too could become utterly confident of even a small fraction of God’s character, I wonder what promises we could live out as well?

“For You will light my lamp;
The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
For by You I can run against a troop,
By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (Psalm 18:28-30, NKJV).