Faith, General and Specific

Last week we looked at faith as a spiritual gift. Like all spiritual gifts, faith is not shared by everyone. This is a hard concept to get around. These gifts are individually given. They may be permanent or transient gifts. They are given for the good of the community, and they’re often given in times of great community need.

I’m starting to think there may be actually two kinds of faith, or maybe two aspects to faith. One is routine, ordinary, and common, the other is special, extraordinary, and uncommon. Routine, ordinary, common faith is given to everyone who is a believer. Romans 3 tells us that everyone is given a measure of this faith. It is the faith that hardwires Wo/Man to God. It is the connecting rod of faith. It keeps the soul in touch with God, and is what enables humankind, by faith, to let God be God. It allows wo/men to say: “God, this is your world. Do as you please. I’m just passing through.” It allows us to claim the promise that all things work together for good to those who love God.

However, “common” does not imply weak or ineffective faith. It is still quite powerful, so much so that Jesus says that even a mustard seed-sized amount of it can do mighty things. It is powerful not because of us, but because it connects us to God. It is the everyday faith that gets believers through lives full of ups and downs, of good and bad. This ordinary faith smooths out the bumps by allowing God to be God and by helping us to accept the fact that we are not in control. It gives us assurance, even if it doesn’t give us answers.

Last week, Brian mentioned the faith of Job. Job stands for all of us; all of us are like Job, caught in the ups and downs of life, buffeted by the winds of good and evil, and subject to elements that we can’t even see. We are objects in a behind-the-scenes struggle between good and evil. It affects us deeply. We are wounded by it, we are blessed by it, but we are oblivious to it. We receive the joy of gains and the pains of loss without explanation, without reason.

M. Scott Peck might call this ordinary faith “Stage 2 faith”—faith that has questions that demand answers which, alas, never come. It is faith that we want to subject to cause and effect, that we want to be reasonable but which, alas, is incomprehensible. It is Job’s faith. It is Job’s life. It is what Job sees. And like Job, we too wonder about the quality of our faith. When we’re experiencing the pains of life, we question God, we demand answers. And like Job, we have friends who are more than willing to make up reasons and stories and answers. But these are not God’s answers. He told Job’s friends:

“My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is trustworthy, as My servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

They had not spoken right about God, as Job had. But what had Job said? He had demanded answers. He had plied God with questions. He even threatened to take God to court to get his answers. But in the end he says:

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15),

Job has demanded cause and effect, but instead, as a result of his transformation in thinking, he clings to God’s grace. None of his questions were answered. Instead, he was plied with more questions. Yet his faith carried him through. Even without answers, he arrived at contentment. Ordinary faith does not supply answers but nevertheless produces peace. Faith doesn’t make everything clear, but it makes everything bearable.

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent, sitting on dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)

Now I see, says Job. And what does he see? He sees God’s goodness and he sees God’s majesty.

The second aspect of faith is faith that comes as a spiritual gift. This is excessive, surplus, supplemental, and even supernatural faith. Not everyone has it. It is a hard concept to embrace. It seems to be given sparingly and sporadically—just when it’s needed for the occasion. It’s given to me to help you, it’s given to you to help me. This is the faith for special needs. It is the faith seen in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.

Interestingly, Job is not in the Hall of Faith, because his faith is not that kind of faith. Job’s faith is like my faith: Personal, persistent, and ordinary—but precious. The second aspect of faith is for the community good. It’s not just for me, and is usually allocated for a specific cause, or for a specific event, or because God has a plan for the community.

Abraham and Noah, Moses and Jacob, Gideon and Joshua were all called by God for a purpose, for a cause, and given this special gift of faith needed for the occasion. We see it in the Prophet Muhammad and in the life and teachings of Jesus, and even down to our time in Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King; all called to a certain task, all in need of this gift of faith. Often these gifts are given to leaders, visionaries; people who, in any time and place throughout the history of the world, have seen things we do not. They see things from a different perspective.

This might be M. Scott Peck’s “Stage 4 faith”: Mystical, otherworldly, universal faith, not rooted in doctrine nor in cause and effect, but in God’s grace. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: These are people who asked not what God could do for them, but what they could do for God? Instead of asking “Why?” they dream of things that never were and ask “Why not?” They see things we cannot see and have not seen.

This is a dangerous kind of faith. Visionaries are not often welcome in polite society. They’re viewed with suspicion, even contempt. Thinking outside of the box, particularly when it comes to faith, may get you burned at the stake, at least ostracized and excluded. The great tasks described in Hebrews 11, such as raising up an army of deliverance or building an ark or leading a crowd through the Red Sea, required a faith seemingly well beyond our station of faith. But is it possible that the gift of faith may allow us to do things like stand up for justice, speak out against racism, fight for gender equality, or many other noble causes which might require an element of special faith?

And might the gift of faith help us do things like understand and share with others more about how we see things the way God sees them, helping us to see more clearly the meaning of Scriptures, and allow us to correct errors that we’ve long held about interpretation? These special gifts of faith make great leaders. They raise up churches and mosques and temples and usher in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

I remember the time when those of us who are part of the Oakwood church wanted to build a church. There were many meetings in the school gymnasium about the possibilities and the obstacles that needed to be overcome. Every meeting would involve a lot of discussion… “It will be impossible to raise this amount of money,” “The costs are too high,” etc, etc. But there was one man who at every meeting would stand up and say “We can do it, God will lead us.”

This kind of faith doesn’t just part the Red Sea or bring water from Iraq. It raises up schools of excellence and innovation. It makes the understanding of issues of salvation in prophecy and doctrine more clear. It allows us to see things that we have never seen before. It allows us to take the teachings of Jesus—his parables—and find new meaning for them in our time. It drives mission in God’s service. It sees things that others do not. This is a faith that can be seen in young and old, in women and men, in rich and poor. It is unpredictable. It is not associated with cause and effect. And it is exclusively the prerogative of God to give it as a gift.

Is this faith a persistent faith? Or is it a situational faith, given as needed—what we would call in medicine, PRN (pro re nata which means that a medication is not taken according to a schedule but simply taken as needed.) Is this PRN faith? Can you refuse this faith if it is being thrust upon you? Can you get this faith if you don’t have it? Can you ask for it? Can you pray to be given it? Are you relieved that you may not have it? Does that make you feel better, less responsible? Maybe there’s an easier life than to be given this gift of faith.

What are your thoughts about the idea of two aspects of faith: Ordinary, common faith that links us directly to God in a very effective and soul warming way, and the gift of extraordinary faith—something specific to a cause or a specific need and community at a specific time. Could you be a person gifted with this kind of faith? Do you have faith to ask “Why not?”

What are your thoughts about the possibility that we may be dealing with two different aspects of faith as we talk about this important subject?

David: For every person who’s parted the Red Sea or done something amazing with their faith, there are hundreds, probably thousands, who similarly tried but failed and died, forgotten or unheeded martyrs. So it seems that it’s not the worldly success of that kind of faith that matters—it’s the faith itself that matters. Even if you don’t end up in the Hall of Faith you can still be as worthy as those who are in it; you can deserve to be in the Hall of Faith and yet not get there.

Bryan: There lies the dilemma. Because those who put the energy in and (by the public’s standard) didn’t make it or in a hospital situation that had a tremendous amount of faith, but didn’t make it: We all look at that side of it and wonder “Why didn’t I succeed? Why was this person blessed and I wasn’t?”

Donald: It has to do with personality. The person who stood up at Oakwood and said “Let’s move forward” on building a church had a personality profile prominent in sincerity and optimism regarding their faith. Some people just don’t have that level of faith. There are leaders and there are followers. Personality has a lot to do with that, it seems to me

Jay: Would God choose certain personalities in whom to place this visionary faith for a purpose? According to Donald, certain personality types can do great things. But does it matter to God? Can he use any personality?

Donald: I think we have to be careful to say that the gift of faith is giving you the gift of being able to do great things. I would spin it a little bit. If we look at these two components of faith—the general acknowledgement that God exists and is in control and the gift of extraordinary faith—if the latter is really about having insight through a relationship with God to the point of having some insight on what the will of God is. Maybe your alignment with the gift of faith is really an increased alignment with the will of God, so you know what God’s gonna do.

Jay: It’s not a matter of doing something because you have faith; it’s a matter of recognizing what God is going to do in the moment. Moses didn’t part the Red Sea because he had the gift of faith; through the gift of faith, Moses knew that God would part the Red Sea. Through the gift of faith Gideon knew he only needed 300 people in order to defeat the army ahead of him. Faith is not a tool, it’s an insight, it is seeing like God sees.

I’m not claiming that anyone is ever going to be able to see exactly what God sees. But if those who have the gift of faith have an extra measure of being in alignment with the will of God, then they are aligned with what God’s will is going to be and know that the Red Sea is going to be parted, know that miraculous things are going to happen. It’s not them leveraging their faith to make them happen, I guess is what I’m saying.

Kiran: There were details given of Gideon that seemed unnecessary, but the fact that they were given matters. He was from the least important tribe of Israel. He was the last son of his father, which seems to have no significance or importance. He’s a timid person. None of these things suggest he was likely to do the things he went on to do. Yet the task was given to him for a reason only God knows.

Coming back to the argument that strong faith might be related to personality, look at Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites were in bondage for around 430 years. We know now the proportions of different personality types in a population. In these four centuries several people with the personality type of Moses might have been born. But none of them exhibited his faith. If we reason that the right personality type in the right place might have done so, then even though Moses was at the right place at the right time, he couldn’t do it with only his own strength and he measurably failed. That suggests he needed something from God. When the time came and God gave him that faith, he was reluctant.

Donald: I’m going to argue against myself! Moses didn’t really want to take the role. Neither did Jonah and Gideon. But those people were talking to God, and God was talking to them, directly! It’s a little different today. Who among our Adventist contemporaries might we look to? Two names come right to mind: Dwight Nelson and Randy Roberts. A third might be Doug Bachelor, maybe. I don’t know. Do they have the right personality profile? Do they have an extra amount of connection? What makes a wonderful preacher? Think of the number of churches with inspirational and dedicated leadership, but whose influence does not extend beyond their church.

David: How about thinking outside the box of the church? Here’s another name to throw into the ring of people with extraordinary faith: Alexei Navalny. I don’t know if he’s religious—I guess probably not—but he’s essentially martyring himself for his belief in what is right and what is good, as I see it. I think that amounts to faith worthy of a place in the Hall of Faith. Does it have a community effect? I think it does; even a global community effect.

Anyone who (re)focuses our attention on God—on what is good and right—is faithful, whether that person is religious or not, and his or her faith is global and nondenominational. It is not necessarily religious. That, to me, is extraordinary faith.

Kiran: I have to agree. Gideon and his family worshiped Ba’al. But after he met the angel he destroyed Ba’al’s statue. So I guess when this calling comes, you can’t refuse it. You have to submit. But it’s not necessarily reserved for God’s people. God can choose anybody.

Bryan: I still struggle with the cause and effect of faith and our ability to call down the powers of God through faith to move mountains. Maybe the problem is not what we should be doing with faith: The mountains that are moved through faith are not necessarily or maybe shouldn’t be the mountains we want moved but the mountains that God wants moved through us.

The examples in the Bible—Moses, for instance—involved mountains God wanted to move, not mountains Moses wanted to move. And Moses’ belief in God, through faith, is what allowed that to happen. The cause and effect of our inability to use faith like Moses leads to disappointment and, I think, leads us to miss the whole point of faith. I think it’s a system of belief that bridges the seen and the unseen. The unseen world rules the seen world. Faith allows us to bridge the two with a belief system. So asking God for intervention may not be the right thing to do. But belief is how we show love for God, which is really all he wants. And through that love, through that faith, he allows to happen things that need to happen, things that are beyond our ability to see them.

Anonymous: I have a question. Faith in God may or may not be the same as faith in a worldly cause—Navalny for example, who might not be even a believer. Such people do a lot of great things and they have faith in their cause. But is it the same as faith in God’s cause?

Pharaoh was not believer, yet God used him. Scripture says God raised him for this very purpose, to manifest God’s greatness through him. He wasn’t a believer, but he was a part in God’s plan to liberate the Israelites. God works in mysterious ways! We think Pharaoh is not worthy of even being used for God’s cause. But in spite of his disbelief, he was used.

According to the Bible, faith is believing without seeing. Unlike us, the disciples saw Jesus, they lived with Jesus. So what kind of faith was their faith? It was not based on not seeing. Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed is he who who believes without seeing.” The disciples were also equipped with the ability to spread the word all over the world. Was it their faith? I don’t think so. They didn’t need faith, by definition: They saw Jesus, even after he was raised from the dead. They saw all the miracles, they heard all the teachings of Jesus. They were with him constantly for three and a half years. So what kind of faith was their faith? Yet they were used for great things.

Donald: I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the metaphor of a handrail, a solid object that requires coordination between hand and foot. The problem—the reality—is that we live on the foot level. Things are uneven, and we don’t know what’s happening without our steady hand rail. Grasping a handrail to me is a pretty clear way of saying: “Lord, I have faith in you.” I’m not sure where this takes me and I know my footing is uneven—it can go up and it can go down. That’s why I grab the handrail!

Robin: It’s easy (for me anyway) to get the wrong impression, as though God is looking around and saying: “Hmm, who has enough faith in me?” I think it’s possible that God chose someone who was willing to humble themselves and to believe that God would do what God said he would do, with them, through them, but not because of them.

So many of those who did great things in faith didn’t start out by raising their hands and volunteering. But God knew what they could be taught and whether they could learn and therefore what they could do. On the other hand, Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers, and being human he surely must have been questioning why he was in prison when he didn’t do anything. Yet he maintained his faith. And that is just awesome to me.

So we have to caution ourselves when we say it might be a personality type. We could be right, but God gives the gift to whom he will, even if we would never choose that person.

Kiran: What makes people ready to receive extraordinary faith? Is it situational? Or is it persistent? I think the Book of Judges clearly makes it situational, because, for example, after Gideon defeated the enemy he went back to his life. You can see this situational pattern in Scripture. And it has to be used for other people, not for themselves, as we see from Samson.

But what is the quality that these people have in order to receive it? I don’t find it enough to say they were all good or kind people or humble people, or they have more faith. Because in the eyes of God, we all are sinners, we all have no faith, we don’t even have faith as large as a mustard seed.

Donald: We desperately want there to be a pattern for something we can do in order to receive the gift of the Spirit that we want. Whether it’s wisdom, teaching, healing, whatever, gifts are not chosen: Gifts are given. God doesn’t say: “OK, you did this, this, and this, so now you get the gift of faith (or wisdom, or healing).” My assumption is that God is God and gives the gifts to people when he needs to.

Jay: That relates back to the other aspect or type of faith: Common faith in a gracious and loving God who is in control. So then, who God gives the gift to, he gives the gift to. But we have been programmed, as part of our spiritual walk, into thinking we can leverage faith to do something. When we say that with the faith of a mustard seed we could move a mountain, there’s a reason why we’re programmed that way: Either it’s true, and there is this quid pro quo of “I build my faith, I do great things,” or we’re misinterpreting that somehow. The question I have is: Have we misinterpreted that *quid pro quo”?

The word I hear attached to “faith” so often is “grow”—Grow your faith! You might be able to grow common, global faith but to grow a gift…? Maybe you can grow it after it’s been given, but a gift is a gift, it is what it is. So I struggle a little bit with this idea of growth, because as soon as we attach it to faith, we think we’ve made it more powerful and will therefore get to do more with it, we can use it to leverage more gifts.

We really are programmed into this quid pro quo of “I will leverage my faith, some of you have greater faith than others, and can really leverage your faith by which to be able to do something.” I would argue that you’re not leveraging faith to do something. If you’re leveraging faith at all it is it is to understand the will of God or to be more in tune and have a sense of what God is doing—a sense that God is going to heal or not going to heal, that God is going to spare you from the shipwreck or not spare you from the shipwreck, that God is either going to open the Red Sea, or let all of you die. This may be what that faith is.

David: I agree, but we’re still talking about faith as though we know what it is. This many-months-long discussion has been about trying to define faith. And what we’ve ended up with is two varieties or qualities of faith. Now we talk about growing different quantities of faith. Any variable that varies in quantity and quality has no concept validity, because it’s too slippery to grasp. But I agree (as Don mentioned last week) that you know it when you see it, or when you feel it, and that (as Jay says) we can sense it in other people. We can sense when something is right. But we still are nowhere near to understanding faith and we never will be.

The beauty of being a Daoist is that I don’t need to agonize over this because it’s not a concept in Taoism. It’s an assumed constant.

Don: I would argue that a discussion of faith is important, even maybe critical, because we are programmed to believe that somehow our faith can be leveraged to put God to work on our behalf. That’s a concept of faith deeply rooted in the thinking of the believer. And when it doesn’t happen, there’s the underlying cause for great discouragement and even despair and disbelief about God. So I would argue that trying to understand or maybe re-paradigm what faith is and does and can do, and how it should be utilized and so forth, has value. If nothing else, it could bring us away from a concept that has been very destructive, or potentially destructive, over the centuries.

Kiran: Attaching “growth” to faith is very dangerous. But in John 1:9 the word confess means “agree” or “be in alignment.” Gideon and Moses were scared to do what God wanted. They didn’t want to go along with it. God made some concessions, putting up the fleece, providing a rod, providing a spokesperson. In other words, maybe instead of growing into this kind of faith, we agree to accept and submit ourselves to it. There are potential pitfalls for such kind of thinking, but I’m thinking “agree” is a better word than “growing.”

Bryan: I would like to suggest that maybe the levels of faith have a direct connection with the level of relationship. So the closer you are, the better your relationship, the deeper and better your faith. I don’t know who had more faith: Moses to cross the Red Sea, or Noah to build an ark, a big boat out in the middle of the desert that took years and years to complete. I’m not sure whose faith was more.

But I don’t think that’s really the point. The point was, both of those people (to choose just two people) had a very deep and personal relationship with God. And so he was able to do the things that he wanted to do through them because of their belief system. So if the levels of faith correlate with a level of belief, then it’s a natural progression. That’s where you want to take it.

Carolyn: Scripture says: “Faith without works is dead.” I’m not quite sure how we would fit it in to our personal relationship. What comes first? I feel my relationship with God comes first.

Robin: Faith is like any of the other gifts. If it exists, it exists for a reason. It’s not just nebulous, ethereal, it’s meant to be put to work to bless others. So I think that there’s absolutely no contradiction there; that whatever amount of faith you have—however small or large your mustard tree, it is useful in God’s kingdom. I don’t see a contradiction. I think that verse makes sense.

We need to keep in mind that the things that human knowledge, experience, and science cannot define, establish, explain the things of the Spirit. An apple is never going to be an orange and an orange is never going to be an apple. So we have to be careful that we don’t insist that they define each other because they’re on separate planes.

David: It seems to me that extraordinary faith does require works. All the examples in the Hall of Faith are of people who did some kind of “works” to express their faith. But the more general, generic kind of faith is what I guess Job had. There were no works by Job, as far as I know. Perhaps this does lend some support to the categorization of two types of faith.

Reinhard: Showing faith through tangible, concrete works helps us demonstrate faith to others and obey God’s commands. But there are aspects of faith that are fairly abstract, such as trusting God in everything. I don’t think that’s the faith James was talking about. It concerns our relationship with God, how we interact with God, how we worship God, how we surrender to God in everything throughout our lives.

Those people who rise to the occasion to something great are given to society at certain points in time according to God’s plan. It’s God’s prerogative to choose the time and place in our life. I don’t see a big difference between the faith of the “Greats” and the faith of the rest of us, except perhaps for their commitment. They believe in God, and the work they do is for humanity, for the good of the people.

I look at Job as the surrogate for all of us. His name is not listed in the Hall of Faith. Although he is a believer of God, he questioned God’s prerogative and authority to ruin his life. He didn’t know what was going on between God and Satan. But it is God’s prerogative to do whatever he wants with his people. Job was a perfect man. He lived an unblemished life. The problem was when he questioned God. We can ask God why this doesn’t happen or why that happened, contrary to our will. The problem when we question God is that we make ourselves equal to him. We just cannot do that.

Job was done for when he questioned God. We must never question God. We can ask God questions, but challenging God’s prerogative and judgment was Job’s downfall, though God still gave him a remedy in the end. So in our faith, we never question God. We can ask God to do this and that but whatever happens, we accept by faith that it is good for us and for God’s cause.

Comparing Job with other people in the Hall of Faith—Moses, Samson, David—they all made mistakes, but they still went to the Hall of Faith. Their mistakes stemmed from their human nature, their personality. David stole other people’s wives. Moses got angry and emotional with God. There are people in the Bible who did not question God—Zaccharias and Mary, Abraham and Sarah, the virgin Mary. Once we question God, we have to watch our faith. We have to accept God’s decisions. When we ask God and we surrender to God, then what will be, will be. We have to accept it with our faith, not to question it.

Don: Next week we’ll consider the quality of faith.

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