We as Christians can lack strong, godly faith because we question the why and how of what God does.
Will there be any faith in this last generation before Jesus Christ returns? Christ Himself questioned whether there would be! Notice: "Nevertheless," Jesus asked, "when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). What a sobering question! God clearly states that His people — the just — must live by faith (Romans 1:17), and that without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). But dynamic, living faith is a rare commodity in this world. How, then, can one have faith? The truth is that the kind of faith God desires us to have cannot just be "worked up": "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8, Authorized Version). God must give us the kind of faith that really works — the kind of faith required for salvation. And certainly we must want to have this faith. Who wouldn't want to have the faith required to receive God's wonderful blessings of protection, peace of mind or healing, for example?
John knew full well that Christ had the power to free him from prison. But he may have wondered why Christ didn't do so.
Now, exactly how does God give us this faith? Romans 10:17, Revised Standard Version, tells us how we receive true, godly faith: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ."
How we receive faith
First, we must believe what God says — trust Him! "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness'" (Romans 4:3). This is a major problem for all of us in this materialistic generation, so steeped in evolution. It can be extremely difficult to really believe God. All true Christians have an earnest desire to live by faith, but there has been such an explosion of materialistic knowledge on every imaginable subject — medicine, psychology, sociology, biology, astronomy, history, geology — that we can find ourselves spontaneously asking why and how to almost every statement or promise God makes in the Bible. And these are faith-killing questions. Think about it: Why does God let good people suffer and die while evil people often live well and prosper? How could the earth, including Mt. Everest and the Grand Canyon, have been completely covered with water during the Flood in the days of Noah, not even 5,000 years ago — where did all that water come from and where did it go? Where did a fish large enough to swallow Jonah come from, and how did Jonah breathe for three days and three nights while he was in the whale's belly? And so the questions go. Should we just blindly accept and believe, then? Absolutely not! Faith cannot be expressed that way. "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:20, AV). Faith has to be demonstrated by action — faith must be active, dynamic, living. The key is the statement made in Romans 10:17. Faith can come only through the preaching of Jesus Christ. Faith is spiritual and has nothing to do with the physical or material.
Not our ways or reasons
Let's examine some examples of the eroding effect that human reasonings can have on faith. God knows that we at this time simply could not understand why some things are allowed to happen, so He doesn't always tell us why. But we still must learn to believe and trust Him. He also knows we could not understand how some things are accomplished by His Holy Spirit. Those are spiritual matters and we are yet physical. So wondering to excess about why God allowed something or exactly how God did something can cause us to lose faith. John the Baptist's imprisonment and his reaction to it is a good example of having to trust and believe without understanding why. Even John the Baptist became confused and upset. His reactions during this severe trial, as they relate to Christ, are quite similar to attitudes and reactions of many of us undergoing trials today. John knew who Christ was — John twice called Him "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29, 36). Yet, while in prison, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke 7:19). John knew full well who Christ was, and that Christ had the power to free him from prison. Was John perhaps wondering why Christ had not done so? Did you catch it? John's basic question — a faith-killing question — may well have been why. Christ pointed out to John's disciples the works He had been doing — works of which He knew John was well aware. Then He concluded with this statement to John's disciples: "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (verse 23). Jesus was telling John — and all of us — that God's people may not always understand everything at a certain time, but that we shouldn't reject God and Christ — we shouldn't lose faith — because of it. John not only remained in prison, but he was beheaded. Why did Christ allow John to die? He could have prevented it, but He did not. The answer is beyond human reasoning. A problem that can undermine godly faith is the suffering of trials. Take the example of Job.
The suffering of trials can undermine faith. Job, afflicted and tried, wondered why. The answers aren't the answers many want.
Job, like John, was sorely afflicted and tried, and he, too, wondered why. It was young Elihu who gave Job some answers. These answers were available to John, as they are available to us today. The problem is, they aren't the answers many want. Elihu told Job: "Take heed, do not turn to iniquity, for you have chosen this rather than affliction. Behold, God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him?" (Job 36:21-22). Indeed, who else but God can teach through affliction? And sometimes the lessons are of necessity severe, even though humans seldom learn them. "For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, and conceal pride from man, He keeps back his soul from the Pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. "Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, and with strong pain in many of his bones, so that his life abhors bread, and his soul succulent food. His flesh wastes away from sight, and his bones stick out which once were not seen. Yes, his soul draws near the Pit, and his life to the executioners" (Job 33:14-22). God uses all these methods as He works with humanity to bring us to His own state of perfection, to literal sonship in His Family. "Behold, God works all these things, twice, in fact, three times with a man, to bring back his soul from the Pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life" (verses 29-30). God allows all these trials so that we "may be enlightened with the light of life" — eternal life. Too often we lose sight of that awesome goal, but God never does! Losing sight of the goal causes us to lose faith.
We live in an evil world
Undergoing severe trials and losing sight of our goal can erode our faith. Remember, too, that we live in an evil world and often have to suffer with this world's society. Jesus, speaking to God the Father, said, "I do not pray that You should take them [Christ's followers] out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Psalm 34:19 tells us, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." So when some tragedy strikes, don't blame God. Many of our problems occur because we are living in a very evil society. It often seems that people, if they think of God at al1, blame Him for every calamity and tragedy of life. Seldom do they thank Him or praise Him for al1 the good things He does. Reasoning humanly, those who write insurance policies often refer to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and tornadoes as "acts of God." Such is humanity's view of God. But this is how we should think of our Creator: "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:16-17). Faith is often undermined by our wondering, Why, God, did you al10w this to happen to me? John the Baptist probably went to his execution wondering why. But John must have heeded Christ's instruction not to be offended (Luke 7:23), because Christ said of him, "Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (verse 28).
Faith doesn't depend on knowing
Jesus, saddened when He heard of John's execution, wanted to go off by Himself, but a multitude fol1owed Him out into the desert. Jesus there displayed God's power by turning five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for 5,000 men plus women and children. After everyone was fed, 12 baskets of crumbs were collected (Matthew 14:13-21). Christ's disciples were certainly impressed with Christ's miracle- working power, but they, too, had even more to learn regarding real faith. Consider: A major pitfal1 in exercising faith is demanding to know how faith works. Faith is spiritual, but the results of faith in our lives are often quite physical and material. For example, the miracle of healing (James 5:13-15), the preservation of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) and the feeding of the 5,000 are physical consequences of faith. But how such miracles are accomplished is spiritual and inexplicable in physical terms. How God accomplishes His purposes becomes so important to some people that, when they find they can't understand, they simply stop believing God or the biblical account. For example, the theory of evolution is humanity's attempt to explain how physical things are the way they are in purely physical terms humans can understand. Since people think they have found out how life and the physical world "evolved," they no longer have to deal with the question of God and their responsibility to Him. Conditioning your faith on knowing how God's purposes are accomplished can destroy your faith. This was a major lesson Christ's apostles learned when Peter found himself in a situation where the how of a great miracle so plagued him and his physical senses that his faith vanished.
Peter's walk on water
Remember the incident of Peter walking on the water? It is recorded in Matthew 14:22-31. "Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away" (verse 22). This was just after the miracle of feeding the multitude, and it was stil1 early in the evening (verse 23). A storm came up and so tossed the boat about that the apostles could make little headway (verse 24). Notice that, as fierce as the storm was, the disciples gave no indication of panic as long as they were in the relative security of the boat. When they had spent most of the night fighting the heavy seas, Jesus appeared to them in the fourth watch (verse 25). Naturally they were troubled at the sight of Jesus walking on the water — that is, until Jesus talked to them: "But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid'" (verse 27). The apostles were frightened at the unnatural sight of Jesus actual1y walking on the surface of the water. That was contrary to any experience any of them had had. However, when Jesus spoke to them, they were reassured and comforted. Why? The unnatural situation of Jesus walking on the surface of the water was stil1 there before their eyes. But they were given a physical assurance that did fit in with their past experience — the familiar voice of Jesus. Although they could not understand how He managed to walk on the water, they were comforted by His familiar voice. They were also quite aware that Jesus did perform some great miracles. The disciples were growing in faith — they were beginning to believe the things Jesus said. Peter was so confident that he thought he could walk on the water, too, if Christ were to bid him to do so: "And Peter answered Him and said, 'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water'" (verse 28). Peter knew that the feat was possible only if Christ commanded him to do so. That is an important point in growing in faith: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (I John 5:14-15). Peter, asked if it were Christ's will, and on that assurance he had the confidence to step out onto the water. "So He said, 'Come.' And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus" (Matthew 14:29). Peter actually walked on the water! But now something total1y alien to any experience Peter had ever had happened, and Peter's faith departed. What was it? "But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, 'Lord, save me!'" (verse 30). Had Peter not been aware of the wind before? He certainly had! He and the other apostles had spent the whole night being tossed about by the waves, but they had been in the relative security of the boat. So what had happened that terrified Peter so much? It was really more a matter of what didn't happen than what did. Peter was totally unprepared for how he was held up by faith. Where was faith supposed to react on Peter's body to give him that reassuring sensation of physical support? On the soles of his feet, where he felt support when he walked on solid surfaces? It wasn't there — no feeling of support at all. Was there a feeling of support under his arms, as one would feel support if held up by a harness? No. Was there a feeling of support through his hair, as if he were being held up by the hair? No. Peter could nowhere feel the sensation of physical support. Faith was supporting him. Faith is spiritual — feeling is physical. Peter's mind, from long experience in the physical environment, knew of no reason why he could be there on the surface of the water. Peter was unprepared for how faith would hold him up on the water. He reacted to his physical senses — and began to sink. The lesson? One has to grow in and exercise faith. Peter's faith in the person of Christ was still firm, though. "And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" (verse 31). In the firm grip of Christ's hand, Peter made it back into the boat. There was simply no way that Jesus could have explained to Peter, in terms Peter could have understood, how faith would support him. Peter just had to experience it and grow in faith.
You, too, must grow in faith
You, too, can have faith! You must have faith, for without faith you cannot please God. You can't qualify for God's Kingdom without faith. So, like John the Baptist and Peter, you have to learn to believe God — and without question — through the dynamic faith God will give you as a true Christian. To develop this faith in God, you must know God, and you can know God through Bible study and prayer. And because you express this faith, God promises to prosper you, heal you, protect you and, yes, even try you at times, for your own good. When you are sure you have done your part, and you know from God's Word what God's will is, "do not turn to iniquity" (Job 36:21) because God does not answer in the way you expect. Trust Him! Believe Him! Continue doing your part patiently and never lose faith. After all, God reminds us: "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).