Embracing the Mystery of God

“I believe. Help my unbelief.” Many of us could repeat this plea originally uttered by a person standing before Jesus.

We each have a unique story about the beginning of the faith journey. For some, there was a decisive moment when God broke through into their lives. Others relate a prolonged process in which they dealt with doubt, intellectual arguments and agonizing prayers. Faith, once born, matures through experience, including times of tragedy and loss. One of the mysteries of life is that suffering can be fertile ground for developing a deeper faith and stronger moral virtues.

Yet, even at the best of times, we are aware of the frailties and gaps of our faith. We may cry out to God: “Help me in my unbelief.” “Strengthen my faith.” “Give me eyes to see your work in my life and in the conflicts and disparity of this world.”

The starting point of faith is often the conviction that the unseen is more important than the visible. Humans live by their senses. We touch. We smell. We hear. We taste. We observe. We rely on our senses and come to trust them. In Western cultural settings, such as Canada, reality has been narrowed to the material and physical that we access through our senses. As a consequence, companies spend billions of dollars to advertise products with promises of personal fulfillment through the possession of material things.

Faith begins with the apprehension that there is an unseen presence, a transcendence beyond the range of the human senses. This conviction may come when we walk along a dark path that is illuminated by the light of the moon and stars. It can come when we stand by the seaside listening to the crashing of the waves. A farmer standing in a field of wheat on the Canadian prairies may quietly believe that the abundance is not simply a product of his work and machinery. There is an apprehension of a loving God.

I have come to realize that for some people this conviction is as natural as breathing. Others must work through theories of scientific materialism only to discover that they fail to offer explanations that satisfy the longings of the mind and heart. There is a feeling that there is something more – an unseen presence in the universe. In different ways we come to the conclusion that we are called to embrace the larger mystery of the invisible presence of God.

Faith is more than an apprehension of God for Christians. Most followers of Jesus have held common doctrines of faith. A mature faith is Trinitarian in nature. This means that when we say God we mean Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Presence. I still use the traditional language of Father, Son and Spirit knowing that God cannot be classified by gender.

I count myself among those people for whom the doctrine of the Trinity initially seemed strange and difficult. I embraced faith at university centred on Jesus of Nazareth. I was moved at the story of Jesus and the leper (Mk. 1:40-45). Leprosy was considered to be a contagious disease and a devastating curse. The man who threw himself at the feet of Jesus was isolated, alone and unclean. Jesus had the moral right to send him away with a stern warning to keep his distance. However, Jesus was filled with emotion, touched the leper, restored him and sent him back to his community.

I still marvel at this gospel story. I believe that Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; Jn. 14:9). His love for the leper revealed the heart of the Father who sent him into a broken and wounded world. Working out from Jesus, I have confessed my faith in the Father and the Spirit that is the continuing presence of God among us. I take great comfort in the New Testament’s teaching that the Spirit leads us into the truth and helps us in our weakness (Jn. 16:12; Rom. 8:26-27). As in the story of the leper, God never runs from us. He embraces us to heal, restore and guide.

The content of our faith grows as we reflect on the scriptures, learn from personal experience and attend to the testimonies of others. We confess together that Jesus died for the sin and evil of the world, including our own. We celebrate the resurrection as the triumph of God. We learn that there is a sacred quality to life because women and men are created in God’s image. We marvel at the gifts of the Spirit manifested in the shared community of the local church. We are humbled that God calls each person to a unique participation in the mission of his kingdom.

These are not simply cold doctrines of faith written in books by theologians in the comfort of the academy. The content of our faith is life-giving for all people, in all places.

Faith leads to a re-ordering of life so that we may live passionately and responsibly in the presence of our God. In a time of national crisis, the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk proclaimed that the righteous would live by faith (Hab. 2:4) St. Paul repeated these words to Christians that lived in the heart of the Roman Empire: “… The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17). I interpret this phrase to mean that faith is a way of living. The life of faith, like the virtues of the gospel, does not come to us as a nicely wrapped gift. We are required to learn and develop practices of faith in the rough and tumble of our social locations. We stumble, fall and move forward on the journey of faith.

There is a historical consistency to the practices of faith. They include the following:

  • Scripture reading and reflection
  • Confession and prayer
  • Participation in a community of faith
  • Mentorship and spiritual guidance
  • Service to others through acts of mercy, justice and generosity
  • A deliberate movement to witness in the margins or borderlands

I want to dwell on this last point. God calls his people to bear witness to their faith in places where human life is threatened by poverty, disease, despair and violence. Christians take their faith in God’s transforming love and grace into difficult and dangerous contexts.

In past years, I was called to work on the margins of the world among the poor. I was proud to represent the faith commitment of Canadian Baptists. Closer to home, I have seen other Christians move into more local borderlands. They accompany people in hospices, volunteer time in food banks, assist single mothers, offer hospitality to refugees, protect women from domestic abuse, and work with prisoners and their families. The borderlands are never far from where we live. I believe, as a doctrine of faith, that God calls us to leave places of security and to risk misunderstanding in order to build relationships with people who need expressions of love and grace.

I end this article considering faith as quiet trust and confidence in God. One of the most disturbing experiences of my life was visiting a church in Ntarama, Rwanda. The killers had shown no mercy during the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The bones of at least 500 people lay strewn between the wooden benches of the church. Three human skulls had been placed on the communion table as a macabre trinity of cruelty and violence in a place of worship. There were no words that could be spoken.

I understand how people can lose their faith in God during a genocide as they watch loved ones taken from them with relentless cruelty. However, in Rwanda I was also witness to God’s miraculous work of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. It reminded me that God promises to hold us by the hand and walk with us.

The memories of Ntarama still emerge from time to time in disruptive ways. They are reminders of the evil and cruelty that millions of people experience in the world. Yet faith forges in our hearts the quiet confidence that God’s grace will prevail over all violence and sin. The most profound healing can be found in the places where the greatest wounds were inflicted. Despite uncertainty, fear and pain, followers of Jesus continue to bear faithful witness to God’s love. We raise our voices with them: Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.

Mosaic is a community forum of local and global voices united by a shared mission. Mosaic will serve as a catalyst to stimulate and encourage passionate discipleship among Canadian Baptists and their partners.

Winter 2018

Table of Contents

Terry Talks – Faith

In the upcoming issue of Mosaic, Executive Director Terry Smith reflects on faith, the first article in a series on faith, hope and love in 2018.

I believe, as a doctrine of faith, that God calls us to leave places of security and to risk misunderstanding in order to build relationships with people who need expressions of love and grace.

Spiritual Exercises On Faith

Embracing the Mystery of God gives attention to three aspects of faith. First, there is content to our faith. The decision to be a Christian involves embracing historical beliefs shared by diverse people in different times and places. Second, faith requires us to order our lives in different ways to make room for God and to participate in the work of his kingdom. Finally, faith is quiet trust in God’s grace and power to heal the wounds of the world.

EXERCISE 1: MY FAITH JOURNEY

Think of your life as a river that flows from the mountains to the sea. On a piece of paper, mark a place that represents where life began for you. Trace the movement of your life through different stages and locations. You can note changes in direction. Still waters can represent times of relative peace. Rapids and waterfalls can signify periods of disruption and threat. Mark where you are now on your life journey. Now go back and review important moments in which you experienced God’s presence in special ways. Draw a symbol to represent the significance of that time for your faith.

Answer the following questions as you look back on your faith journey. What are the most important beliefs that sustain your faith today? What have you learned about ordering your activities to create space for God and service to his kingdom? What are the concerns of life that you wish to lay at God’s feet in quiet trust?

EXERCISE 2: HEBREWS 11:1-12:3

Generations of Christians have used this passage of the New Testament to guide them into a deeper understanding of faith. It begins with the words: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We are reminded that faith requires us to trust beyond the limits of what we can touch and handle. The list of people of faith starts with Abel and ends with members of the first century church. The descriptions remind us that faith is more than doctrine; faith must be lived by individual women and men.

Read the words of scripture slowly, either by yourself or in a group. Is there any person of faith that stands out in a special way? What is significant about this individual for you? Are there any phrases that are particularly meaningful? How do you understand the meaning of these words for your life of faith? What does it mean for you to consider yourself as a stranger and foreigner on earth seeking a better homeland (11:13-16)? The author encourages us to not grow weary and lose heart (12:3). How does this speak into your faith at this time of life?

You may close your time of spiritual reflection by thanking God for his faithfulness and grace in your life journey. You may ask for him to deepen your faith commitments and trust.

~Gordon King

Gordon King

Serves as CBM’s Resource Specialist. He is the author
of several books, including Seed Falling on Good Soil:
Rooting Our Lives in the Parables of Jesus