The Pharisees were content because they were successful and could afford to believe they were righteous. They were people who studied the law carefully and followed it diligently. They had no lack of missionary zeal and devotion, they had titles, love of families and other wealth.
But these religious people with all the answers lacked one thing and it seems something that is still missing in religious traditions. Everything they did they had accomplished on their own strength. There was no room in their life for radical faith that believes the impossible. No, they were content with only what they could understand and rejected anything more.
As I look around the Christian religious landscape today I could ask the same question Jesus did at the end of this story in Luke 18:1-8:
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
I am certain Jesus would find many religiously devoted today. I sure he would find those confident in their theology, their ‘Biblical’ standards and dogmas. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts with all of the right answers who pound pulpits and fill pews. But would Jesus find faith real and unadulterated?
What is faith?
I believe this account in Mark 9:14-29 describes it:
“When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
I am not certain if the ailment of the boy would be considered a medical condition today. But Jesus does seem to indicate that it was an incurable condition by any means other than prayer (or prayer and fasting) and therefore the healing was a miracle.
This is not a case for “faith healing” as a prescription for all illness. It was a special circumstance where there was a condition that was impossible to cure by any other means. So to turn this story into a reason to shun modern medicine is to vastly miss the point.
If the light bulb burns out at church it only requires a budget or funds to replace it and not necessarily faith. Faith is not about forcing God to do what is clearly within our own power to do. Faith is doing all we can, investing our everything in something unseen, and having the outcome uncertain.
Faith is More than Reasonably Committed
There was the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17: 7-24) who used the last of her supplies to make bread for the prophet Elijah and had her needs supplied miraculously for her faithfulness. The poor woman mentioned in Mark 12:41-44 is also an example of radical faith in action:
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
It requires very little faith for a wealthy business person to give of his millions when their needs are already supplied abundantly. But faith, radical faith, is when a person is able to commit their all to an unbelievable promise. Most would only contribute their all to a sure thing and not gamble it all on something unseen.
However, faith, according to Hebrews 11:5-6, is an essentially component, even the backbone of the message of the Gospel:
“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.“
A religiously devoted person could go their entire life without need of faith. If they only ever ask or achieve what is readily within their reach they have proven their dedication. For some they put in their duty, but they don’t truly believe in a God of the impossible and live solely in their own understanding.
I am not content with religious devotion. There is no sensible middle ground of belief without faith or it is falsehood. For me, and according to the Bible, true faith is all or nothing proposition: It is radical faith or none at all.
And yet, because we can never have enough faith to save our own selves, faith is a paradoxical product of grace.
Do you have faith?