It's funny how we can take an everyday principle or word and when we look at it in the context of the bible make it something strange or ethereal. Perhaps the origins of this date back to the dark ages when the bible was the sole preserve of the priestly elite. Kept locked away from the masses and hidden in a foreign language, Latin. Maybe it goes further back to the Gnostics and earlier groups who tried to convince people that there was some deeper secret knowledge to be sought out. In our modern times the bible is freely available but as a culture we can still have an attachment to the beauty and poetry of the King James translation. While this translation, produced to be read out loud has had a unique effect on the history and development of the English language, giving us expressions and turns of phrase that are still in regular use though many will not have heard them in the original context, maybe it has played a part in the separation of sacred and secular language. Does hearing something described in arcane language make it sound mysterious and different from normal life?
God IS different. As the creator he is separate from time and space. He is the archetypal Holy one. Totally unique. Not dependent on anyone or anything else. So far beyond anything in creation in power, intellect, love, compassion, vastness, the very definition of transcendence. Yet he made his creation such that he could reveal Himself and fellowship with His people. He made man in his image (Genesis 1:27) for this purpose. There are forms that mathematicians use to try to picture 4 dimensional objects in 3D. There is a scene in the film Interstellar in which Matthew McConaughey's character falls into a black hole and is diverted into a tesseract structure that allows him to see and communicate across time and space. The makers of the film conceived of a way to show this on screen do we could maybe understand what was going on in the story. Easier for us is to communicate a 3D object in 2D. Drawing with perspective and shading etc. to convey the 3D nature of the object pictured. The infinite and eternal God thought up a solution to the similar problem of revealing himself when he made us in His image. He is not a 5 or 6 ft high carbon based life form like us, but he has made us like him so we can understand what the hand of Good is, the breath of God, the Love of God, and so on.
From the beginning we see how He wants to have real fellowship. The descriptions of Adam and Enoch walking with God are there to convey a sense of normalcy to the relationship. The meal that He shares with Abram is a normal interaction. On a tour to Israel we got to spend the night at a Bedouin camp in the Negev desert. (As an aside, the view of the night sky there was amazing. It was hard to pick out familiar constellations. Mainly because there were so many more stars. Being far away from the light pollution of the city made such a difference.) As the Bedouins explained their millennia old customs of hospitality we could see that Abram's meal with God was not mysterious or alien to everyday life. It was normal. God spoke to Moses face to face like a friend. And if we skip forward to Jesus then we see the Word made flesh. God becoming a man so he could fellowship and communicate through daily life. It was primarily so he could be our substitute on the cross, but it is an expression of his way of communicating. Finally we have the New Testament written, not in the classical Greek of scholars, but in the Koine Greek of the man in the street.
What was the point of this trip through history? Well a key word in Christianity is faith. We are saved by faith. We are to pray with faith (Matt 21: 21-22). The just shall live by faith (Rom 1:17). Indeed everything that is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23). The only thing that counts is faith working through love (Gal 5:6). The problem is that faith is one of those words that we can think of as having special spiritual meaning. Mystical or esoteric. Somehow it takes on a meaning that makes it incompatible with normal life.
Let me give a list of the differences between the meaning and operation of faith in the context of the Christianity compared to our secular everyday meaning.
Read those points carefully again. If you still don't get it read them again. There is no difference! Spiritual faith is not some sort of magical secret. Faith is faith, the only difference is the object of that faith.
Let's consider the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Maybe I'll consider hope in detail in a future post but for now just consider this description: Hope is a confident expectation for the future. Sometimes we use the word hope to describe a vague optimism, but fundamentally it is something with more foundations.
Back to our biblical definition of faith. This faith is not special. It is not usual. It is not a magical concept from the spirit world. The global economy depends on this type of faith. Let me illustrate. Suppose I want to buy a book. The traditional type of book, with pages made out of paper. Kindles are great and I read a lot on mine, but I still have a fondness for the physical book. Now for the purposes of this illustration, I chose to buy this book from Amazon. I go to the Amazon web page and search for the title. I select the title and format I want and I can see the availability. I click on the buttons to buy the book because I hope to have the book. I am then receive a confirmation message on screen and by email. This message is my faith. It is the evidence. I can't see the book, but it is no longer a book sitting in the Amazon warehouse. It is MY book. I have bought it and it is on its way to me. Maybe it will be delivered tomorrow with Prime, maybe it will take longer to travel halfway round the world. Either way it is my book. If it does not turn up in the appropriate time I will contact Amazon and (virtually) wave my confirmation email (faith) in front of them and say "Where is it? Get it here quickly." Politely of course.
Mark Twain wrote "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." That is not everyday faith and certainly not biblical faith. Faith is not blind. I have good reason to expect Amazon to deliver. They have a good reputation. If I buy something from eBay I want to get some info on the seller. What is their feedback like? Now maybe I might take a chance on someone with no feedback, a new seller, if it is not for a lot of money. I might not have the same confidence that the item I hoped for would arrive. It would not be real faith without supporting evidence. It certainly wouldn't be if the evidence was against it. I once looked on eBay for a DVD box set of a TV show. Several people claimed to have season 4 for sale ( the season that had just come out) but one claimed to have seasons 1-5 available now! That was definitely suspicious. Some sellers would have a lot of negative feedback too.
"Took money, didn't deliver."
"Wasn't right item." Etc.
You couldn't have any confidence in them to deliver as promised.
Everyday faith works by promises. There are the retailers mentioned already who promise to deliver the goods. Even more basic to that, our currency is based on faith in a promise. This is explicit on UK bank notes. (See the Photo) . The Ten pound note carries the promise "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten pounds." It is signed by the chief cashier of the Bank of England. Now I have never met the chief cashier. I can't actually read their name from their signature. To top it all I don't actually know what I would receive if I found them and demanded my "Ten pounds." However it is issued in the name of the Bank of England and I have enough evidence from experience and documentation of the law etc. to trust that this note is actually worth something.
So "spiritual" faith is not different to "everyday" faith. It works the same way and does the same thing. Most importantly is only as good as the object of that faith. I can have a lot of confidence in the Bank of England or Amazon or another trusted retailer. I can put all the trust I like in a dubious seller who is obviously selling pirate DVDs but I'm not going to get the genuine article.