I love this piece by Martin Creed.and it seems a good place to start this post, which could also have begun with Julian of Norwich’s famous words: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.
We are at the moment, it seems to me, in the grip of gloom. There is a general feeling that all is not going well and that there is a good chance that all shall not go well. Whether it’s the fear that the economic dislocation from which we’re suffering will have no good outcome (on which I’ve commented here and here), the incalculable consequences of man-made global warming (see this interesting exchange between two leading commentators, the tensions in the middle east, continuing worries about terrorism, drought and starvation in Africa there is a lot to make us anxious and full of dread.
However – what does it mean to have faith? Faith in what or who? For we Christians, obviously, the answer begins by asserting that our faith is in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer if you prefer). But what is the nature of that faith? Is it equivalent (as it would often seem) to belief (in existence)? Is to have faith the same thing as to “believe in God”?
Faith, for me, stands at least as close to trust as it does to belief in the existence of. In asserting faith in God I think we are actually saying something very like what Julian says in her beautiful formula of confidence in God’s redeeming love.
Faith, for me, is primarily the assertion that, all appearances and reason to the contrary, life is meaningful, valuable, beautiful. Sometimes this is clear to us, in the moments of love and happiness we are blessed with, sometimes it is obscure, as we struggle with our own sufferings and the suffering of other. Faith is to say that even when all is worst it can be believed that, ultimately, all shall be well.
This isn’t to argue for a fatalistic acceptance of misfortune. Lament, complaint, angry accusation of God are an important part of our inheritance and repertoire. One of my discomforts with the “God is love” language of contemporary liberal Christianity is that it denies us the right to hold God accountable for our disasters, as is so often the case in the Old Testament (Job, Jeremiah, Psalms).
Similarly the idea that we are (or should be) God’s servants, carrying out God’s plan on God’s behalf implies that there is work for us to do. A faithful trust in God’s ability, in the end, to achieve God’s purpose, and that this purpose is to our good, still leaves plenty of space for our activity. What it does not leave space for is despair.
My philosophical hero, Kierkegaard, devoted the book Sickness unto Death to demonstrating that the opposite of faith, the mental state that is pervasively present where faith is absent, is not doubt or disbelief but despair. Where I detect despair I diagnose absence of faith and where I see hope then I believe that faith (however articulated) is present.
Brothers and sisters, trust in God! Accept God’s promises. All shall be well! I don’t say this on the basis of a rational weighing up of probabilities, it is a statement, the statement, of my faith. God loves us, we have God’s assurance of salvation.
In this mid-winter let’s give ourselves permission to enjoy that assurance, before we turn back to the often trying work given us to do.