Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Faith Moves Mountains

Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."

I once heard it said that integrity does not come by degrees. If you compromise your morals in one point, you no longer have integrity. “Whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” And one weak link can break the chain.

Faith is like that. Either you have faith or you do not. Size of faith is irrelevant. Faith cannot be measured. Can one person have more faith than another? By this rule, the answer is no. If he has any faith, he has faith, and there can be no more.

The question is, in what is our faith. A friend with whom I was discussing the mustard seed and mountain verse above said that we can have faith in some things but not others. We can have faith that our chairs will keep us off the ground, but not faith that an airplane will. And I suppose someone who had faith in both chairs and airplanes would have more faith than someone with faith in only one of those.

But we are talking about something quite different when we claim to have faith that God can save us, but not faith that God can heal us. We believe in creation, but not moveable mountains. We believe man and wife are brought together, but broken marriages cannot be put together again. The dead are raised, but that lazy man down the street is – we admit our unbelief – going to be lazy forever. Aha! you say. All these examples demonstrate that there are measures of faith.

The examples I just gave are chairs and airplanes. We usually include God in our professions of faith or doubt. But faith in God is absolute. Either we believe that He is God, and depend on Him, or we do not. How then do I explain all those limited bits of faith? We do not have so much faith in God, as in a sort of scientific or superstitious observation. Our confidence is in the acts, not in the Worker. It would be reasonable if we were talking about someone not omniscient, to have faith that he could do some things but not others. You could have faith that I can walk, but not faith that I can fly. But God by nature can do all His will.

Faith in God is very humbling. I have often tried to tell God, “I can’t.” His response has always been that He can. And at last I am beginning to realize that in everything the truth is, “I can’t.” Only by the grace of God can I do anything good. No prayer is effective because I prayed it, but because my God is powerful. The prayer of faith is not a confidence in the power of my prayer. The verse quoted at the beginning is taken from an account where the apostles were trying to cast out a demon, and could not. Their faith was in the power given to them, not in the source of their power. They did not pray; they spell-ed.

Moving mountains is not a confidence in the amount of faith we have, nor in the authority of our prayer. Moving mountains is based on a God who does the impossible. With any faith in Him, we know that He can do all things, and depend on Him to do so.

I think I have made my point. However, I do not think I have thoroughly described what is at stake with accepting or applying Matthew 17:20. There is that troubling question of having confidence not only in what God can do, but in what He will do. Elijah the prophet did something very like moving a mountain: he prayed there would be no rain on Israel until he prayed for it. How did he know that God did not want it to rain? A prophet whose word does not come true was to be stoned. He risked his life proclaiming that there would be no rain. How would we know if God wanted us to say to a mountain, “be cast into the sea”? That is another (very controversial) question entirely.

To God be all glory.

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