Faith and feet. The feet of faith…now there’s an association we don’t normally make–dots we wouldn’t imagine connect. Faith and heart maybe…faith and mind, faith and church, creed, religion…but feet? We venerate our Hebrew heroes of faith in scripture, read their stories, try to emulate them without ever coming to understand the nature of their faith, what they meant by having faith, or the great gulf between our notion of faith and theirs. When it comes to faith, we vote with our heads; our Hebrew heroes voted with their feet. For us, faith is what we think–it’s about what we think we believe or agree to believe. For ancient Hebrews, faith is what we do–it’s about how we live and the quality of our lives. For them, faith was never where your head could take you; it was where your feet could take you when your trust and confidence in God were secure. Faith was never relegated to spiritual or other-worldly meditations, but rooted and expressed in the flesh and blood moments of daily life.
And only there.
The Hebrew word aman means to believe and have faith, but only through trust: it means to support, nourish, confirm, make lasting. Related to aman is emet, which means truth, but only through firmness, sureness, reliability–and emunah is faithfulness as in constancy, steadfastness, stability. The word amen that we use untranslated comes directly from aman–to affirm what we believe is trustworthy, reliable, solid, lasting. Scriptural faith has nothing to do with thought and everything to do with consistent, confident action.
We think that to have faith is to have no doubt, as if faith and doubt are polar opposites. We may also think that to have courage is to have no fear, as if courage and fear are opposites. But faith and doubt are no more opposites than courage and fear. Courage is the ability to act in the presence of fear–without fear, there is no courage. And faith is the ability to act in the presence of doubt–without doubt, there is no faith. Doubt defines faith, makes it real. When we shift our faith from our heads to our feet, the opposite of faith is no longer doubt, but paralysis–the inability to move our feet. When we can move out in life as if certain things are true, even when evidence is absent; when we can live life as if all is well even when evidence is contrary; when we can look past the doubtful, fearful thoughts in our heads to see our feet still moving, carrying us toward the land God has promised, then we can place our feet in the circle beside those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I just love this image. Riveted my attention first time I saw it. My first thought was: what in the world is that? Oh, ok, now I get it. Second thought: what contortions did everyone have to bend into to get their hands in those positions… Third thought: there just seems to be no end to what we can do with our hands. It amazes me to think of the limitless sets of skills we can acquire–the endless training we can give our hands: from coaxing music out of an instrument to building a skyscraper, from drawing an image on paper to signing a language in the air, from giving a healing massage to delivering a fatal martial blow to simply waving hello or goodbye our hands are the very extension of our desire and purpose in life. They reveal who we really are–much more than do our words.
Just the night before last a young man asked me how he could really know for sure that God existed and cared about him. Now there’s a big question. And though he was looking for an answer in words and ideas, the real answer lies not in our heads but in our hands. In the language Jesus spoke, to know is yida. Unexpectedly, the roots of the word yida form the word for “hand.” To know in Hebrew/Aramaic is not to hold an idea in our heads, but to hold its reality in our hands. True knowing is to know the way a carpenter knows the feel and weight of his tools, the way a musician knows her instrument when it falls naturally into her grasp, the way a lover knows the curves of his beloved’s face. When Adam knew Eve, they had a son together–now that’s knowing.
To know for sure that God is real and cares about us is to handle him, experience him, live with his presence day in and out. There is not a thought or concept in heaven or earth that can take us where our hands, as the extensions of our desire, will take us by simply living well the moments of our lives.
Still many hours from home. Watching the dry California hills south of Salinas sliding past the windows of our Amtrak compartment…yes, you heard that right—Amtrak. As in train. We took a train to Oregon to visit relatives because our oldest son is phobic over planes and not much better with long car rides. Limits the options. Will be well over 60 hours on the train by time we roll up to the station at San Juan [very] late tonight. I thought I’d be able to stay in contact with the world we left behind, but no matter what they tell you, there is no wifi on Amtrak, and apparently not in Oregon either. At least not where we were staying.
So my vision of a week away with time to catch up on reading and blogging and other luxuries didn’t exactly scan, but time with the boys and my wife are now vivid memories, and I did manage to finish a book that I’d been working on for months: Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I had followed the digital fisticuffs pounded out on blogs and online articles when the book first came out, just as I had several years ago when Brian McLaren’s book came out on a similar subject —leading Evangelicals taking turns refuting and savaging—but I was particularly saddened this time to read one church leader saying that this book was essentially Bell’s third strike; that he had long been humored and warily rationalized as an eccentric Evangelical with a media genius and talent for reaching those on the edge of things. But no more.
Now he had gone beyond the pale, around the bend, touched the third rail, made the final cut that once and for all separated him from the Evangelical community, and that the next time he wrote a book, there would be no outcry, no attempt to refute or reconcile his thoughts to theirs any more than they would the tenets of Islam or Scientology, Tony Robbins or Lady Gaga. It just wouldn’t matter. He was no longer part of the herd, no longer a threat to a faith he had clearly left
In two words, they were giving up. On him. On trying to hold on to him as one of their own.
I was talking to a friend last week who was really in distress, having a truly difficult time, and she was holding on to a passage of scripture that promised that God would never give us more than we can handle. Trouble is, when you’re feeling completely at the end of yourself, how do you know how much more you can handle? How much longer you can hold out, hold on? And how do you trust a God who gives you this kind of trouble anyway? If he’s the one giving you the grief, can you really trust him not to give too much?
Does your faith life make you feel like this?
Does God do this to us? Give us hardships to test us, watching us like a white-coated scientist with a clipboard, making notes… Paraphrased as my friend did above, as we do on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, inverts the point of I Corinthians 10:13, which reads, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Reading carefully, God isn’t in the business of handing out hardship–the test, all trials are only what are common to all of us as human beings–they come with the skin suit. But the trials that life brings, that we bring to ourselves and each other, aren’t beyond what we can bear because God is always waiting in the midst to show the way out, over, under, through, around… In those most difficult times, if we can keep just enough spiritual balance to remember to lean into the moment–not run from it–God’s steadying hand can and will come from the most unexpected places.
Try to imagine yourself in the Galilee in the first century…
The smell of apple, almond, and sycamore trees in blossom. The sight of riotiously colorful wildflowers in bloom on a hillside above the Sea of Galilee. the sound of thousands of variegated waterbirds–egrets, herons, and cranes–following their intricate and beautiful migratory patterns up the Jordan River rift valley, just at the right time. The black basalt hills above the Sea of Galilee, providing rich, dark, but very thin soil upon which to sow. The strong winds blowing in from the Mediterranean at particular times of the day.
Been thinking on revelation lately. Teaching a class on the origin of scripture has made it inevitable. There’s the kind of revelation you can get from observing nature–general revelation–and then there’s the kind you can only get downloaded directly from God–special revelation. This direct communication with God comes in the form of dreams, visions, prophetic utterances, words of knowledge, prayer, etc. Some folks don’t believe in special revelation anymore. They say it ended with the prophet Malachi, and from then on, we have only the Scriptures to guide us. All we need is there in the book. Sola scriptura, scripture alone, as the Reformers cried 500 years ago.
Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted; life has intruded for the last week. Just finished a short paper on the book of James and wanted to call your attention to it. Trying to see James from an intensely Jewish perspective and how his vision of the Gospel squares so well with Jesus’, but not necessarily our own–as modern, Western thinkers. Here’s an excerpt: