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The following was inspired by a recent conversation with a congregant. While I share this with permission, I have changed personal details to protect the person’s identity and sensitive information.

“So, I have a question for you as my pastor,” she said as we waited for our lunch to arrive at our table.

“Okay. Shoot. As your pastor, hopefully I have an answer,” I replied with a grin hoping I sounded more confident than nervous.

Then with an eager curiosity in her voice she said, “In the Bible Jesus says that if you have faith you can say to this mountain move and it will move.”

“Uh huh,” I nodded along.

“So if I have a [metaphorical] mountain I’m trying to move in my life, and it’s not moving, does that mean I don’t have strong enough faith? If what I’m having faith will happen is not happening, is there something wrong with my faith? Is my faith weak?”

And then her question hung in silence, invaded only by the steam of our coffees, as we both pondered the depths of what she had just asked.

I broke the silence with an answer that attempted to explain Jesus’ use of hyperbole and how what Jesus is saying about our faith being able to move mountains is not so much that we will move mountains through faith, but that through the humble act of faith in Christ by the Spirit anything is possible. The object of our faith is not what we want to see brought to fruition, but rather the One from whom all things come, or for that matter don’t come, to fruition.

And theologically I stand by my answer. No one is going to call my ordination into question because of it. But pastorally, I wonder if it was a sufficient answer.

I think there is more tension between faith and doubt than my answer leads on. Sure, my answer would do well to call a person to patience and trust in God’s providence and power. And if a person is waiting for something like a new house or promotion it might be a sufficiently challenging and encouraging answer.

It is a much more difficult answer, however, for a person waiting to hear if the chemo worked and the cancer is in remission. It is a much more difficult answer for a parent waiting for their wayward child to return to the faith of their upbringing. It is a much more difficult answer for a couple with yet another negative pregnancy test.

In these scenarios, and many more like them, I realize that pastorally there is no answer that will suffice. The only proper response is to offer to sit with others in their pain and lament with them what that cannot be theologized away.

As my friend’s question continues to linger in mind I wonder, what does it look like to have faith in these moments? I began to wonder with the same curious angst of the original question, what does having a faith that can move mountains look like when the mountains aren’t moving?

In my search for answers I went to the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 and in doing so read something that I wish I would have been able to recall in the moment. Of the faithful who have gone before us, verse 13 says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (Hebrews 11:13). Then in verse 16 the Preacher tells us, “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Though their faith never moved the mountains they wanted to move. Though what they believed in never came to fruition before their eyes, God is not ashamed to call them his own. Their faith was not expressed in what they believed being brought to fruition, but in their longing for what they believed to be brought to fruition.

Their faith was expressed in longing for the mountain to be moved, not in the mountain actually moving. And as a result they “were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:39).

The heroes of the faith give us great comfort that the longing for something to be that is not, is not the sign of weak faith, but on the contrary, quite the opposite. The gift of heroes like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and even Rahab is that their stories show us that faith is most commendable when it is marked more by longing than experiencing.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that in Christ by the Spirit there are instant experiences we have through faith. As Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 5:17, in Christ by the Spirit, “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Yet, even in light of this good news, I can’t help but share in the longing of the heroes of the faith for a better world still to come.

Perhaps, this side of the Kingdom’s fullness, our faith is strongest, not when what we believe is brought to fruition, but when we long for what we believe God is accomplishing in Christ by the Spirit to be brought to fruition. As the poet T.S. Eliot puts it in his poem, Wait Without Hope, “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. . .So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Perhaps, faith is not our end of the bargain, but a God empowered gift through which — in Christ by the Spirit — we are made to lay hold of God’s.

Matthew Lee

Matthew Lee serves as the Lead Pastor at Immanuel Community Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan.


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