The Tension of Faith

Years ago, a friend shared me with me the simple phrase: “Surely He is enough”. The phrase has stuck with me, and ever since I’ve unashamedly plagiarized it for my own use. The reason I love this phrase is because for me it encapsulates what I’ll call the tension of faith.

Faith is a tension.  It is a tension between believing God’s promises and struggling with the difficulties in life which seem to undermine the truth of those promises. Hebrews 11 famously captures it like this, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” This definition of faith is so familiar that we often mistake it for being effortless, but think about it. We are to be sure of things that we hope for? Convinced of things we can’t see? What about if our desires are withheld? What about when our plans fail? What about when I think about the future and feel utterly inadequate and lost? Faith doesn’t come easy when the rubber meets the road.

On the one hand, we’ve beheld the faithfulness of God in the Gospel of his Son. At the cross, we see a God who fulfills all his promises, and whose character we can trust. We trust that because he gave us his precious Son, he will continue to fulfill all his promises, past, present and future, and work everything for our good…But on the other hand, we still must face the difficulties of life. And oftentimes, our circumstances, feelings, sin, inadequacies and failings make God’s and his promises seem far off. As Christians, we face a constant battle to believe God’s promises instead of being overwhelmed by the difficulties we see with our earthly sight.

Which is why I love “Surely He is Enough” and other phrases like it because they simultaneously capture both parts of the tension: the promise and the difficulty. What do I mean? When I say “Surely He is Enough” I am expressing two things. First, I am affirming the truth of the promise. I am boldly preaching to my heart that this is a certainty, “O my soul, he is enough!” But I am also asking for God’s help to trust his promise in the difficulty. I am desperately praying to God, “O Lord, be enough for me! Because right now, if I’m honest, I’m not sure if you are enough. And it certainly doesn’t feel like you are. Be enough!” 

Through the years, I’ve found many phrases in Scripture expressing this tension of hope and struggle. “Hosanna!” Lord save us! The Lord will save us. The grieved father who cries, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and the psalmist who pleads, “let me not be put to shame” and then a verse later declares, “Indeed none who wait for you shall be put to shame” (Mark 9:24, Ps 25:2-3). There are the many rhetorical questions in scripture which capture this tension as well, expressing pain and struggle in the question, but certainty and hope in the obvious answer. The psalmist in Psalm 77:1-10 who reasons himself out of his depression with this logic:

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High'”

And who can forget, Paul’s barrage of questions to the persecuted believers in Romans 8 which end in his breathtaking conclusion that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ?

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…who is to condemn?…who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

I love these phrases and questions because they they capture so well what it means to live by faith amidst difficulty. They don’t ignore the difficulty, the struggle, the bewilderment, but rather deal with those issues honestly. They tell us that during trials we are to do two things. First, we are to preach to our hearts out of confidence in God’s promises. We are to argue and reason with ourselves and to take ourselves in hand when we find ourselves slipping in to depression, anxiety, and unbelief. Second, we are to pray in desperation to God in those areas where our confidence is wavering. That is the simple solution to living by faith in hardship.

Do you see how practical and comforting this is for every season of the soul? At times, when we are walking strong in the faith we’ll be able to take the tension expressed earlier in Psalm 25 (“let me not be put to shame; indeed none wait on you shall be put to shame”) and say with confidence, as Paul did, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed (Phil 1:20). In those seasons, let us continue to depend on the Lord through prayer, thanking him for our faith, and preaching to our souls all the day long the mercies of God. Other times, we’ll say “Hosanna” and the distance between “Lord, save us!” and the “Lord will save us” will feel so far that all we’ll want to do is break down and cry.

But even in those times when our faith seems to sink out of our sight, we still have tremendous strength. Why? Because our faith rests in God, and not in ourselves! Jesus’ words are profoundly true: “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” When I am struggling in my faith, I can still preach to myself. Why? Because, even though everything seems all wrong and I feel all wrong, God’s promises are indisputably eternally incontrovertibly true and nothing in the world can change that. And even if I preach to myself and I find my heart full of unbelief, I can still pray. Why? Because my prayer is heard by omnipotent, all knowing, and infinitely loving God. It doesn’t matter how unbelieving I am so long as I fall into his hands. He can change my heart and uphold my faith.  Remember Peter when he looked at the wind and the waves and started to sink? At that point, he was seriously doubting whether Christ could make him walk on water. But what did he do? He cried out “Lord save me” and “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him” (Matt 14:30).

So no matter what you and I go through as Christians, no matter how small our faith feels, let us embrace this tension of faith. Let us preach to ourselves the truth of God’s promises, and let us pray when we find our hearts are unbelieving. When we do that, we can be confident that our faithful God will guide and keep us. There will be times when this seems to be doing no good at all, but let us remember that our faith only dies when we give up. When we stop trying to preach to our despondent hearts the glory of Christ, when we stop praying for our unbelief,  that’s when we’ve lost.

Let us live in the tension of faith. Surely He is enough!

3 thoughts on “The Tension of Faith

  1. Pingback: All the Sad Things: In Joyous Disbelief | Joy Inexpressible

  2. Pingback: Songwriting and the Spirit of the Text | Joy Inexpressible

  3. Pingback: Songwriting and the Honest Happy Ending | Joy Inexpressible

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