Saturday, May 22, 2010

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

This week I have had Star Wars on the brain.  On Tuesday morning I led the men's breakfast Bible study at church in a lesson on Mark 16.  I spoke of the additions which were not written by Mark but added on by at least two scribes.  I compared that to the movie Star Wars which went through several minor changes from the 1977 release until the 1997 special edition release.  Tuesday night was "Star Wars in Concert" here in Memphis.  If you are a fan of the movies, you should enjoy this concert if it comes to your town.  Anyway, I apparently still have Star Wars on the brain as I am reading Calvin discussing sometimes we all have times where are faith is not as strong as others.  Darth Vader told Admiral Motti, "I find your lack of faith disturbing" when Motti doubted the power of the force.  Vader then demonstrated this power by choking Motti from across the room using the force, making a believer out of Motti.

Even David, one of the most strongest believers in all history, had points where he struggled with his faith.  He wrote in Psalm 42:5, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance."  Many times David felt abandoned by God.  Psalm 31:22 reads, "For I said in my haste, 'I am cut off from before Your eyes'; Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You,"and Psalm 77:9, "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?"  David struggled with his faith, but God never abandoned him.  God will never abandon us even when we are too blind to see Him working in our lives.  Battles comments in his Analysis of the Institutes for the reader to note Calvin's self-identification with David in this section.  I did not catch it myself, but Battles knows Calvin much better than I.

Our struggle in our faith is a struggle between flesh and spirit.  Unbelief is from the flesh, which rises up to attack our inner faith.  Even though there is this struggle in our hearts, it does not mean that we have no faith or our faith has no meaning.  Calvin writes, "For even if we are distracted by various thoughts, we are not on that account completely divorced from faith.  Nor if we are troubled on all sides by the agitation of unbelief, are we for that reason immersed in its abyss.  If we are struck, we are not for that reason cast down from our position.  For the end of the conflict is always this: that faith ultimately triumphs over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it."  These are such comforting words.  I hope that if ever I am struggling in faith that I will remember to turn back to them.

Calvin tells us in the next section, "When first even the least drop of faith is instilled in our minds, we begin to contemplate God's face, peaceful and calm and gracious toward us."  This reminds me of the story of the mustard seed - the tiniest seed.  Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matthew 13:31-32), and again, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you," (Matthew 17:20).  Even when we have the slightest faith in Christ, it is sufficient to give us assurance of God's promises to us.

It is not enough for us to sit back in our faith and take it easy.  We should always strive to gain a better understanding of God and what he wants from us.  Our faith is imperfect in this life because we are imperfect beings.  Calvin quotes Paul when he writes, "For when he teaches that 'we know in part and prophesy in part,' and 'see in a mirror dimly' (1 Corinthians 13:9,12), he indicates what a tiny portion of that truly divine wisdom is given us in the present life."  Calvin warns us not to mistakenly think that God is against us and hostile toward us, that we should not think that we will not receive help from Him, or to think that God is our mortal enemy.  Instead, God loves and cares for us, provides for us, and is our Father.

The shield of faith is our protection from the evil one.  Ephesians 6:16 reads, "...above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one."  Calvin tells us, "To bear these attacks faith arms and fortifies itself with the Word of the Lord."  Paul refers to the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, but Calvin is also right in seeing that if we arm ourselves with God's Word in our hearts, we will be better equipped to fight off attacks of unbelief against the faith.  In the previous section Calvin warned us about not viewing God as our enemy, he expounds upon that here when he writes, " that while he afflicted us he is also merciful because his chastisement arises out of love rather than wrath."  Like a parent disciplining a child, God disciplines those He loves.  Returning to the illustration of the shield of faith, Calvin closes by declaring, "And he [John] affirms that our faith will be victor not only in one battle, or a few, or against any particular assault; but that, though it be assailed a thousand times, it will prevail over the entire world."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.22- 3.2.25

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