I talked with a woman once, who was facing the certain and soon death of a loved one. She told me about another death, not long before. And then, as she was talking about not being very happy with God, she told me about the death of her father.
He had a heart attack while she watched. The EMTs rushed him to the hospital. A neighbor said, “Pray hard.”
Her dad died.
For a 10-year-old girl, it was hard. Three decades later, it was still hard for her to talk about. I looked across the bed of the one she was going to lose soon and I said, “It wasn’t your fault. Your dad didn’t die because you didn’t pray hard enough.”
She looked at me. “I know,” she said. And then she started to cry. “But it still feels like I could have . . .”
It wasn’t her fault that her dad died.
And it wasn’t her fault that she had somehow come to believe that if you have enough faith, if you believe hard enough, you can make trees fly into the ocean. That you can become anything you want. That you can keep your dad from dying of a heart attack.
After all, that what we think that’s what we’re reading when Jesus answers a question the disciples ask. The disciples ask Jesus to help them have more faith. And he talks about what they could do with a little bit of faith.
We want more faith, right? Because of what we could do with that faith That’s the formula that seems to be in this text.
We want to do amazing stuff.
Jesus says that a certain quantity of faith lets you do amazing stuff.
So we want that amount of faith, and more.
Focusing on the amazing stuff. “God, give me the kind of faith that will make my loved one well.” “God, give me the kind of faith that will make me rich. Or at least, will pay all my bills.” “God, give me the kind of faith that will fix stuff, that will restore relationships.” Our focus is always on the outcome we want, So that when it doesn’t happen one of three things must be true.
We didn’t have enough faith. So it’s our fault.
They didn’t try hard enough, so it’s their fault.
God isn’t real or hates us, so it’s God’s fault.
So we are mad at ourselves or others or God. Because things aren’t the way that we want them to be. Perhaps the best way to understand this story (and the one that follows it) is to say,
It’s not about how much faith we have. It’s about who we have faith in.
Do we have faith in our capacity to decide what’s best? Or do we have faith in God, who does have capacity.?
I have heard people in hard situations say, “I don’t understand.”
And I have heard well-meaning people say to them, “don’t question God. You need to have faith.”
I usually turn to the one in the pain.
“I don’t understand either,” I say. “I’m not sure why you need to be sitting here in this pain, waiting on this procedure, knowing that it may not work. And God’s not mad when you say you don’t understand. Not at all. That doesn’t indicate a lack of faith. It simply acknowledges you don’t understand. And you may not. But as you lay here, faithfully breathing, faithfully talking with God, faithfully trying to know what to do next, that is great faith.”
I look them in the eyes.
“It’s more faith than those of us on the outside have.”