Why is faith so hard? Sure, there are mountaintop moments and golden summers where we feel God’s presence as real as anything. But more often than not, especially in the muck and madness of the world, God appears distant and faith seems a scandal. Both skeptic and saint have wondered how there can be both a good, all-powerful God in heaven and a world full of death and decay down below. And that is just the beginning of a landslide of questions which threaten to smother our faith and leave it for dead.
Faith may seem impossible, but it is not complicated. The call to faith is simple: “Believe in me”, Jesus said. Believe all the things Jesus said about himself and all the things he did to prove what he said. Believe, and then start walking down the path Jesus walked. The call to faith may be straightforward, but answering that call can lead one through a crooked maze of doubt. The obstacles to faith are legion. If God is real and has clearly revealed himself, why then is faith so hard?
At bottom, faith in God is faith in the invisible. To be invisible does not mean that God is imagined or an illusion, rather it is to say that He cannot be seen by the naked, human eye. I could convince you fairly easily that there is a tree in front of my house by showing it to you and having you touch its rough bark and rub its glossy leaves between your fingers. You can’t do that with God. That’s not to say there is no evidence for God; there is, but it’s not the same as touching a tree.
Faith is being sure of what is, at least to us, invisible. By its very definition faith is not something which comes easy. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul urges us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” Surely that is an impossible task! Has Paul gone crazy or does he possess a superpower which allows him to see the unseen? Well, yes, he does have a super-power of sorts – the Holy Spirit.
Elsewhere in his letters, Paul explains that the invisible God has been made plain to us (Rom.1:20), but through our rebellion we have “darkened” our hearts, which in turn darkens our vision. The result is a kind of blindness which sees plainly the tree, but not it’s Maker. Our rebellion, sin, has made us blind to the reality of God. That is why faith is so hard – it is hard to see when you are blind.
Thankfully, as Paul also explains, God has made it possible to see again. When God speaks life into us, he speaks into existence a light that begins to shine in our darkened hearts (2 Cor.4:6). That light is the knowledge of Christ communicated to us by his Holy Spirit, and it gives us the ability to see and comprehend the invisible reality of God. Another way to put it is that the scales of sin are removed from our eyes and for the first time in our life we see clearly what is right in front of us. This was the experience of the blind man Jesus healed at Bethsaida, and it is the experience of every Christian.
So, a Christian is one whose eyes have been opened by Jesus. Yet faith often continues to be hard. We live in a dark world which cannot see the lighted realities of faith. We continue to wrestle with our old Adam who is always grabbing at our eyes and yelling in our ears that God is a fake. We are bombarded by the attacks of Satan who tries desperately to snuff out the light of Christ in our hearts.
Faith may be hard, but it is not impossible. If we attempt to catch a glimpse of God through our own blinded eyes, then yes, it is impossible. However, if we watch closely with the eyes of faith, those given by the Holy Spirit, then, yes, it is possible. By the power of the Spirit we will begin to understand that faith is not a blind leap into the darkness of hopeful thinking, but rather, it is a wide-eyed walking in the steps of the One who knows where he is going. We may be led through dark valleys and disorienting fog, and we may stumble over the roots and rubble in our path, but we can walk in a sure confidence that the Shepherd loves his sheep and will lead us to a place where we can see our God “face to face.” Then we will see with our own eyes what was once invisible.