Because they did not receive a love of the truth, God sent them a strong delusion that they might believe a lie.
You Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free
Richard Kirby's Sermons Site Contents
|The Dark Side of Faith
"Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Hebrews 11:6
Faith is at the very heart of God's plan of redemption. We are saved by faith (Eph.2:8); our hearts are purified by faith (Acts 15:9); we are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18); justified by faith (Romans 5:1); We havc access to God and draw near to Him by faith (Eph. 3:12). Our life in Christ is "from faith to faith."
Faith is primarily trusting in God's goodness, His power, His wisdom, and the faithfulness of His promises. It involves not just trusting God, but entrusting ourselves to God, leaning on Him, relying on Him. Faith honors God because it acknowledges that His purposes towards us are good and that He is able to bring about His purposes. Unbelief casts doubt either on God's willingness to do what He says, or on His ability to do what He says. Because faith honors God, God honors faith.
TWO SIDES OF FAITH:
--There's the faith that lays hold on the promises of God for salvation, for healing or deliverance, for wisdom, for prosperity and blessing. This we might call the bright side of faith, the faith for victory, an acquiring faith.
--There is also the faith that holds on in the face of darkness, confusion, trial and tragedy. We could call this the dark side of faith, though there is a definite victory in this kind of faith too. James said: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." Continuing to have faith in the midst of trials is most pleasing and honoring to God.
This kind of faith is (of course) not as popular as the first kind, the acquiring, victorious faith. And who is there that doesn't prefer an immediate victory to a long, doubtful battle?In fact, to hear some of the so-called "Faith Teachers" tell it, positive faith is the only faith. They say you never have to be sick, or in need, or ever defeated in any way. If we would just learn who we are in Christ and what our rights are, we would never even have to suffer. You've heard them on TV. God wants you well and if you're sick, it's your fault; you lack faith. God wants everyone rich, successful and walking in divine health. Christians never need to suffer, they say.
I once asked a friend who was talking this way, "Well, what about the great company of martyrs, killed for the testimony of Christ?" Consistent with his erroneous idea he answered, "If they had just known their rights, they wouldn't have had to die." I said, "Yes, can't you just hear the angels saying to Jesus, 'Lord, here come those dummies?'" He smiled a little sheepishly and said, "I see what you mean." These people have taken faith in only one of its aspects and treated that as all there is to faith.
Yes, there's an acquiring faith that claims the positive promises of God and gains the victory. But there is also the enduring faith that remains faithful during those times when God seems to hide His face, the times He has left us in darkness. Every life, Christian and non-Christian, has trials, tragedies, times of darkness and perplexity. God has not seen fit to give us all the answers up front; He wants us to trust Him anyway. The Bible speaks of those who "endured as seeing the invisible," and includes them among the "heroes of the faith" along with those who gained tangible victories.
Both of these aspects of faith are prominently displayed in the famous Faith Chapter, Hebrews 11. You may want to turn there. As you know this chapter is a kind of roster of the Old Testament faithful who pleased God by their faith. Verse 2 reads. "By faith the men of old gained a good report"; NIV says "faith is what the ancients were commended for."
Then follows a brief summary of the various victories of faith in the Old Testament. I will read verses 32-35:
"And what more shall I say? For time will fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, women received back their dead by resurrection..." Let's stop there for a moment.
I want to be very clear about this. God wants us to "obtain the promises," to put to flight the enemy, to perform acts of righteousness, to be victorious. We have lived far below the level of victory we could have had if we had really believed God's Word. This kind of faith honors God. It's what we all aim for.
But things don't always turn out so positively, as we shall see: Let's continue reading at verse 35:
"Others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings, scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised..."
What do we learn from these verses of scripture?
1. Some faith heroes suffered, died, were tortured, imprisoned--apparently were not very victorious. They had victories similar to those of the apostles: James beheaded, John exiled, Peter crucified, Paul beheaded after spending most of his life in prison. No health and prosperity gospel for them. And yet their victory is recorded in heaven. It is for these and these only that the writer says: "The world was not worthy of them."
2. God is just as pleased with those who held on to their faith though they were not delivered as He is with those who did exploits and won victories. In fact, it is of the former (as I say), not the "victorious" ones, of whom the inspired writer says: "The world was not worthy of them."
Look at the Lord Himself. He had three and a half years of incredible victory which ended in a dark, apparently tragic "defeat." We read of Him in the garden suffering unspeakable anguish. At that point His whole life and mission were tested. He cried out to the Father, "Let this cup pass from me." I'm convinced that all the forces of hell focused on Him, trying to get Him to doubt the Father's goodness, power, and wisdom. Indeed, there is a sense in which He was crucified in the garden before His physical crucifixion.
This caused further perplexity and complaint. How can God, who is too pure to look on evil, stand by while the wicked Chaldeans destroyed a nation which, though sinful, was better than they? Habakkuk waited to hear God's answer.
In chapter 2 he climbs up on a tower, which symbolizes a Watchtower of Faith, and awaits God's answer. There Habakkuk sees in a vision that God has appointed a time when all that seems dark and confusing will become clear. God says, Though the vision seems delayed, the man of faith waits for it. Though wickedness seems to prosper now, there will come a time when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (2:15). Rather than question God's goodness, power, and wisdom, the prophet is asked to trust Him while remaining in the darkness. "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him"; let us mortal hold our peace: (2:20). God assured Habakkuk that although arrogant man will be brought to judgment, "The righteous man shall live by faith" (2:4).
Chapter 3 is a powerful, beautiful psalm celebrating God's delivering power. Let us read chapter 3, verses 16-19 (NIV).
I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
This is a word to all of us during the dark painful, confusing times and circumstances that hide God's purpose from us. The message is this:
1) God understands our fears, doubts and questions, and He doesn't mind them. He allows the conditions that give rise to them and is always with us in the midst of our trials.
2) The short view is often the wrong view. We need to climb up on the tower of faith, so to speak, and take the long view, confident that God will be faithful and wise.
3) Though we may not have the faith and power to change our present situation (positive, acquiring faith), we can always rely on the goodness and power and wisdom of God and honor Him with enduring faith.
The point of Habakkuk seems to be that we don't have to have all our questions answered when we know the Living God, His power and faithfulness. Thou the vision seems to delayed, the man of faith waits for it.
We, the readers, have been allowed to look behind the scenes, and we know what God is doing. But Job is in the dark. He's sure he hasn't sinned in any way equal to his suffering. Job knows that he isn't perfect, but he's certain he hasn't done anything to deserve such misery. And, of course, he hadn't. In fact, Job was most righteous of men suffering the greatest of misery.
He comes close, very close to accusing God of being unfair, arbitrary, whimsical. Jesus spoke of the "patience of Job." But anyone reading the Book of Job is struck by his impatience, with God and certainly with his annoying, worse-than-useless friends.
C.S. Lewis wrote a little book after the death of his wife of only three years called, A Grief Observed. Of his pain and temptation to lose faith he wrote: "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'"
That was Job's problem as well. He didn't doubt God's existence, nor the fact that He ruled all and had the power to deliver him. But Job began to doubt God's fairness, His justice, and His good will towards Job. Like everyone who experiences sudden tragedy, an unexplainable collapse of his world, or devastating suffering, Job wanted to know Why. He asked all the questions we ask: Where is God now? Why is this happening to me? Job had every reason to do this, and God's answer to Job contained only a mild rebuke. God knows our frame, that we are dust; even His choicest saints sometimes cry out in their darkness and pain, "How long, O Lord?" and "Why, Father?" and "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Their 'why' doesn't necessarily contain an accusation of God, or a doubt about His goodness. It's almost a reflexive outburst prompted by their pain and confusion. God understands this and never seems to blame. Some of you are passing through dark, confusing, troubling times. God understands and shares your pain. But He wants you to hold on, trust Him and His word. As God told Habakkuk: "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come; it will not delay" (2:3).
Though Job complained bitterly to and came very near to accusing God of injustice, he stopped short of it. He did accuse God of being arbitrary and answerable to no one. And of course, Job was right. God is answerable to no one: He's God. In fact, He says just about the same thing in His answer to Job at the end of the book: "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer" (Job 40:1).
But in the end God justifies Job and restores his blessing. In the process Job gained much.
1) He is the first person recorded in the Bible to come to an insight into the resurrection and the final judgment: "Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh shall I see God" (19:26).
2) He declared his faith in a Redeemer: "I know that my Redeemer lives and at last He will take His stand on the earth" (19:25).
3) He went from superstitious fear to a pinnacle of trust: "Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him" (13:15).
4) He went from self-righteousness to abject humility: "I hate what I have said and repent in dust and ashes" (42:6).
5) He went from knowledge about God to a deeper knowledge of God: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you" (42:5).
None of this would have come to Job apart from his experience of darkness, doubt, and pain.
If we had time we could look at Abraham in detail. He has been called the father of the faithful. He left his homeland at God's direction, not knowing where he was being taken. He waited long years for an heir. Then, when an heir was supernaturally given, he was told to take the child and sacrifice him to his God. We could speculate about what he must have thought and felt during that three-day trip to Mt. Moriah. Sufficient to say God's word calls him faithful Abraham and says of him that "his faith was accounted to him for righteousness."
We need to bow down, as did Habakkuk, Job, Abraham, before a God who sometimes hides Himself from us that He might test us, humble us, build trust in us, and perfect our patience.
This enduring faith is completely consistent with doubts, questionings, confusion, and fears. Faith may doubt itself; it may doubt its understanding of God. I may not understand the circumstances. But I must never doubt God's wisdom, power and goodness.
People talk about the power of faith. But my faith is not in faith; my faith is in God. And though He slay me, though all my circumstances are shrouded in darkness and frought with pain, though all my props and support are taken away, I can, I must trust in the goodness and power and wisdom of my Heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus Christ: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He, then, is all my hope and stay. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my Anchor holds within the veil."
Whatever else I may doubt--and God knows I will have my
doubts and fears and questions and confusion--I cannot doubt that He loves
me and will always be faithful. Amen