What is faith?
Faith is a delicate word subject to mishandling. For many it signifies nothing more than belief. Yet, God is no more interested in mere belief than Warren Buffet is interested in pocket change. Belief may be a prerequisite of faith, but faith exceeds belief as far as fitness exceeds vital signs.
Some concepts are better shown than described. Faith is one of these. One of the great heroes of mature faith is George Mueller. People today assume that skepticism and atheism are new developments. They aren’t. Skepticism spread like cholera through the 19th century. Orthodox Christianity faced a barrage of criticism. Discoveries in geology made the timeline of Genesis appear amateur. Darwin published a new account of the origin of life. Old and New Testament scholars cut and trimmed the ‘authentic’ portions of the Bible until the Word of God was as short and venerable as a miniskirt. Churches may have remained full, but many in the pews suspected that ‘god’ was no more than the Wizard of Oz – the projected shadow of a tired and irritable old man.
Onto this stage stepped George Mueller. Mueller’s remarkable life of building orphanages and keeping rigorous accounts of specific and supernatural answers to prayers is well known. Too often overlooked, however, is the daring mission that drove Mueller’s life. Mueller’s overarching intent was to provide public proof that the God of the Bible was as real, active, and available in the contemporary world as He was in the Sinai desert. Behind each plea for another day’s bread to feed orphans was an audacious hope: that God would irrefutably demonstrate His faithfulness to a new generation of Christians. So He did, as the autobiography of Mueller gives plain evidence.
This gutsy attitude is why Mueller is not just a hero of faith but a hero of doctrine, raising in stature above such renowned theologians as Warfield, Barth, and Balthasar. If the aim of doctrine was thought, church theologians would win gold in the sport. But the aim of doctrine is not thought but living faith – the degree to which doctrine shapes the attitudes, feelings, and assumptions that inspire moment-by-moment action. For Mueller, God was not an idea. God was the reality in which he lived, moved, and had his being.
So, then, how can we describe faith? Faith is defining my existence by God’s existence, the degree to which the God is my God. God is jealous to hear the hearts and minds of ordinary people playing in the key of His steadfast love. The Old Testament has a word for this spiritual attunement, love. Set within the context of covenant, love is not a feeling, or an action, but a motivational framework. Love is what drives a son to obey his father even when the instructions don’t make sense. Love is God and me in sync.