“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).
Sometimes I see and hear comments by unbelievers accusing people of faith of being wishful thinkers. In their eyes, faith is a crutch, an escapist fantasy, an illusory coping mechanism. Rather than face the cruel realities of the world with cold logic, Christians prefer the dreamy never-never-land of heaven. So the story goes from the viewpoint of some cynical skeptics.
I am sure that some Christians do indeed believe for very shallow reasons – just as I am sure that some atheists disbelieve for very shallow reasons. One atheist philosopher has candidly admitted that he doesn't want to believe in God because it’s against his wishes. “It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that” (Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, p. 130).
For my part, I can only confess that I have a deeply skeptical mind. I am the world’s worst second-guesser (wait – maybe someone else is worse!). So I have fought some pretty intense internal intellectual wrestling matches over the credibility of Christianity. And I must say that after the most intense period of doubt I have ever gone through, I have concluded – on rational grounds – that atheism is intellectually incoherent and that Christianity is true. But I still struggle with faith – for exactly the opposite reasons my more cynically-minded unbelieving friends may imagine. I don’t find faith to be emotionally easy at all. I find it to be extremely difficult.
Let me put this in context by describing what my last seven days have been like. On Tuesday of last week I went to visit a young lady in the hospital who has a brain tumor. Over several months we have watched her lose one function after another as the tumor has invaded more and more of her brain. While she slept I shared tears with her mother and brother who were staying with her in order to give her husband and two daughters a break to go home. I left from there to attend the funeral of a friend of mine who succumbed to melanoma after almost five years of fighting it. And on the way from the hospital to the funeral, I received word that another lady in our church passed away. A precious sister in the Lord who also battled cancer for five years. The last six months I visited her and her husband multiple times every week, and watched her body slowly yield ground, inch by inch, to this vicious disease. That was Tuesday.
On Thursday, my wife had to go into the hospital for an infection in her leg. The reason she needed to be admitted is because she is also dealing with cancer, and her immune system is compromised, making any infection potentially dangerous. Over three years – from the original diagnosis, and then the radiation and chemo, and the surgeries, and the recurrence and metastasis, and the countless side effects – I have watched her struggle bravely as her body has endured so much.
This afternoon we will bury our great friend who died last week. And tonight, Lord willing, I am flying to Nashville, where I will spend a little bit of time with one of my best friends (the man who performed mine and Kristi’s wedding ceremony), who learned two weeks ago that he has advanced lymphoma, and is now receiving chemo.
As I have watched with my own eyes these loved one struggle and suffer, it has been very difficult to maintain my trust in God at times. Not my intellectual belief in His existence. But my trust. My commitment to believe that in contrast to the very real pain and anguish I can see with my own eyes, that there is going to be a great reward for those who maintain their confidence in Him.
Christians don’t escape the harsh realities of life. We are called to roll up our sleeves and plunge into them to serve and minister to others. To bind up wounds like the Good Samaritan. To bear burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. To weep with those who weep. And when we are confronted with suffering this immediately and tangibly, it hurts.
And so I just want to say that – for me at least – faith isn’t so easy. And it apparently wasn’t for the people to whom the Book of Hebrews was written. Their faith was wavering. And the writer of that book called them to persevere (a term that would be meaningless, or at least unnecessary, if faith was so easy).
What I need to do in these times when I feel my faith faltering, staggering under the weight of so much suffering and pain, is what the writer encouraged these people to do: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NIV).
Jesus suffered and struggled – with “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). But He kept His eyes on the “joy set before Him,” God’s promise to exalt Him to His right hand, and in that commitment, He scornfully disregarded the world’s attempt to shame Him on the cross, and endured. Jesus endured unimaginable suffering by entrusting Himself to God – and God was true to His promise. He will be true to us.
And so, don’t grow weary and lose heart.