Obstinate Faith

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It is what Bernhard Anderson, in Contours of Old Testament Theology, is talking about when he says, “In the Old Testament faith is steadfast reliance on God amid the uncertainties and insecurities of life.” (p. 1)

It is echoed in the words of Rachel, a mother of four who is stuck in a horrible, one-bedroom, broken down hotel room, with no money and not much food, from Jonathan Kozol’s book, Rachel and Her Children, (p.71):

“Listen to me. I didn’t say that God forsaken us. I am confused about religion. I’m just sayin’ evil overrules the good. So many bad things goin’ on. Lot of bad things right here in this buildin’. It’s not easy to believe. I don’t read the Bible no more ‘cause I don’t find no more hope in it. I don’t believe. But yet and still…I know these words.” She reads aloud: “ ‘Lie down in green pastures…leadeth me beside still waters…restores my soul…I shall not want.’“All that I want is somethin’ that’s my own. I got four kids. I need four plates, four glasses, and four spoons. Is that a lot? I know I’m poor. Don’t have no bank account, no money, or no job. Don’t have no nothin’. No foundation. Then and yet my children have a shot in life. They’re innocent.”It is how Paul talks about Abraham in Romans 4:18 how he “hoped against hope” even though it did not look like he would have a child with his wife Sarah because they were both too old. It is Job who after he learns that he has lost everything he owns and all of his children, yet says in Job 1:21, “Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.”

Why is this? How is this? Are these people crazy? How can they trust in God when life’s circumstances are horrible? The answer is what I call obstinate faith. It’s like saying, “God, I have no clue what you are doing and I think you are not running things very well, but I’m going to trust in you anyway.” It is the two-year-old child that will throw himself on the floor in a screaming tantrum rather than concede defeat.

How are we to think of such things? Why do people do this? When there is absolutely no hope, why continue to believe? It is the “problem of evil” at its worst. We don’t know why; we don’t understand; but we trust anyway.

Why?

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15 Responses to “Obstinate Faith”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    My answer, and this obviously won’t be everyone’s, finds resonance with Simon Peter: (This is not a paraphrase of him, this is me talking here…) I don’t see anywhere better to turn. Jesus seems to have the best answers to life that I know.

    I believe there’s something “bigger than life.” And of all the attempts to tap into it in world history, at this point in my search for answers Jesus stands in the winner’s circle. I believe him, at his own suggestion based upon his actions.

    And he offers something to keep going toward when there seems to be no other reason to keep going. His philosophy doesn’t run away from the hardships of life; in fact, it stares even death in the face without running.

    Just my initial thoughts…

    Great, great question you ask, Mr. Duane…

  2. Mike Exum Says:

    Her name is Stella.

    I don’t quote page numbers, because she is a real flesh-n-blood neighbor of mine. If I were to site a reference, I’d use her address and the date. She is not theoretical. Her words are not the steril representation of words on a page. She bears the burden right here, right now. And as her friend and minister, I hold her trembling hand as she laments…

    “…I got nuttin’. I’m 62 year ol’ now and I got nuttin’. Never had nuttin’ – not gonna get nuttin’ now eitha. And I axe Go’ wha He gonna do fer me now that eva’ make no differn to me?…”

    Stella is poor. I met her last spring. She wanted to go to nursing school. She always wanted to be a nurse, and she started down that road once when she was young but got detoured. Now she wants to go back. As much as an example for her grandkids as for personal fulfillment.

    When I met her, she did not have a car. That changed over the course of the summer. She and her daughter went in together and bought a used car. But then she hurt herself, lost her part time under the table job, and missed a couple payments. The daughter got sick and lost her job. The car got repossessed, and then I found out that the dealer had sold her a 10 year old car on a loan with $400/mo. pmts. And the car had failed inspection.

    Then Stella found out she is going blind. Oh, and did I mention that she takes in stray people and keeps them? She has a young retarded woman living with her. She is keeping the grandchild of her deceased best friend because the mother is a drug addict who does not want the boy. And this little boy is unbelievably adorable. I mean, when I take him to church, (well I found a new way to meet chicks okay?) (Not to worry, I am faithful to my wife.)

    Anyway, Stella counts on me to come for Bible study each week. Why? That’s a good question. I got to say, if it’s not futile, well it sure feels thin.

    Thanks for the catharsis. Your welcome for the drama.

    Many blessings…

  3. Duane McCrory Says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for visiting the blog. Rachel is not just words on a page, the book is about real homeless people in New York in the 1980’s. I’m sure things have not changed much there or around the country. We see it here in Tucson as well when our church hosts the feeding line for the homeless in a parking lot next to an Autozone.

    Mr. Al,

    I agree with your answer as an initial thought, and I hope more people will enter the discussion here. Have you noticed I have been trying to go to shorter posts? It just seems we’ve gotten into a rut and I’m trying to do something different.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’ve noticed! And a great topic to explore, too!

    (But if you want to approach the 100 comment record that [ahem], I currently hold, you have to talk about homosexuality and politics.)

    🙂

  5. DeJon Redd Says:

    Good stuff, Duane … It really has me thinking. (That is warning that a long post will follow)

    I’m also tying your thoughts to what I heard from one of the great spiritual leaders of our time — Bono

    I don’t know if this relates, but Bono (at the Nat’l Prayer Breakfast last Thursday) said this…

    A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

    And this wise man said: stop.

    He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.

    Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

    [See full transcript here — Every American should read that full transcipt.]

    I think about my need for obstinate faith. But then Bono’s words give me a reality check. Obstinate faith to me implies a dogged clinging to faith in the face of adversity.

    I guess adversity could be relative, but I don’t want to compare how obstinate (or less than obstinate, as the case may be) my faith proves in the faith of “adversity” (using that term quite loosely.)

    When I hear stories like the one mike exum tells or like the story of Rachel and her children. I admire and covet the faith displayed. I’m sure some would call that type of faith a crutch or the proverbial “blanket of comfort.”

    But my position is different. My means make it too easy to assume I don’t need faith for my day-to-day sustenance. So instead of responding to the call from those that do rely on faith for every need, I sit fat and happy and pray God would bless what ever whim overtakes me.

    I have dear friends that have proven an obstinate faith in the faith of great loss – the loss of a child or unthinkable betrayal. And I’m thankful I’ve been spared such circumstances.

    But I’m also convicted by my inaction when there are those clinging to faith and crying for the faithful to take action.

    And I choose to ignore them.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Great speech!

    Well, I was talking about Bono, but you, too, DeJon!

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    This is an interesting problem, Duane, and something most Christians don’t want to think about.

    We often think of faith as something people have when they have nothing left to hold on to. That it is somehow easier for those who have nothing to believe because, well, they don’t have anything else to fall back on.

    I’m not sure how Al should feel about me agreeing with him so often, but I would have written almost the exact thing he wrote. I want to believe in something larger than myself. Even if I don’t feel it all that often. And I struggle with the problem you pose at the end of the post — not thinking God is running things too well.

    Jesus’ philosophy isn’t a comforting philosophy (to me) as much as it is a challenging philosophy, and I think that’s part of what I like about it. It challenges us to be better people.

    I find myself a lot like Job in the beginning of his story. The angry man angrily questioning God rather than the later Job who is a humble man accepting God’s decisions. If anything, that’s the part of Job and God I like. That’s the part of the story that keeps me going a bit.

    I don’t ever seem to have a point in my comments. Apologies.

  8. Whitney Says:

    Dej,

    Your comments just really hit home with me. They brought tears to my eyes with their utter truth and personal resonance.

    Do we even know this kind of faith? Do we want to?

    I’ll open myself up a bit here. My personal struggles with faith come with my own struggle that God isn’t doing things my way. Joe and I desperately want children. A desire that, aside from the fact that Joe is currently thousands of miles away, has not been fulfilled despite my pleas to God for a couple of years now.

    Intellectually, I am aware that God has his own agenda and plans for us. Faithfully, this is much harder to accept. Perhaps this is God’s call to me for a more obstinate faith and I need to be more open to what he’s asking of me. I think part of obstinate faith is a willingness to accept God’s answers to our prayers, even (and especially) when they aren’t the answers we want.

    Duane, thank you for the challenging post.

  9. DeJon Redd Says:

    Whit. Your raw honesty is powerful.

    We are your friends and want you to know we share in your disappointment.

  10. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Whitney,
    I don’t know you, except through some of your posts, but, after your last comment, I feel I DO know you a little, just disguised as some other people I know pretty well.

    Long ago, in a galaxie far away, my wife and I had a beautiful baby boy of our own, after almost loosing him when my wife had to have surgery in her second trimester, but we also learned that my wife could not have any other children. Since we were both only children, we wanted our son to have the joy/pain/agrivation of siblings that we missed, so we prayed for more children. When he was five, we adopted a little girl – we got her when she was 9 days old. 4 1/2 years later, we adopted another little 2 year old girl.

    The kids are all grown and out on their own now. We love them all, but it was not all sweetness and light. There were times when my wife and I were up at 2AM, wondering, with tears in our eyes, why God was punishing us. All we wanted was to raise these girls in a Christian home, but sometimes all we got was rebellion. Everybody I know who has adopted kids has gone through some tough times, and sometimes you feel like Job – like it’s not fair, like none of your good deeds are going unpunished.

    Our son is 36 now, and 3 years ago, he and his wife adopted a little boy because they couldn’t have any of their own. Our older adopted daughter is 31 and has a 2 year old little boy, and the youngest one is 26 and has a 3 1/2 year old little girl. We have a nice family and 3 great grandkids, but there were times I wouldn’t have believed we would ever get here.

    Like most families, ours is a little ragged around the edges, and we seem to be constantly patching up something here or there, but we love each other in spite of our very different beliefs and outlooks.

    I’m not sure what the point I wanted to make was except to tell you that we seldon really know what God has in mind for us, and that getting what you pray for is not always what you thought it would be.

    As for “Obstinate Faith,” I’ll have to agree with Al that sometimes I have kept my faith only because the only alternative seemed unthinkable. I’m not proud of admitting that sometime I’ve looked at faith as simply the best of a bunch of bad options, but sometimes life is like that.
    I sometimes wonder if God looks at us like I’ve looked at one or another of my children over the years – like all he can do is wait and see if we will eventually come to their senses before we do too much damage to our lives. Believe me, there’s no feeling like the one when you finally admit to yourself that you cannot help your child – that any help will have to come from somewhere else and somebody else – and all you can do is watch and pray.

    I’m sure He wants to yank us up from time to time and yell “What’s wrong with you?” but there’s that pesky “free will” thing

    Whether you are happy and healthy and well to do, or homeless, poor, and down and out, some days faith is easy, and some days it’s might nigh impossible.

    “Lord, I believe.
    Help my unbelief.”

  11. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Just a little CofC aside… I think we were referred to in Philip Yancey’s latest book!!!

    Here’s the quote:

    “Naked stylites who live on poles and ermine-draped bishops who live in palaces point to different ways of resolving the aesthetic dilemma. Today, some churches play Bach on organs more magnificent than Johann himself could have imagined. Others accompany “Awesome God” with a forty-piece orchestra. Still others ban music altogether. I once attended a wedding in which the scratchy strains of Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ came from a turntable positioned well outside the sanctuary; a long extension cord allowed them to circumvent the denominational rule against musical instruments in the church.”

    Yancey grew up in Georgia. I wonder who he could have been talking about?
    🙂

  12. Mike Exum Says:

    I’m back. You’ve had me chewing on the grissle for a few days now – on ‘obstinate faith’ that is. So here are my thoughts on why.

    The obstinate faith you reference in the book and in Abraham, as found in Romans, is God’s story of faith. It is the part of faith that is purely in God’s hands.

    In part, it is your reference to Abraham that opens up my line of thought. The diference in Abe’s story between the way it is told in Genesis and Hebrews is astounding. One would hardly know that the same man is spoken of in both accounts. By my count, Abe’s faith failed in some form or fashion every single day of his recorded life, but one (two if you make a big deal out of going without knowing where – and that seems metaphorical for the other too).

    It is the Rachel story that stumps me. And Stella’s, for that matter. In part because neither is in scripture. So there are extrabiblical dynamics at work even in the telling, not just in the hearing. As I explore it, I find myself rooting for the protagonist in each story. In Rachel’s and Stella’s, they are Rachel and Stella. In Abe’s it is God.

    God has a terrific track record of getting His way, even when risking great peril (and despite the cost to His people), if you believe His PR. Rachel and Stella don’t, but then that is not the point of life or of the world either. So at this level, I am saying there seems to be a mixing of apples and oranges, after a fashion, which clouds the question for me.

    The ‘whose story?’ observation leads me to go to Stella seeking God’s will, not hers – even when that is so costly.

    And both as an example to me and because I am a participant as her minister, I see that it impacts my life – the story I am living. I may as well make up my mind now that it won’t go the way I had aspired. Imagine Jesus taking His own dreams and ambitions for His life as more important than the life God had for Him enduring great suffering and death. And so like Abe, I go, but I don’t know where.

    Thanks for the question. I hope my exchange is meaningful.

    Blessings…

  13. Duane McCrory Says:

    Wow, so much upon which to comment, so little time.

    There is an interesting connection between this comment thread and Sandi’s post on Intelligent Design. I read the article and was noticing how in many situations, not all, evolutionism can lead to atheism. I saw some of the struggle with the belief that God, if he exists, just wound up the world and let it go, i.e. Deism, which is what many of our country’s founding fathers believed.

    The article ends with an interesting quote by Peter Lipton, a man who claims to be an atheist but also goes to synagogue and prays to God because of what he calls, “the worldly benefits” derived from religion.

    Admittedly, there certainly can be a sense of despair when looking at the world from the natural selection point of view. The savageness of nature is a problem whether from the perspective of atheism or the perspective of theism. From atheism, where is the hope for anything better? From theism, why is God not better at running things than he appears to be? If he just let it go, why did he do that knowing things would turn out so poorly?

    This is why in bringing up this issue, I knew that it inherently brings up the so-called “problem of evil.” My next post will concern this perhaps in a more direct way. It is unavoidable in the face of human suffering on any level.

    The article to which Sandi links also mentions a current view among religious academic theologians, specifically John Polkinghorne is cited, about the idea of a suffering God, a God who suffers along with his creation. I can see how the empathic God approach can be comfort to one in pain by sensing that God somehow understands, but I suspect it still leaves many questions unanswered. Why, then, if God understands suffering so well, does he not do something to alleviate it? Is it not within his power to do so? Is his only option to suffer with his creation?

    I appreciate all the personal stories because I think that is the level at which this is most troubling/disturbing, but also the most relevant. Obstinate faith does not mean much when things are going well. It is in personal crisis that we are faced with a faith crisis.

    If I have time, I’ll try to respond more personally, but I only have time to keep to generalities right now.

  14. Duane McCrory Says:

    Oh, by the way, Al, weren’t half of your 100 comments just your individual responses to other people? I could do that too!

    🙂

  15. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Actually, about 2/3.
    🙂

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