So now, faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love. – I Corinthians 13:13
The good news is, soon my faith will die. In fact, I can’t wait. In an age of skepticism, inner conflict, materialism, relativism, consumerism—and all the other “isms” that define things today, faith seems inadequate: “You really believe a man walked on water?” “You think a guy came back from the dead and hands out eternal life? OK, yeah, uh, whatever man.” Faith, the object of such criticism, is simply confidence or trust in God’s promises. It is not unshakable certainty as the man who said, “I believe, help my unbelief (MK 9:24)” demonstrates. Faith is God’s gift to us, produced by the Word, that gives us confidence to say, “This is true!”
But…faith also is a challenge. In a world that values reason, science, and empiricism as the litmus test for what can be objectively known, faith seems to come up short. Faith appears to be nothing more than a wish, a naïve hope, a sort of left over from ancient superstitious culture. So living by faith and not by sight can be really hard (2 Cor. 5:7). Sometimes, even as a pastor I find I can struggle with certain doubts. Pastors are often invited into others brokenness and darkness. And after awhile when you begin to see the suffering, the evil and the tragedy of thing, how common and normal it all is you can find yourself asking, “God, where are you? Why are you allowing this?” Such questions are not without good company (hint: see Psalms 10 & 22). And that’s why, because faith is challenging, I’m quite excited when the bible tells me that my faith will face a glorious, wonderful, brilliant and forever-and-ever-never-coming-back, death! My faith is going to die and this is really good news.
Crazy, you say? Bear with me. You might not know it but every Christian hopes for the day when their faith will die. Really. I promise. Faith’s death is our celebration. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is one promise of God’s you don’t want to miss. Faith’s death is our delight.
This statement may seem shocking. But that’s only because as people of faith living in a world that challenges us constantly to apostatize we are terrified of loosing our faith. That’s the one thing we don’t want. Most Christians have doubts, and that’s scary because they make us question the strength, health and authenticity of the faith we have. Behind this anxiety is the fear that our faith may be disappearing or dying-out, or that maybe our faith isn’t real or true.
Thing’s weren’t too different in Paul’s day. To the Corinthians he writes, (1:18)
"For the word of the cross is folly [i.e. stupidity] to those who are perishing [don’t believe in Jesus], but to us [Christians] who are being saved it is the power of God."
So the, “message of the cross”, The Gospel, the message we hold to be true by faith, doesn’t appeal to our natural preferences and inclinations. It is in fact, “folly.” And yet we are told that grace through faith saves us. Why does God choose folly? Why does he seemingly make it hard to believe?
Well, it is hard to believe. In fact, it’s impossible. But you know what the good news is? “What is impossible with man is possible with God”(LK 18:27).” Faith is a gift from God (EP. 2:8), not of our own doing. And we know that faith is given to us through the hearing of God’s word (Rom. 10:17). Christians who believe, believe because the Holy Spirit gifts them with the insight to see and trust the truth. This should be some comfort for doubting people. God has taken responsibility for your faith. God will, “bless and keep you”(Num. 6:24). In the meantime though, we experience our faith as weak and threatened. Yet even the smallest and weakest faith delivers saving grace (Matt. 14:30).
That is why it’s good news that faith will die and we will not be stuck with an eternally weak lifeline. And the reason faith will die is even better news. How do I know that faith will die? Why do I know that every Christian hopes for it? Again, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us see how (13:8-13):
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
You know the passage. It’s said at weddings all the time. But have you ever really thought about what it means? Paul says that love will never end. But then he goes on to list all the things that will:
-Prophecies will pass away (v. 8)
-Speaking in tongues will cease (v. 8)
-Knowledge, that is human wisdom/theology—will pass away (v. 8)
-These listed things are imperfect—they are “partial”—foretastes of something better (9)
-What we see now is tainted by blurry vision, we don’t see reality clearly (v. 12)
-But(!) one day we will see face to face and know fully v. 12)
Do you see it yet? Because we see with blurry vision now we need the gift of faith to help us see what our natural sight can’t. The eyes of faith are like glasses that clear up the foggy vision that reason, experience and science can’t envision But one day—yes, one glorious, majestic, wonderful, graceful, amazing day—we won’t need those glasses of faith because we will see face to face! Faith will die.
So now (at this present time) faith, hope and love abide (are with us). But love is greater for, “love never ends.” But everything else does. It completes its purpose. Hope dies, because our hope is realized when we see face to face. And faith dies, because we don’t need faith when we see God face to face. Isn’t that amazing?! Doesn’t it make you want to sing? One day, you and I will see God face to face. Because of what Jesus has done for us, because of the Gospel, we will see God face to face. Even Moses didn’t get that privilege (Ex. 33:20)! On that day faith will die, and hope will die, but love will remain. All because of Jesus and the “foolish” message of the cross.
In the meantime—the now—take heart! Let’s run with endurance the race set before us. And lest that sound like a call to exert your own effort in faith the verse continues, “Looking to Jesus, the founder (not of ourselves) and perfector (not of ourselves) of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).”
My faith may be shaky at times, but God is with me. And Immanuel promises that one glorious day, my faith will die.
Bruce Hillman is Lead Pastor at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church (www.hillsidelbc.org) in Succasunna New Jersey. He Holds a BA in History and Political Science from Quinnipiac University, (Hamden, CT), an MDiv. from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary (Fergus Falls, MN) and an STM in Patristics from Drew University (Madison, NJ); his research involves Augustinian studies and Early Christianity. He is former pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Henning MN. He is co-founder of Fifth Act Church Planting, having served on their board (www.fifthactchurchplanting.com) Bruce enjoys cooking, reading, all things British, exploring the world of wine, and conversations with good friends.