SECOND HAND FAITH
5th March 2017
There seems to be a hand-me-down system operating in our house now e.g. a piece of technology which I upgrade gets handed down to Claudette and eventually the boys; clothing from Joshua lands in Jason’s part of the wardrobe, etc. This means that the person at the ‘bottom’ of the pyramid is not the original owner, just an unfortunate inheritor.
Something similar tends to happen in the spiritual world, in particular with our faith. While it is a necessary part of the growing up process for a parent to hand-down their faith to their children, this should only happen up to a point. A time will come when a person will need to do their own thinking and own their experience with God, because, secondhand faith doesn’t cut it. A 2nd faith doesn’t connect one directly with God – it just imitates someone else’s faith.
At face value, this is very appealing, because it appears that one has a formula worked out and just follows it mechanically. This is desirable because it is in our nature to control the world around us – it gives us as sense of peace knowing that B follows A and C follows B; it is reassuring to know that if you apply formula 1 + 1, it will always equal 2. The reality is that God is not a formula to learn, or a set of steps to take, which will always guarantee the same result. There is so much more to God than this and the saints of old will all tell us that a faith journey moves from a 2nd hand faith handed down from our parents, more and more to an original, authentic, and most times unpredictable experience. Such a 1st hand experience is tailor made for us, and depends on our own engagement with God. It is the uncertainty of having to work it out for ourselves, however, which scares us from abandoning the hand-me-down faith and developing our own one.
This reticence is understandable not only because it demands that we let go of the certainty of our parents’ faith, but also because, from reading the Bible we know that the older and more experienced a Bible character became, the greater the tests were and the more silent God grew. The more mature faith, the bigger the questions and doubts. And yet, those who were commended in the Scriptures, were the ones that accepted to trust in the face of uncertainty – even when it made no sense, it contradicted the formulas used before, and life was completely out of control. Perhaps this is an overt invitation from God to surrender completely to the One who far transcends our efforts to manage and control our faith, our practice and our interaction with others. Even though we have less apparent control and knowledge, the One we are in a relationship with, is able to prevent us from falling.
This has serious implications in the way we view and practice our faith, the way in which we view and assess other people, and the way we share our faith with others.
Here are two examples: one of 2nd hand faith and one of mature faith:
This is what happens when we try to use a formula without the personal knowledge of God (personal, as in, based on MY OWN discovery of God). In Acts 19:13-16 some Jewish exorcists who were not true believers in Jesus tried to cast out a demon using His name. They said, "I command you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The evil spirit answered, “Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?”. The demon knew their faith wasn’t genuine but was an imitation. These exorcists saw Paul casting out demons so they copied the words he used. Taking someone else’s faith \ knowledge \ experience and substituting it for ours is a poor attempt at a faith life. It lives us disconnected from God and others, while living under the wrong impression that we are doing the right thing, and Jesus had some severe words to say about this at the end of Matthew 25.
A 2nd example of what 1st hand faith looks like is illustrated by Jesus’ discussion with His disciples: Jesus’ question was a personal one “Who do people say that I am?” Be honest and try to answer this question for yourself. The disciples indicated 2nd hand faith in their original answer: “Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14). But Jesus pushed them further by asking: “But who do YOU say that I am?” He is challenging them to own faith.
The choices available are simple: genuine vs. 2nd hand faith; connected vs. disconnected with God; reflectors of other people’s thoughts vs. thinkers for ourselves. And while hand-me-downs are reasonable up to a point, 2nd hand faith doesn’t cut it with God – at least not for long and definitely not for mature Christians. And while it is risky to relinquish all control to God, anything else, amounts to rebellion, and we all know how well that ended.