by faith and not by sight

I’ve had this song going round in my head lately, one we sing in church sometimes, I don’t remember the rest of the words, just this phrase that is repeated:

we walk by faith and not by sight.

which connects in my mind with that bit in Psalm 23 about how even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God will be there with me – that is a truth that we have to hang on to when we are walking through those difficult/painful/scary bits, even though we are not always going to see him there. we are so used to relying on our sensory perception, that even in our walk with God we tend to expect the equivalent: that we will sense his presence, hear his voice. ok, we know that actually seeing him is not something that’s likely to happen often, but hearing him speak and feeling his presence – those are things that do happen often enough and once they’ve happened to you, it’s so wonderful that you’re bound to want to experience it again. which is not a bad thing in itself, but the trouble is when we give those experiences a higher level of importance than they deserve, and we come to expect them as though we have a right to them, or as though if you don’t feel God’s presence then maybe you’re doing something wrong, maybe you aren’t filled with his Spirit, maybe you haven’t prayed the right way, maybe you haven’t created the right atmosphere, etc etc etc.

But God hasn’t promised to give us a nice warm feeling for the rest of our lives, nor has he promised that we will always see/hear/feel his presence with us – just that he will always be there. It’s up to us to hold on to his real promises even when we can’t feel his presence in any way.

I stress holding on to “his real promises” because I feel there is sometimes a tendency amongst Christians to grab a verse of Scripture out of context and claim it as a promise from God to them when actually God hasn’t given them that promise. (On the other hand, God sometimes in his sovereignty takes a verse of Scripture and gives it to someone personally, in which case I’d say of course you should hold on to it. Just don’t grab it yourself. If God said to Abraham that he will bless those who bless him, then that’s something God promised Abraham – not each and every person who puts their faith in God.) (though we may be able to find some principles that are relevant to all believers.) (goodness, that’s quite a lot of “on the other hand”s…)

end of digression, and back to my main point here: God has not promised us a life in which we will sense his presence with us all the time. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us – even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is there with us, but it’s up to us to hold on to that truth even when it’s dark and we can’t see.

and now and again it’s up to us to help fellow believers hold on to that truth – to remind them of stuff they already know. though sometimes that’s not what they need to hear, sometimes this sort of thing can come across as insensitive platitudes, so we need God’s wisdom in each situation. when someone is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, you personally may be God’s rod or his staff to comfort them – but you need to know what kind of comfort they really need just then. there are times to speak about God’s love and faithfulness and then there are times to act it out instead, by sitting with someone and listening, offering a tissue, making them a cup of tea, or as I remember a friend doing for me at a particular moment of crisis about a decade ago, bringing them jam doughnuts “for medicinal purposes” and helping clean their cooker. God’s rod and staff take some very peculiar forms sometimes :)

20 thoughts on “by faith and not by sight

  1. i often hear jeremiah 29:11 used this way. it's a promise that God is going to prosper me and not harm me, give me hope and a future. and yet, what's often ignored is the context. the people God was talking to were in exile in Babylon. and the further context is that God was telling them to settle down in Babylon. in other words, "you're not going home any time soon." so God was going to prosper them in the midst of their enemies, when they were surrounded by gentiles, having been torn away from their homeland. in other words, the promise is that God will punish us, but it will be for our good in the end. but i've never heard anyone claim the promise that way. (it was also a promise given to a specific people during a specific time, but i think it's fair to extrapolate that God would treat us the same way today. he's still going to discipline us, but it's still for our good. hebrews 12.)

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  2. yes, jeremiah 29:11 is my prime example, I have heard it misused so many times it drives me up the wall. as you say, it was a promise given to a specific people during a specific time so we can't take it as a promise for all believers – we can look at principles which may be relevant, and I think you're right that there is a pattern to be learned from the verse in context, about how God does punish us and does allow bad things to happen to us and that he can bless us in the midst of the difficult situation and that he is still in control even when it's all looking pretty awful – but mostly this verse is dangled around as one of those nice cosy promises which can mislead people into expecting a rose garden (with the flowers de-thorned).

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  3. So let me through a cat among the pigeons (and I am picking up on a thread in the comments rather than the blog itself that has raised an issue I've long dealt with). We have denominations A, B & C interpreting scripture one way and saying they are 100% correct. And we have denominations D, E & F interpreting scripture the opposite way and saying they are 100% correct. And they all say the other is wrong. Even when you keep verses "in context" you still get differing opinions on what they mean. What makes person 1 right and person 2 wrong (especially when person 2 thinks he/she is right and person 1 is wrong)? Who makes the ultimate decision to interpret one way and denounce an opposing view?

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  4. and in the meantime, fwiw here are my thoughts – which I don't think will come as a huge surprise: I don't believe any human being, or group of human beings, can be 100% certain that they're 100% right about how they're interpreting Scripture – I may (and do) feel 100% certain about some stuff but if there are other Christians who equally feel 100% certain that their interpretation is right and the two interpretations contradict one another, then how can we really know for sure? I think there are some things we aren't going to know for sure until we meet God face to face. All I personally can do is to honestly seek God about what he meant, and live with my conclusions, somehow living with the tension of sometimes being very sure I got it right but at the same time knowing that I'm a fallible human being and that I sometimes get things wrong.

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  5. At long last, here is my opinion. Hope it was worth the wait.I have long come to believe that much of Scripture is not limited to one meaning only. God is not that one-dimensional. There are parts of Scripture that have a clear interpretation and we go along riding that interpretation until one day the Holy Spirit says, “Hey, take a look at it through this lens,” and suddenly that same grouping of words takes on a whole new dimension. That new dimension does not negate or diminish the original interpretation but rather deepens it, gives it another layer, more depth. Without doubt some people go off the deep end in assuming layers in Scripture and begin to preach a doctrine that just isn't there. I have several books on my shelf that to me are clearly heretical approaches to Scripture yet in my own estimation of the question I'm not sure I'm the one to pass that judgment. I feel that ultimately it comes down to what is between the person and God. If someone sees a message of personal prosperity in a piece of Scripture that others see as a promise to Jews in exile who are we to say they are wrong in their interpretation? Perhaps God has a reason for them seeing it that way. Perhaps for those people to move on the next level God has for them they need to see that piece of Scripture that way while another person if fine with the traditional reading.All in all I feel that when it comes to interpreting Scripture and living out the Christian ideal God is far more ecumenical than most of us give Him credit for.

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  6. interesting – I don't think you and I are that far apart in our understanding of this, Michael… (I've been working on another post today going deeper into these issues – have a read and see what you think) (I've just hit publish at last)

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  7. but I do want to come back to one point in your comments here, though – you talked earlier about denominations, you used the word ecumenical in your recent comment, and I'm not sure where that stuff connects with what we're talking about here – are there denominations that claim to tell their members how to interpret verses from the Bible? like, if you're a Somethingist you have to believe that Isaiah 39:2 (plucking numbers out of thin air) means X or else you get thrown out?

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  8. Well, not so much that you get thrown out for not toeing the line but I have encountered people/denominations who will tell you that if you don't ahere to their interpretaion then you are wrong and you need to correct your thinking sometimes to the point of implying that failure to do so could point you hellbound.

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  9. well, I'm perfectly capable of telling people I think they're wrong, and so is my pastor, but as for telling people they're hell-bound – surely as long as you trust Jesus for your salvation you can be as muddled as you like about the rest of it, salvation isn't about what you know, it's about whom you know. (no, I didn't make this one up…)

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  10. oh yes, I know there are :(now that I think of it, I remember an Anglican priest who told me that if people didn't show up at church on Easter and on Christmas they were thereby excommunicating themselves. (but having said that I realise this isn't about interpreting Scripture, it's about believing what it says in the rules of regulations of his denomination.)

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  11. i think this is true. we like to put God… and other christians… into a box. you're either in the "right" box (which is where God and I are hanging out) or you're in the "wrong" box (which is where anyone who sees things differently than me are hanging out. maybe God goes and visits them once in awhile, but he prefers my box to their box. *pulls out some markers and starts to decorate her box*

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  12. this is a historical rule, isn't it? it's a way to make sure catholics in office are still anglican enough to serve in the government. … or something like that.

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  13. Pingback: Did God really say…? | Meirav's Blog Archive

  14. Pingback: Did God really say…? | Meirav's Blog

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