Tangible Faith

It has been a particularly difficult past few weeks. Many realities about the fragility of life has hit home. The earthquake in Haiti, Marilyn T’s cancer/surgery, Alan’s father w/Pancreatic Cancer, John T’s dad w/cancer, and a younger brother, Justin Chang’s passing. It is in the times spent praying, and thinking of each of these people … that I have felt utterly helpless because I am unable to help them and to alleviate their pain… and it just made me incredibly sad.

As I was praying over Justin’s passing that I felt myself ask the simple question: why does God let bad things happen to good people? Although so many answers raced through my mind, my heart hurt so much, and I was at a loss to find an answer that would stop that ache in my heart. In the same day, I shared with one of my friends the sad news about Justin’s passing, and we mourned and talked about death, and struggled over how we would react when it hit so close to home. My friend shared about his struggle with his unsaved parents, and how one would react and feel towards God if our unsaved parents died. We did not have an answer because though we could reason things out… it was nigh impossible to take away the depth of anguish and pain one would feel in these circumstances. I simply did not have an answer.

The next morning, I woke up with the verse from Habakkuk 2:4 branding itself into my thoughts:

“…but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

All of a sudden, a flood of thoughts and verses started to fall into place in my mind, and I knew that God had provided an answer. This was not an answer I expected because it did not explain anything, but it simply required me to fixate my eyes upon God and have faith in Him. I spent the rest of the morning reading Habakkuk, praying and writing down what came to my mind.

My Professor at Western Seminary, Jeff Louie, taught Habakkuk this past semester during our Old Testament 3 class. Over a lecture, Prof. Louie walked us through Habakkuk and the beautiful background and realities that Habakkuk referenced, and how this pertained to the Gospel. Let me share it briefly because I think it really spoke to me during this time of sadness:

Why Habakkuk? It is because Habakkuk amidst his difficult times (due to injustice and the coming Chaldeans) was very open in his doubt to God. Despite impending doom promised by God, Habakkuk took comfort in God’s promise of preservation in Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith.” He eventually committed to God in faith even if he didn’t know what would happen. The book then ends with Habakkuk putting his faith in God with some of the most beautiful words:

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

What strikes me most in this story is the amazing faith that Habakkuk ends up happening because like Job, his only recourse is to completely trust God. To have faith that God, who is sovereign would do what He said. That was all He could live by. And here, I remembered how Prof. Louie reminded me of Hab. 2:4, and how Paul and the author of Hebrews, referenced it in their writings. Hab. 2:4 is referenced in Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; and Heb. 10:38. Each having their own purpose, but each also reminding us of one important thing! Our faith is in Jesus Christ! This is not merely a promise, but it is a fulfilled and tangible answer by God.

During a bible study this past week and in my readings for a class, I learned some things about faith. In James 1:2-4, James talks about encountering trials and how the testing of one’s faith produces steadfastness; that steadfastness has been allowed to run its course… it produces a certain result of us being perfect/complete…lacking in nothing. What I realized was that our faith is merely a hypothesis/theory until it is tested with trials and suffering. Through trials and suffering, we are forced to seek support and security in that faith like a support/handhold, and as a result, that faith becomes something tangible and real that we can rest or grab onto.

What Habakkuk had was faith, but it was a faith in something that he was not sure of. God before is an infinite God that we could not fully grasp or wrap our minds and lives around; we had to fear, love, and obey, and trust by faith like Habakkuk and Job. Our God, who is impossible to compare with because of his infiniteness (his omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) and our finiteness… had sent a tangible, physical example that we could emulate/model after through Jesus Christ.

When we read the Bible, we have someone that we can compare with in Jesus Christ, who had come to this world and experienced what we experienced. Though tempted, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died a sinner’s death upon the cross, and resurrected after three days! This ultimate expression of God’s love is comforting because we are no longer alone. God has come alongside us, and that is whom we place our faith in now. God answered us by loving and coming alongside us through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

So bringing it all back together, I shared with my friends 3 points this past Sunday:

1) It is okay to mourn.

Justin died, and he was our brother whom we hung out with, we worshipped with, played basketball with, laughed with, and ate with. It is easy to say we understand the reasons and the theology to explain death and calamities, but it is so close to our hearts, our lives! Reality overwhelms us! We are not robots/automatons, because our hearts are made of flesh and blood. We mourn the passing of our brother, who is young, just graduated out of UCSB, with a new job and a whole life ahead of him! Remember, Jesus wept in John 11… after talking to Mary and seeing the people crying over Lazarus’ death.

2) It is okay to not have an answer.

Habakkuk doubted, but that did not mean that He did not believe in God. He did not understand, and yet, God loved Habakkuk and shared a promise with Him. I don’t understand what happened, and I don’t have an answer, and I’m heartbroken and confused, but I know God does. My finite mind simply can not comprehend what God can understand in His infinite wisdom.

3) Ultimately, it is okay because of Jesus Christ.

Though I hurt and though I doubt, the words in Habakkuk 2:4 lead me to understand that our faith is not simply in something that we can not grasp, but it is in the completed, finished work of Jesus Christ! Our faith, our hope, our salvation, our handhold, our foundation is upon Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we must cling, and we must cling throughout our life. We must trust him even when we can’t understand or see what lies ahead.

Faith then ultimately is in Jesus Christ believing that God is sovereign in all things, and this is how we are to live. As an undeserving people, God has graciously given us His most precious answer in Jesus. His grace abounds and it has planted in us these seeds of faith that are not merely hypothetical, but they are tangible. They are what we can rely on, and what we need to turn to in the midst of great grief and tears.

I acknowledge that we are all at different places in our mourning for Justin and others that have passed. The chords that are struck by a person’s passing may affect us in different ways., and so it is simply my hope that in sharing this, that you would continue to trust in Jesus. I will miss Justin much, I regret not having spent more time with him, but praise God that I know he has gone home to be with our Heavenly Father. I rejoice in that, and yet am still greatly saddened. I mourn those that have died in Haiti that are unsaved, and also those of our family in Christ that have died there as well. I know that grief is there because my body is flesh and my heart feels pain… yet it is in this that I remember God’s promise that “the righteous shall live by faith.”

YOUR GRACE IS SUFFICIENT

by Martin Nystrom

As played by Shane & Shane

Your grace is sufficient for me
Your strength is made perfect
When I am weak
And all that I cling to
I lay at Your feet
Your grace is sufficient for me