Follow the Clues

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A few years ago, as the workplace pastor for a faith-friendly healthcare organization, I visited one of the office work teams.

I was holding something in my left hand, which was tightly closed. 

“So what do you think I’m holding right now?  Anybody want to take a guess?”  There were lots of guesses.  A coin.  A marble.  An acorn.  I asked if any of those who had made a guess were willing to bet their next housing payment that they had guessed right.  Nobody put up their hand. 

I explained that faith is commonly assumed to be little more than a wild guess about the nature of reality.  Sigmund Freud popularized the idea that faith is what helps fragile, fearful people get through hard times.  Perhaps we had a strained relationship with our earthly father.  Or we miss him terribly.  So we’ll just imagine a Father in heaven who will never leave us or disappoint us, and we’ll feel better about things.  Such wishful thinking, said Freud, is just a shot in the dark.

I asked the team, “What if I told you that I have a regulation-size basketball in my left hand?”   

That, of course, was impossible.  Archie Bunker famously defined faith as “believing what you know can’t possibly be true except that it’s in the Bible.”  Faith, in other words, is rubbish – believing implausible stories that defy the laws of physics that concern people who have been dead for two millennia. 

I then asked, “What if I told you that I’m holding a plastic Chicken McNugget from a McDonald’s Happy Meal?  Would any of you bet your next housing payment on that?”  There were a few smiles, but no takers. 

I changed my strategy.  “OK, no more guesses, and no more playing around.  Here’s the story: I really am holding a plastic Chicken McNugget from a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  It fits snugly in my left hand.  I’m the workplace pastor and most of you trust me.  Who has faith that I’m telling the truth?” 

A few people tentatively raised their hands.  I suppose the fact that I had told a few tall tales in the past caused everyone else to hesitate. 

I explained that believing in what I was holding in my left hand was now no longer sheer guesswork.  It wasn’t a leap in the dark.  Nor was it implausible.  It really came down to whether they trusted me.  Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “confidence in what we hope for, and assurance concerning what we do not see.”  Faith always involves some degree of not-seeing.  It’s a decision we have to make without having all the information we’d like.

The question then becomes: Is our trust well-placed?

I then said rather dramatically, “Watch me destroy your faith.”  I opened my hand.  I was holding a plastic Chicken McNugget from a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  “Now you don’t need faith anymore.  The identity of what I’m holding has become knowledge.  Now you can see.”

The great drama of the Jesus-following life is that we must surrender ourselves to a God we cannot see.  

So what does God ask of us?

God asks us to trust him, even without all the information we wish we had.  Faith is the will to believe – the decision to follow the best light available.  We cannot see everything we want to see – certainly not when we’re being pounded by waves of suffering, loss, and uncertainty. 

But God always provides clues.  Our call is to follow those clues and not give up.   

God leaves room for us to take steps of faith in the direction the clues are pointing.  As we do so, our trust grows.  And we gradually learn that our trust is well-placed. 

You can do a hundred Bible studies on Jesus’ assurance that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”  But how will you ever find out if that’s true?  You’ll have to give it a shot.  Choose to be generous.  Find out for yourself.

The key component is found in Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

God does reveal himself.  He reveals himself to those who want to find out if he’s really there, and what kind of God he really is.   

As the late philosopher Dallas Willard observed, “The issue is, what do we want?  The Bible says that if you seek God with all your heart, then you will surely find him.  Surely find him.  It’s the person who wants to know God that God reveals himself to.  And if a person doesn’t want to know God – well, God has created the world and the human mind in such a way that he doesn’t have to… God ordained that people should be governed in the end by what they want.” 

What do you want – evidence that God is who he says he is?  Or are you holding out for reassurance that God probably isn’t there and will never bother you again?

If you want God, you can find him.

Just follow the clues.