Faith and wisdom
At risk of being called an alarmist, which I am not, I have been trumpeting before many others that the Coronavirus is to be taken very seriously, and that it will change our lives significantly. In the coming weeks, it will become more serious.
On March 15, we cancelled our “in-person” church service before we technically had to. Some local churches still met. I explained at that time that this was our best expression of faith, wisdom, and compassion. Faith: because we were responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom: because continuing to meet in large gatherings would put our most vulnerable at risk. Compassion: because this global pandemic could be used by God to show the world the heart of Jesus for vulnerable people.
Now, I’d like to circle back to that balance between the first two words—faith and wisdom. Wisdom tells us to wash our hands, maintain social distance, and do all the things you’ve been hearing now for weeks. Proverbs 22:3: “The prudent see danger and hides himself. The naïve proceed and pay the penalty.”
But what about faith? Should not faith lead us to sometimes defy conventional wisdom? Wisdom says, “Save money” (Pr. 6:6-11), but on one occasion, Jesus told a man to sell everything he had (Mt. 19:21). Wisdom says, “Flee from danger,” but one occasion, Jesus told Peter to walk on water (Mt. 14:29).
Wisdom is like guardrails on a winding mountain road; it keeps us on the path. But sometimes faith leads us off-road. It leads us into dangerous territory. It blazes a new trail.
So how do we know which one to follow, when the two seem to be in tension?
The answer is: the voice of God. Notice in the two examples above: it was right for the man to sell everything because Jesus told him to, and it was right for Peter to step out of the boat because Jesus told him to.
If Jesus tells you to do it, then do it—that’s faith. But if Jesus doesn’t tell you to do it—don’t do it. Even if it looks like faith because you’re boldly doing dangerous things, you might be in danger of something else, namely testing God.
Testing God means that we “put Him on the spot” to protect us from foolish behavior that He never commanded us to do. Satan told Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple—an act of bold faith?—but Jesus said He would not test God by putting Him on the spot.
I once read of a group of three girls who were endangered by a flood, and rather than running to higher ground like everyone else, they tried walking on the water like Jesus. Sadly, but predictably, they all drowned. Why—did they not have enough faith? I would say they had a lot of faith, but it wasn’t in Jesus. Jesus never told them to step out on the water, like He did for Peter. If anything, they had “faith in their faith” which was no faith at all, but rather, testing God—putting Him on the spot.
So what is God speaking to you in this hour?
Generally, I believe He’s speaking to all of us about the wisdom of hiding ourselves from danger—for our own sake, and for the sake of the vulnerable. But now let’s talk about faith.
The greatest threat to our immune system is not a viral infection, but sin. And the greatest immune-booster on the planet is not Vitamin-C, but faith.
Faith heals. Faith delivers. Faith saves. This is one of the primary messages of all the Gospels. Healthy faith knows how to heed wisdom, but faith for good health is an even greater defense than good hand-washing.
Why do you think Jesus performed so many healing miracles? He actually cares about your physical health. He has the power to heal, and not only that… 3 John 2 says, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
God doesn’t just care about healing the sick; He cares about preventing sickness!
Let’s not allow wisdom to become fear that if we don’t protect ourselves perfectly—you can’t!—we’re sure to get coronavirus. I say, “Do your best, and trust God with the rest.”
On the other hand, let’s not allow faith to become foolhardiness, rushing headlong into danger that Jesus hasn’t called us to rush into. Rather, let’s walk in friendship with Jesus, which perfectly balances the tension between faith and wisdom, between healthy faith and faith for health. In the coming days and weeks, you’ll hear of more opportunities for serving this community in a way that balances these tensions.
If the church walks in a wisdom-less “faith” or a faithless “wisdom,” I don’t believe our light will shine. But if we walk the tension through a friendship with Jesus, I believe people will repeat the words said during a different plague (quoted by a 4th century pastor named Eusubius): that the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians.”