What Hinders Faith?

11774111985_16b3bbfe7a_mIt was Mark Twain who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Some adults hold Mark Twain’s opinion when it comes to Christian things. It is not clear whether the disbelief is from lack of understanding, disregard of evidence, or a bad religious experience at some time in the past.

There is, however, a fourth cause for unbelief which many times is the primary one, and it is moral in nature. It is an inner impulse to resist truth when the Gospel is clearly presented. Jesus faced this resistance many times.

The Apostle John tells of such a time in Jesus’ ministry when he performed many miracles. He opened eyes of the blind, healed the sick, and restored to the lame the ability to walk.

To many who were there, his miracles were obviously genuine, and witnessing them awakened faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But others who witnessed the same miracles in the same circumstances, were angered and contentious. John writes:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence they still would not believe. (John 12:37). A few words later John writes of the same people: They could not believe (Emphases added). It appears that the willful refusal of light brought darkness.

John offers the words of Isaiah as a reason for this resistant state of mind: They could not believe because, [God] has blinded their eyes / and deluded their hearts, / so they can neither see with their eyes, /nor understand with their hearts, / nor turn – and I would heal them. (Isaiah 6:10).

When we resist the Gospel, according to Isaiah, not only we but God blinds our minds. But, at the same time, he holds before us the promise to forgive and heal our blindness if we turn to him.

John reports a further reason for the defective or reserved belief of some in the crowd on that day of miracles. He writes: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (John 12:42).

This brings to mind a young couple that came to see me many years ago. He reported he had intellectual problems with the Gospel and was seeking help. He was pleasant about it but when we considered the miracles of Jesus as the Gospels report them he grew resistant. He insisted he was unable to believe in miracles.

It was not until I drew to his attention the Apostle John’s explanation for why many who saw the miracles and were convinced that day would not openly acknowledge the truth: they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

For this young man, it was as though a light had gone on. His eyes widened; this was his issue. He was brilliant in the sciences with a promising career in view. His issue with the gospel seemed to me moral and an issue of his will more than an intellectual handicap. As I remember, he was aware that to believe openly might limit success in his career.

To my knowledge, he never reversed his response. He appeared pleasant and at ease when not discussing the Christian faith, but a door had been locked in his heart.

The good news of the Gospel is this: even though there were regions in which Jesus preached only to have his message rejected, both back then and today it remains that he is the Good Shepherd, always seeking to draw sinners to himself and thus to salvation and discipleship.

That is the kind of love that ever calls us to believe.

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Photo credit: William Warby

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One thought on “What Hinders Faith?

  1. I really like the connection made,between love and belief, at the end of ‘What Hinders Faith’.

    This points me to the quality of love described by Paul in the 6th verse of he 13th chapter of his letter to the church at Corinth.

    ”Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13 : 6-7 NIV

    Love always trusts.Where we love,we trust.

    The impulse to resist truth,the willful refusal to believe what is shown is extraordinary. It warns us of a lack of trust,a lack of love.

    Jesus made the lame to walk ,the blind to see and even rose from the dead, the daughter of Jairus and later Lazarus .

    They say seeing is believing.But even when Jesus enacted miracles before their very eyes,though many believed ,still some refused to believe their own eyes. They stubbornly refused to believe.

    Yet others believed without seeing,believed with their hearts, though their eyes had not seen.

    Let us recall Our Lord’s words to Thomas, following the Resurrection.

    ‘ Then Jesus told him ,”Because you have seen me ,you have believed ; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed ” ‘ John 20: 29 NIV.

    Those who do not love,the doubters,find they CANNOT believe.

    ‘They could not believe’ John tells us.

    Many,like Thomas, doubt momentarily .But their love catches up with them and they do believe ,feeling hot shame for their momentary disbelief.
    Sadly,some persist stubbornly in their unbelief,no matter what.

    Isaiah prophesied this and John recalls this prophecy from Old Testament scripture.

    “God has blinded their eyes
    and closed their minds,
    so that their eyes would not see,
    and their minds would not understand,
    and they would not turn to me, says God,
    for me to heal them.”
    John 12: 40 Good News Bible

    John suggests that doubters, like the Pharisses, constantly question Jesus and try to chip away at His truth.

    They do this because they seek the praise of men rather than the praise of God.They love the world too much and consequently fail to love God with all their heart and strength.

    Some approach miracles too much with their cold intellect , and not enough with the warmth of their hearts.

    If we only open our hearts lovingly to our Redeemer, unlock it and let our Saviour in when He knocks upon the door to our heart – then we will find ourselves filled with His light.We will be filled with light and love and truly become alive.

    I’m reminded of the great poem by 17th century Anglican pastor George Herbert ,apty titled ‘Love’,which begins with Christ’s invitation to us .

    ”LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.” George Herbert.

    We may be unworthy of Christ’s love,guilty of dust and sin.But He has borne our blame upon Himself,paid for our sin.

    He welcomes us to walk with Him.We must do so,accept His offer and walk in light and love,reborn,drawn by Christ into salvation and discipleship.

    Our doubts will dissolve as our love for our Saviour fills us with light and trust.

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