I’m posting the first chapter of my book THE MYSTERY OF FAITH, because, yes, I would like you to read the whole book and accept the challenge to solve the mystery yourself! In this excerpt, you can at least see what had me intrigued with the question.
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OPENING THE CASE: WHAT DID JESUS SEE?
The idea of “faith” has been a mystery to me. So I decided to tackle the subject like a detective story. I am pulling out my magnifying glass and opening the case files!
The main puzzle for me is all those times in the Bible where Jesus would exclaim, “You have great faith!” Other times he said things like, “Your faith has made you well,” or “Your faith has saved you.” What did he see?
I felt like Dr. Watson, the friend of Sherlock Holmes. Watson would go on cases with Sherlock and remain befuddled while the great detective would take one look and know exactly what was going on. Sherlock would rebuke his friend, saying, “You see but you do not observe.”
But our situation is even more complicated than that.
I love mystery stories where the detective never even visits the scene of the crime. He depends soleIy on the descriptions provided by other witnesses. Then he interprets the facts, connects the dots, and solves the case. Nero Wolfe was famous for staying at home with his orchids while his assistant, Archie Goodwin, did all the leg work and reported back to him. In the 21st century, all of us are in Nero Wolfe’s position. All we have are the eyewitness reports of the disciples and Scripture. Could I solve this mystery of faith at second-hand, with only such case files?
Let’s say that the disciples of Jesus were a bunch of “Archies” or “Dr. Watsons.” I believe they were giving us accurate descriptions of the ministry of Jesus but they did not completely understand all that they saw. I read their stories and ask myself, “Is there enough here to understand what Jesus could see when he talked about someone having ‘faith’?”
Jesus clearly expected that these witnesses would share their stories accurately and clearly enough that we could rely on them.
So I will.
I have concluded that Paul provides some significant help for any detective taking up this case. He was not present to hear Jesus making those statements about faith. But the brilliant rabbi was able to understand the things that eluded the fishermen disciples who were the actual eyewitnesses. His insights provided a key I was able to use to begin to unlock this mystery.
It seems strange that we could see something and still not understand what we are seeing. But I have enjoyed many jokes that are based on this fact. One is about two musicians walking down the street and passing a big church. As they go by, way up at the top of the church steeple the old church bell breaks loose and crashes to the ground behind them with a clang.
“What was that!?” one musician shouts, badly startled.
His friend replies, “F-sharp.”
Maybe I need to explain that joke? But let me tell another one first. This was actually a cartoon showing a couple sitting in church singing from the hymnal. They’re also whispering to each other. “What’s with this place? They only sing two songs! Joy to the World and Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” The friend replies, “Maybe I would show up more than twice a year if there was more variety….”
I love jokes like these where the gag is about missing the point. I get to feel smart if I get the joke without an explanation. It is so easy for us to be distracted or too narrowly focused in our situation. When a bell hits the ground would your first question be about what the musical note is? Would you assume you knew all about a church if you only showed up at Christmas and Easter? Is it really possible that we can miss the point so easily? (I’ll raise my hand here. Just call me Dr. Watson.)
There is one further consideration that is also well-illustrated in a joke.
Two snowmen are standing in a raging blizzard leaving them with zero visibility. One snowman suddenly becomes alert. “There’s something out there!” he cries.
His companion asks, “What is it?”
The first snowman replies, “I don’t know. But it smells like carrots!”
I would imagine it’s hard for a snowman to smell anything BUT carrots, given the usual design features of his face.
I am in a similar spot. I am so accustomed to experiencing life through my own natural senses and perceptions, I may not stop to think there could be other channels of information I should explore.
I think this is why I struggled to understand the idea of faith. I don’t know why else I had such a hard time grasping what people in the Bible were talking about when the subject came up. I had an idea what the facts should be. That made me miss what the facts really were. And I overlooked other significant clues that would have pointed me toward a realization of a reality invisible to my natural senses.
Jesus often commented on the faith of his followers. He often seemed to agree they did have some, or something, that he recognized as faith. He just called it weak. He seems to say you don’t really need all that much to be able to see amazing results, like moving mountains.
I noticed that sometimes Jesus said that a person’s faith was weak and at other times he said it was little. I always assumed weak faith was the same as little faith. Maybe there is actually a difference?
I grew up in church and I’ve heard plenty of talk about faith. Or, at least, I would hear the word used a lot. I don’t think I used the word too much, myself. I became cautious about tossing the word around as if I understood what I was talking about. I was starting to realize I didn’t, really.
But there is no way to ignore the subject. Sooner or later, if we are going to be shaped by “the Christian faith,” we must settle on the definitions of it.
So, what is faith? The Bible calls it a substance. Paul says it abides forever. Jesus saw it in people and could determine whether it was great or small.
What did he see? Was it something visible only to him? If I can’t please God without it, I would like to have some way to help me recognize if my supply is running down. How would I measure my own faith?
Yes, faith is “belief.” But it was hard for me to grasp why my “belief” in Jesus would be considered a “substance.” A rock has substance. A hamburger has substance. Is faith supposed to have “substance” like these things?
The Bible says faith is “evidence.” I enjoyed reading detective stories where there was always lots of talk about evidence. Yet it was hard for me to think of my “belief” as “evidence” like that. It was really just my opinion, wasn’t it? The distraught father had cried out to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” It seemed like for him “belief” WAS faith, but also NOT.
It was a mystery to me.
So finally I decided to take the case and do the detective work. In this book I am laying out my solution.
But where shall we begin? Our wise friend Mr. Murphy has noticed that you can never do anything until you do something else first! I think it will be helpful to discuss some definitions and foundational reference points before I get down to a closer, analytical examination of this mystery about faith. So I will first review what we could call “The Case of the Curious Trinity” – the matter of two other companion principles that often seem to keep close company with faith.
Sherlock himself tugs at our sleeve.
“Come, Watson! The game is afoot!”
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case file book free as an audiobook and I’ll read the whole thing to you.