Faith in Immanuel, “God With Us”

“Jo, don’t worry about faith.”

Uttered by a friend two years ago, these words still bring back memories of that traumatic time which compelled me to respond with faith. Instead I struggled with despair, doubt and helplessness.  They also still remind me of the gratitude and relief that suffused my soul because I believed that the Lover of my soul, who alone knew the doubts I held in secrecy, chose to tell me: “My daughter, hush. Don’t worry about faith right now.”  For much of that time, the only prayers I could summon from weakness and exhaustion—physical, emotional and spiritual—were: “Lord, have mercy on us and help me in my unbelief.”  Then I remembered 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” Ironically, that experience made way to faith, if only for that traumatic period.

Faith.  What does it mean in the first place?  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a belief and trust and loyalty to God; a firm belief even in the absence of proof; and complete confidence.  I like the Wikibooks description: “It is the connecting power into the spiritual realm, which links us with God and makes Him become a tangible reality to the sense perceptions of a person.” The author of the book of Hebrews had a short definition: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I wonder now if entrenched in my personhood is the easiness of doubt, the effortlessness of distrust, the naturalness of skepticism.  But I need to remember that also ingrained in my being is the capacity to choose faith, the ability to trust God’s heart, and the power to conquer doubt. More so is the truth that the Holy Spirit resides in a believer’s heart.  In His faithfulness, He will always lead me back to faith.  It will seem on the surface that faith and doubt cancel out each other.  Yet, ultimately, God’s faithfulness prevails over my distrust.  His love for me triumphs over my skepticism.

Let me go back to the beginning of this article.  One early morning two years ago, my fit and healthy husband became paralyzed from the neck down.  For several weeks, medical specialists could not diagnose the cause.  One night, a friend visited Steinar.  She brought along two women who prayed, in pure earnestness and declaration of deep faith, for healing for Steinar.  I don’t know how long they took turns in praying, but it felt like forever. I thought that they would not stop until God chose to heal Steinar so he can get up from lying down, stand and walk.

Those didn’t happen that night and it would take weeks for those to happen. Our kindhearted God chose to heal him through medical intervention, physical therapy and sheer will to conquer his paralysis.  And we can’t stop being beyond grateful.

However, during that night and the following weeks, my soul trembled at the thought that the Lord was waiting for me to possess and declare my faith that He would grant us a miracle.  Still Steinar’s paralysis still ruled our lives.  I was so afraid that Steinar would not be able to walk and lead a normal life again because I lacked the faith to believe God’s miraculous healing. Even if my life depended on faith, I couldn’t produce it.

I kept my fears to myself.  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be honest; it was just that my days and nights revolved around caring for Steinar in the hospital.  There was hardly any time to sit with a friend and confess my unbelief.  I was exhausted all the time.  It seemed like there was always something to do, every second, every minute.

One morning, I received a long email from a friend.  I don’t think I even read the entire email, because in bold capital letters, she wrote: “DON’T WORRY ABOUT FAITH.”  She didn’t know about my fears.  Not a single soul knew—not even Steinar.   Only the Lord knew.  And I’d like to believe that those words came from the heart of God, who wanted to assure me: “Don’t worry about faith. It’s not your faith that makes me faithful to you.  I can’t help being faithful to you, because that is who I am. I am with you.”

God was with us.  God is with us now.  Yes, there are times when we experience painful circumstances which could lead us to doubt, but we can also bring our broken hearts to the God who is with us.

During this Advent, we remember the birth of Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  He invites all of us to an intimate relationship with Him.  And the beauty of this relationship which He offers is this: it holds enough space for fear, doubt, panic, disappointment along with joy, faith, serenity, gratitude. Those emotions that we try to avoid, that we wish didn’t reside in our souls, pose no threat to the covenant bond we share with Him. They do not possess the power to make Him give up His commitment to us. In fact, He welcomes our honesty and vulnerability. They don’t make Him withhold His delight of us. He doesn’t say: “Come back to Me when you have the right emotions and beliefs.  Come back when you’ve produced enough faith to please me.”

Christmas is really the most wonderful time of the year, for a variety of reasons.  More than anything, it reminds me to rejoice that Immanuel came down from heaven because He wants us to know God is with us.  My faith knows that to be true.

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