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Faith and magic
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Faith and Magic
I’m assuming everyone that’s reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that that. (Heb. 11:6) All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him. This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means. But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.
Now, on the face of it, this claim that ‘faith is not magic’ seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning. But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God. I’ve known some who conduct their affairs as though God’s Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example. The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and ‘poof’ whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say. Of course, if it doesn’t, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more. It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He were a genie in a bottle. And that’s the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.
Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market. Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed ( it is ours, after all) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we ‘have enough’ faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is ‘bigger’ than someone else’s. I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that ‘size’ (read quantity) doesn’t matter as much as using what we have.
Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living. By this I mean reducing faith to a list of “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life’s way and never allowing the ‘such and such’ to actually change the way we live and think in our day to day affairs. Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula’s right, God should respond favorably to our requests. Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.
I must point out that there is what might be regarded as a common faith that is part of our experience as human beings because of our limited knowledge and shortsightedness. We believe everyday, for example, and really without any evidence other than it happened yesterday, the day before and so on, that the sun will rise, that the world will still be here and that we will be alive to see it all. We don’t stop and check to see if we have enough faith to really believe this but just go about our business. The obvious difference between this kind of faith and Biblical faith (the one with which we are concerned) is the object towards which it is exercised; i.e. the former is part of our nature, directed towards the natural world and our own concerns while the latter is a gift directed towards God and has to do with the supernatural world. The point is that if faith is not an unusual part of everyday life in the natural world, and certainly not magic, how much more like the air we breathe should faith be in our walk with God?
Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him. Anything else, including faith so called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends.
So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done. Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but even the natural kind of faith I mentioned earlier, the kind we share with all human beings, will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost ‘magical’!
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