In her collection of short stories entitled, "Winter Tales", Isak Dinesen tells a haunting story of a young man who became a rich and famous author early in life. Like most people to whom wealth and fame happen unexpectedly, he developed significant problems. His newly acquired wealth and fame caused problems in every area of his life.
He had written out of poverty about poverty, and now he was rich and estranged from the condition and the people that had given him his first book. He was estranged from his wife, God and even himself. He wandered all night in Amsterdam, trying to sort things out. He decided he could never write again, and gave away the manuscript of his new book. The more his mind wondered, the more it brought home fresh material for suffering.
At the end of his "Dark Night of the Soul", in which he had considered many things, including suicide, he has a strange conversation with God. God assures him that he wants him to write again, "...not for the public or for the critics, but for ME," said God. "Can I be certain of that?" the young man asks. "Not always", said the Lord. "You will not be certain of it at all times. But I tell you now that it is so. You will have to hold on to that".
I saw a lot of people I know in that story, including myself. We want certainty when faith is the only thing available for us. We are afraid of those long dry spells when God does not come by daily, monthly, or periodically to tell us again what God has already told us. Like children, we remember the promise but we want to hear it again. It was to people of this frame of mind that Jesus said, "O ye of little faith".
Perhaps one of the most reliable characteristics of a mature faith is: How long can we hold on to the reality of something without having to see it or hear it again. When I was a child, my father would give me a nickel to put in the offering at Sunday School each Sunday. During the two mile walk to church, I would take that nickel out of my pocket a dozen times and look at it to be sure it was still there, or I would reach my hand in my pocket to touch it to make sure it was still there.
Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, used to plague Johnson for reassurance of his love and esteem. On one of these nagging occasions Johnson said to Boswell, "Take out your note book and write it down. You are held in my highest esteem. That, sir, remains true until I tell you to erase what you have written".
If God has not come by lately to renew the covenant made with you earlier, remember what God once said, and take courage that it has not been retracted. Neither God, nor the people who love you, are going to come by each day and renew the promise and pledge once made. It is your responsibility to hold on to the promise. The ability to hold on to it is the substance of faith.
How are you doing?
by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church