July 22, 2018

When I was twenty-two, I had Hebrews 11:1 tattooed on my back. It was the first verse I’d ever underlined in my Bible. I called it my “life verse,” even though, at the time, I don’t think I understood what that phrase meant. In fact, I’m sure I underlined the verse because I didn’t understand it either. But I wanted to. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That’s how it reads in the NIV translation of the Bible I’ve had since I was nine, the Bible I still use in my morning devotionals, the Bible that now has countless verses underlined and is literally falling apart at the seams. In King James, the verse reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Neither of these was particularly clear to me, but both held something precious enough I deemed it worth tattooing on my body. Both held a truth I wanted to grab hold of, enter into, understand. Last year, I added to the tattoo: a butterfly and an array of cherry blossoms. Two things I love for how they remind me of the way God moves in nature. How He works through process. How things that seem to have died can be brought to life again. I was pressing closer to the truth of this verse, that it has something to do with believing in God’s sovereignty and being certain that the only way life can be birthed out of seasonal and cyclical death is by the breath of God. But I was still missing a component. Today in church, my pastor quoted Calvin, who said, “Faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us.” I have always had trouble believing in the goodness of God, not because my life has been an endless torment, but because, to me, it’s seemed safer to believe in the certainty of the bad than the possibility of the good. But worshipping a God who isn’t good to us is madness, at best. We can bow down and serve an angry God out of fear, but worship means surrender, adoration, devotion. It means love. And faith, in turn, means, not only knowing, but trusting the One in whom we believe. It doesn’t mean strong-arming ourselves into the false notion that life will be nothing but butterflies and flowers. It does mean remembering that “the ultimate law,” as C.S. Lewis calls it, always has the last word. That God’s design in everything is for His glory and our good, and even when things don’t go the way we want them to, or when tragedy rages in, or when we flail in confusion, or when we screw up, He still loves us and is for us and will redeem us. This is the ultimate law. Caterpillars morph into butterflies. Flowers break out of bare branches. Faith is being certain of the goodness of God.

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