‘Faith is a living power from heaven
that grasps the promise God has given,
a trust that can’t be overthrown,
fixed heartily on Christ alone.’
‘Der Glaub ist ein lebendge Kraft’
Petrus Herbert c1530-71, Lutheran Hymnal 321
Writing five centuries ago in another age, with all the differences in language and culture that means, Petrus Herbert nails it when he describes Christian faith. Insights such as his, so often expressed in the old hymns, are a good reason we shouldn’t be too quick to discard our hymnals.
While musical tastes have changed, the words of the old hymns are often spot on because they are steeped in the accumulated wisdom of the centuries.
We commonly use the word ‘faith’ interchangeably with ‘belief’. Belief, however, is one thing, faith is another. I can believe something without having faith. For instance, my belief that democracy is the best form of government is based on my background, education and experiences. But that’s not the same as faith.
Faith, as Herbert writes, is a ‘trust that cannot be overthrown’. It comes from beyond, as a ‘living power from heaven’. Faith is a relationship of trust that is initiated by God. I can’t have it any other way, however much I expand my store of knowledge and experience.
The main ‘thing’ I know through faith is a person: God’s Son, Jesus Christ, my Saviour.
Herbert outlines three qualities of faith: it hangs on to God’s promise, it is an unshakeable trust and, above all, it focuses solely on Christ. Promise, trust and Christ alone – these are major themes of the Bible. As a gift, faith teaches us to look to the Giver of the gift. In other words, faith helps us look beyond ourselves. In this age when people search inside themselves for the meaning of life, in the end they come up empty.
Faith does the opposite: it looks beyond us with the certainty that God keeps his promises. So faith looks to forgiveness, healing and wholeness. It anticipates the restoration of everything God means us to be and to do. It fills our lives with meaning because we are not alone and because we know that we are loved.
At the same time faith is not irrational or blind. It is utterly realistic about the world in which we live and our part in it, both good and bad.
Faith enables us to face all our problems, deal with the issues and survive – and better than just survive, it teaches us to flourish. That’s because of God’s love. Every day, faith breaks out as an entirely new, hopeful way of living that connects us to an inexhaustible source of life.
This issue of The Lutheran talks about sharing our faith. We can easily do that, because it comes from God and there is more than enough to share.
I encourage you, every day and every week, to go back to the source of your faith. God speaks to you in his word and strengthens you through his sacrament. All across the church, may God fix our hearts on Christ alone, so that we will ‘grasp the promise God has given’ and draw down freely on this ‘living power from heaven’.