I’m a writer. I really like metaphors. I especially love the way God uses metaphors to explain things He wants us to learn.
That being said, some metaphors tend to rub me the wrong way. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, just that I feel they are skewed in relation to my current perspective of my own life. For example, let’s look at faith.
Most images related to faith have to do with jumping off of things or over things. Here, we see a cute little cartoon depicting a classic iteration of this metaphor: the diving board. This little girl is presumably terrified to jump off this high dive. Which is completely fair––I’d be terrified of jumping from above the clouds, too.
This image makes sense. Faith is scary and takes a big step. But then we start to stretch the idea. To be honest, I don’t understand what about the following image is supposed to evoke faith. I guess it’s still diving and all, but that doesn’t really look like an action that requires much faith.
Once we’ve removed the concept of difficulty or discomfort from faith, we start to make it look super easy, fun, and happy. What exactly is this young man showing faith in by jumping off the dock?
Or we can leave the water behind and move on to the second type of jump: over a friendly little gap between two rocks. Wow! How could he ever make that jump without faith (or a running start)?
The first reason these last few pictures bother me has nothing to do with the meaning or even really the words: yes, make the jump, dive in, go for it. What bothers me is that they take the jump/leap/step of faith and reduce it to something that seems simple and easy. Like hey, jump into that friendly-looking body of water, or jump from the rock you’re standing on to that slightly farther away rock you’re staring directly at.
Like this silhouetted person, who judging by her leg span could have just about walked over the gap instead of jumping at all:
Ok, ok, we get it.
One more for kicks and giggles:
Here’s the second reason these bother me so much. They make it seem like one leap is all that faith takes. And maybe for some decisions, that is what faith looks like. I get that. But a lot of the time, faith is a much longer, slower process. I think it’s dangerous for us to get the idea that faith is always some sort of big, single action that will be over in a few seconds and result in us having fun in a lake with our friends.
Let’s look at Abraham as an example. I love to compare what we’re doing with Move to what Abraham did, based on Hebrews 11:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
That is so cool. God told Abe to go, and he jumped on his camel and left without any destination in mind, trusting God would show him later. Inspirational. Boom. Cool story.
But that’s not the whole story. It’s just the beginning. That’s Genesis 12, where God tells him:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. … So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”
Wow, he’s 75. Fast-forward to chapter 21, Abraham’s now 100 years old and still waiting to have a legitimate son. God promised him to be a great nation, and after 25 years of wandering around he doesn’t even have a son yet. And a lot of things happened within those 25 years: God made a lot more promises, Abe got impatient and had a kid with his wife’s maid, and God destroyed a couple cities. All that time, Abraham is still going out, still wandering around, still waiting for God to come through on the things He promised. Still walking by faith.
And that’s just it: that first day when Abraham left was not why he became an example of faith. It was all the time after that day when he continued to obey God’s call, even without being able to see the other side of the promises. If you want to call his faith a diving board, then it’s a diving board he jumped off of every single day for 25 years.
Here’s one more picture that bothers me:
Well, sure, that’s a start. What about after that step? What if you still can’t see the whole thing? The next step’s going to take faith, too. And the next. And the next.
Faith is taking every single step that follows without being able to see the one in front of it. Even if the staircase takes 25 years to climb.
The staircase for me this week is the United States legal system. I’m finding that there are all kinds of websites that tell you the steps for starting a non-profit. Some of those sites are nice enough to go past the pretty-sounding concepts and tell you the actual forms you need to create and fill out and fees you need to pay. If you dig deep enough, some of those sites will even give you samples of your Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws and Whodunits. Then you get to read through the document and realize you have no idea what half of the questions even mean, much less how to answer them. Every new thing I learn uncovers an avalanche of things I don’t know.
So I’m finding that the moment back in January when I decided, “Yeah, I think I’ll try doing that with my life,” is much less an example of faith than waking up every morning and deciding to keep going. Chipping away at our ever-growing to-do list and reading IRS publications about the fuzzy distinctions between related and unrelated business income really doesn’t feel much like jumping off a diving board.
I find encouragement in Hebrews 6:
“For God is not so unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherited the promises. For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”
This is how we’re doing our best to live out our faith: We’re living at home, or in my case Grandma’s, and avoiding regular job offers. We’re keeping ourselves in a makeshift office from 9-5 every day without any promise of pay. We’re spending the first hour of every work day in prayer, because we know we’d be nowhere without God’s provision and direction. We’re meeting as much as we can with people who know more than we do. We’re spending hours staring at articles and computer code and telling ourselves all the while, “this is worth it.”
And let’s face it: your journey of faith may not be about venturing into distant lands or blazing new trails. Your journey might involve continuing to teach a classroom of bratty little kids every day, or typing numbers into an accounting spreadsheet, or pouring coffee for annoying white people at Starbucks. And that’s great. Chances are, diving boards and rock jumping probably don’t have a lot of meaning to you either.
So maybe it’s true for some things, or a lot of things, or even most things, that faith is a big leap. But for the most part, it seems to me that faith is a lot more like climbing up mountains than jumping off them.
If I put an image to faith, it would be something more like this one:
No lake, no beach, no sunset. Just a long, rocky road into a foggy land. It looks uncomfortable and a little scary. But there’s something wild about it that I find incredibly inviting.
Whatever your journey, I hope you have the faith to keep walking.