We Americans live in an interesting culture. It is culturally acceptable in America to say nice-sounding words without defining our terms. I recently was reminded of this reality as I watched the (amazing) movie Cowboys And Aliens. In one scene, a preacher is helping a bartender learn how to shoot a rifle. As the bartender vents in frustration, the preacher calmly tells the bartender to “just have faith.” This advice seemed to help the bartender, but it made absolutely no sense. Francis Schaeffer calls this semantic mysticism. People like to use words that have religious connotations, but are devoid of any real meaning.
The two biggest words that get misused in our culture are “god” and “faith.” Most Americans who talk about God are either misinformed or uninformed, mainly because they have not gone to the source of information about God, the Bible. As the book Almost Christian notes, many Americans really believe in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism rather than Christianity. It’s very palatable, uses nice-sounding words, and centers around the individual rather than God (sounds pretty ‘Murican). Moralistic Therapeutic Deists don’t need to regularly read the Bible, because they don’t regularly need God. As a result, the god they say they believe in is really just who they would want God to be. They essentially say, “I don’t care who God says He is in the Bible; this is who I want Him to be.” And in the American culture, this attitude is completely acceptable.
The problem is that it’s completely false.
The other word that is misused in America is “faith.” As I watched that scene in Cowboys and Aliens, the big, obvious question I had for the preacher was “Have faith in what?” Faith doesn’t stand alone; it requires an object or source. When I want to wake up at 4:35 AM for work, I don’t tell myself, “Just have faith.” I set my alarm clock. I trust that my alarm clock will wake me up; I have faith in my alarm clock. Similarly, I have faith in God’s character and promises as shown in the Bible, not just some nebulous, meaningless faith. Francis Schaeffer comments on this modern view of faith in his book The God who is There:
Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward…This position, I would suggest, is actually a greater despair and darkness than the position of those modern men who commit suicide. (84-85)
This sort of meaningless faith can survive when life is going well. But when hardship comes (not “if” it comes), trite, nice-sounding, meaningless phrases will not suffice. Our sources of faith are tested when troubles arise in life. For many Americans, the storms of life will show that their faith is false because it has no source. But Christians have a real and steadfast source of faith. They trust in God’s character and promises, which can be known through the Bible. They don’t “just have faith”; they have faith in God. I’ll close with Jeremiah 17:7-8 (see also Psalm 1), which I hope will be an encouragement for fellow followers of Jesus who are currently facing hardships:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.