Reckless Faith: Pursuing God at Any Cost
During my final year at Middlebury, I was asked by Professor Gebarowski-Shafer to give a brief presentation on Pentecostalism in Korea and hold a question and answer session for her Global Pentecostalism class. My talk was centered on Korean megachurches and the recent controversy over financial corruption and pastoral misconduct. The discussion soon turned to the prosperity gospel, the view that a Christian will be blessed with material wealth, health, and prosperity due to one’s faith. I had taken Professor Gebarowski-Shafer’s class during my sophomore year and knew that the prosperity gospel was a major topic, so I had prepared to talk about what it looked like in Korea and how many of its followers did not take their faith seriously, only treating it as a means to obtain the things they desired. However, I did not expect someone to ask me to define what a sincere faith was if the faith of the followers of the prosperity gospel must be viewed with skepticism. I gave an answer to the best of my abilities, but I don’t think it completely conveyed my view on the authenticity of someone’s faith. Given that the topic for this journal issue relates to the meaning of faith, I find this occasion to be a great opportunity to give a full explanation of my thoughts on genuine faith.
The best place to start in our attempt to define faith, or any theological concept for that matter, is the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 gives the most direct definition of faith by saying it “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Through faith, we “understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” In other words, faith consists of having an absolute trust not only in the existence of God, but also in the fact that God, being the creator of the universe, is the ruler of all things in it.
This kind of faith does not simply stop at assuring us of an afterlife so that we may escape the fear of death. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that faith made it possible for Abraham to offer up Isaac to God, for Moses to stand up against the Pharaoh for his people, and for the walls of Jericho to fall down not by human means of battle and war. Faith, therefore, leads to a radical transformation of oneself to risk all safety and comfort for the sake of obedience to God, and herein lies the greatest flaw of the prosperity gospel. If faith indeed promises only worldly blessings, how then can the persecution and death of the great men of faith in the early church like Peter and Paul be explained? How then can the death of Jim Elliot, who was killed before he could even preach a word of the gospel with four other missionaries in Ecuador be justified? The biblical understanding of faith is able to account for these stories because a sincere faith accepts God as the ruler of this world and is thus sovereign even over suffering. The gospel is the ultimate expression of this sovereignty. All pain pales in comparison to the glorious victory that God has granted to mankind through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ, which led to the defeat of humanity’s greatest foes, sin and death. God is the God of restoration and redemption, and he is more precious than my career, grades, family, and friends.
It is also what allows for me to agree with Paul and say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Through faith, I am able to recognize who indeed created and rules this world with justice, love, and mercy, and it makes no logical sense for me to abandon him and not follow him, whatever the cost may be.Tags: faith, Jim Elliot, Korea, Pentecostalism, prosperity gospel, suffering