A Lack of Faith May Not Be Our Biggest Problem

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, circa 1601When I was a kid, my dad spent a lot of time trying to convince us that he was a world-class concert pianist. The main problem with his argument is that he couldn’t play the piano.

Of course, he had an explanation: many years before we were born he had suffered a traumatic brain injury–I argued it was from trying to think too much–that rendered him incapable of playing any more. Pianic amnesia, I believe the condition is termed.

He had a whole long explanation about playing for the Queen of England and hitting his head or something. It was pretty elaborate and we did our best to catch him in a lie, but he was a college professor and we were like, six.

I doubt he was ever really frustrated though that we didn’t believe him. In reality, he was not a concert pianist. He just loved teasing his boys.

Jesus, on the other hand, did get frustrated when his disciples, more than once, refused to believe stories people were telling them about how Jesus had risen from the dead. Mark records in chapter sixteen of his gospel that they didn’t believe Mary. And they didn’t believe the two dudes on the road to Emmaus.

When Jesus finally showed up at dinner one night he let them have it. Mark puts it this way:

Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. Mark 16:14, NASB)

I find it really interesting that he point out their unbelief, their lack of faith, but what really catches my eye

There are times I feel my faith falter. I wonder if God will provide for me, if He really loves me in spite of all my sin and failure. I think a lack a of faith is to be expected from time to time. Remember the father who asked to have his daughter healed? Jesus said he just needed to believe and the dad replied, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). I think a lack of faith, Jesus understands.

I think the bigger problem is the hardness of heart. Over and over in the Old Testament we see God warning people, Israel to not let their hearts grow hard. When Jesus was asked about divorce–if it was permissible or not–He replied, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:7-8).

A hard heart is worse, in my opinion, than a lack of faith, because hard hearts make relationships impossible. God can work with someone who struggles with faith, but with someone whose heart is hard, impenetrable, immovable, I think the task is infinitely more difficult.

So the question is: how do we keep from getting a hard heart? Or, how do we soften our hearts towards God or others?

There are probably lots of ways, but perhaps an easy one is to simply remember what God has done. This is why Jesus was mad at his disciples. They forgot everything he had just seen: the miracles, the teachings, everything. And their hearts were hardened. The hardness of our hearts may simply be a function of our memory, or forgetfulness.

As the psalmist wrote:

Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work (Psalm 95:8-9, emphasis added).

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