In faith-friendly books and movies, principal characters always face struggles and frequently experience doubts. As their circumstances worsen, their doubts grow and then, at some critical moment, they face a difficult decision. Will they trust God or will they go their own way?
In the few movies and books in this genre with which I’m familiar, a secondary character usually models the wrong choice for the reader or viewer. The protagonist then models the right choice by trusting God. After that moment of faith, the suspense grows greater still. The question of whether the hero will trust God is already decided. Now the question is whether God will prove himself worthy of that trust.
He does. The football player wins the big game, the protagonist gets the guy or girl of their dreams, and answers to prayers multiply like loaves and fishes in the hands of Jesus. And they live happily ever after.
My question is: what role does faith play in their lives then? When you, the conquering hero, are living happily ever after with the love of your life, do you really need to trust God any longer?
Most of us will never know the answer to that question—at least, not from personal experience. Most of us, even if we have found the love of our life, haven’t got to start the happily ever after part yet. We know that’s down the road—and it will be a bumpy ride getting there.
If one compares the plot lines from contemporary movies and books with the stories of the Bible, there seems to be a divergence. Yes, God answers prayers. Miracles happen. But troubles don’t end. Joy is present, but it is joy in spite of troubles, not in place of them.
Consider some of the heroes of the faith. St. Peter was crucified. St. Paul was beheaded (after a lengthy stay in prison). St. Stephen was stoned. In fact, all the original apostles, with the exception of John, died violent deaths.
And it is not just the way people of faith died, it is also the way they lived. Euodia and Syntyche, friends and co-workers “in the gospel,” had a falling out and were unable to reconcile without help. Aquila and Priscilla, an extraordinary married couple who were full of faith, were forced to leave their home and live in exile.
Paul and Barnabas, the superstars on God’s evangelistic team, got into an argument that ended their working relationship. St. John was arrested, removed from home and friends, and sentenced to exile on a remote Island in the Aegean Sea. These were people, every one of them, with a genuine and vibrant faith, but not one of them got happily ever after on earth.
Consider the men and women the author of Hebrews inducts into the Faith Hall of Fame (as chapter 11 is sometimes called.) They were all faith-filled people, and yet he says: “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. … These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”
Not a lot of happily ever after there. Not yet, anyway. But there is an important lesson we can learn from these women and men: A person does not learn faith when everything is going smoothly. If we will not learn to trust God when things are tough and situations are scary, we will probably not learn to trust him at all.
And after we have first learned to trust God, we will have many opportunities to practice our lessons. We learn that too from faith’s Hall of Famers. For David, fighting Goliath was an introductory course. Far more difficult lessons lay before him. Likewise for Moses. Pharaoh and the Red Sea were just a warm-up.
St. Paul describes the life that God wants for people as one that progresses “from faith to faith.” In other words, one never outgrows the need to trust. Faith is required throughout life, until the happily ever after finally arrives – which it will surely do – for the faithful.
(Published previously by Gannett.)