It seems to be a common misunderstanding among new believers, and even among some established ones, that if we have faith we will know that everything is going to work out right in every circumstance – if we just have faith. The unfortunate corollary of this misunderstanding is that when things don’t work out or things go wrong many believers begin to question their own faith – thinking that perhaps they did not have “enough faith” or were somehow to blame in some other way. The answer to this problem lies in understanding what faith really is – or perhaps more accurately, what faith is not.
It is important that we come to understand that faith is not a guarantee that despite problems that come up, if we pray about them and only have enough faith, we will be kept securely in some kind of spiritual safe zone – protected from worsening problems and hardships and even death itself – if we only have faith.
We need only read the psalms of David to see the many things God allowed him to suffer despite his faith and close relationship with God. Read Psalm 44, for example, to see this. In this poignant psalm David outlines God’s help in past situations (Psalm 44:1-8), then details the way in which things had not turned out – ways in which God had not protected him from certain bad events and trials (Psalm 44:9-16). This occurred, David honestly reports: “… though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and … covered us over with deep darkness” (Psalm 44:17-19). In the rest of the psalm David prays that God will yet turn things around and help him; yet he is honest that despite his obedience and faith in God, things had not gone well and God had allowed him to suffer.
Is this not the story behind the greatest complaint story in the Bible – the Book of Job? Job also knew that he had been faithful and trusted God (Job 1:8, 10; 19:25) but that God had nevertheless allowed him to suffer. But this is where faith comes in. Faith is not the certainty that God will not ever let bad things happen to us. It is the certainty that He will not let anything happen to us without a purpose and for our ultimate benefit: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In reality, faith is not something we exercise to keep everything running well – faith actually kicks in most powerfully when things go wrong. Faith is not always a “get out of jail free card.” It was for the apostle Paul at one point (Acts 16:25) but not at another, at the end of his life (Philemon 1:9). And Paul certainly had faith, of course. The outcome to any problem we take to God depends on the will of God in the specific circumstances. God certainly will often protect us from bad events (Psalm 138:7), but if He does not, He has a purpose in mind. That is where faith comes in – to say, like Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
This understanding of what faith is and is not is perfectly summed up by the apostle Peter: “…you who through faith are shielded by God’s power …, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:5-6). So do not be discouraged if things sometimes do not go well in life “despite” your faith. Faith does not guarantee the Christian a first-class flight, but it does guarantee that we will get to our destination despite everything. Faith is not a promise that everything will always go well, just that it will ultimately end well (2 Timothy 4:18). When we are faced with the realities of life, that is a wonderfully encouraging thing to know.