Why is faith so difficult?

August 1, 2011

I am writing a sermon on Matthew 14: 22-33,
the passage wherein Jesus invites Peter to get out of the boat and walk
on the water with him…in the midst of a storm.  Peter has always seemed
to me to be the naïve, overeager, overachiever type.  He’s like the kid
who sits in the front of the classroom and raises his hand, hops up and
down in his seat, and shouts, “Me! Me! Pick me!” to every question the
teacher asks.  Peter is far from perfect, but he wants so badly to be
perfect, he wants so badly to please Jesus and to prove his faith. So
when Jesus approaches the disciples’ boat, walking on the water,
overeager Peter thinks he should walk on the water too.  So he asks
Jesus to command him to come to him.

Even if you don’t know the story you can see where it is headed. 
Jesus invites Peter to step out of the boat. Peter gets out, takes a few
shaky steps on the water, then panics because the wind, and the storm,
and the waves are still raging around him.  Peter sinks.  Jesus has to
save him.  Then they both get in the boat and the storm, miraculously,
ceases to rage.  This is the point where I imagine Peter, wet and
water-logged, traumatized by his near drowning, and humiliated for being
told he had so “little faith,” is thinking to himself, “Okay, Jesus. 
Couldn’t you have made this a little easier?  Couldn’t you have made the
storm cease before I stepped out of the boat?”

Have you ever found yourself asking this question?  Why is faith so
difficult?  Why does Jesus call his followers out of the safety and
security of the boat into the middle of a storm?  Why does faith require
so much courage, and effort, and strength of will?  Couldn’t you make
this a little easier, Jesus?

But faith isn’t easy.  By its very nature, faith isn’t easy.  Faith
is not something that we can rationalize, or explain, or even obtain
with any measure of success.  If we were to attempt to explain it we
might talk about reaching for the unreachable, finite hands grasping for
that which is infinite.  Faith is the bridge that is built between
stark dichotomies; it is hope in the face of despair; it is love in the
face of hatred; it is peace in the face of violence; it is beauty in the
face of ugliness; it is justice in the face of injustice; it is courage
in the face of fear.  Faith is a dynamic, spirited force that moves us
from the place where we are to the place where we ought to be.

Which is why it is so difficult.  Faith is supposed to move us. 
Faith is supposed to change us.  Faith is supposed to better us and open
us, deepen us and mature us. And that journey isn’t easy.  In fact,
it’s the most difficult, most intimidating, most risk-filled journey we
will ever take because it means consistently stepping out of the safety
of the boat into the wind and the waves and the storm.

Theologian Paul Tillich describes faith as “dynamic.”  If faith
becomes static, if it fails to move us, open us, deepen us, better us,
then it is no longer faith.  Instead it is an idol; it is simply another
idol that we put up on the mantle to worship but with which we don’t
actually do anything.

Couldn’t you make this a little easier, Jesus?  Thanks be to God the answer is “No.”

Originally posted at A Fly on Our Wall.


Non-static faith

"Faith is supposed to change us....  it means consistently stepping out of the safety of the boat..."

Oh, Amen to that.  Just when one might rather settle on safe, time-tested answers, real faith pushes one on to learning, thinking, and (gasp) even changing one's mind.

Good Article

Peter did become better, just a little: he walked on water, and found a greater need for Jesus, as well.

From the Boat


Peter walks where only gods walked before.

Does the cosmic wind mock him?

Does the voice of the ages chide him?

Do the saints of all time laugh?

Who has followed him who is the rock

under whose feet the waves turn to rock

if only for a time?


Jesus called him out.

Only to denounce his sinking faith?

What did he really say?

“Faithful fledgling, you,

Into what did you falter?”

Where water, wind, and rock meet?

Where what is begins to churn into what will be?


Are we ahead of ourselves?

Does our reach stretch into the eye of creation?

Will we be what we have not seen?

Is this the terrifying glimpse into the jolt of light

that shocked chaos into life?