The Danger of Figurative Faith

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 43 verse 2, it says this:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Now most Christians read these words and are encouraged by them, despite having little actual experience with rivers, fires, or floods. But we get it, right? It doesn’t have to be actual fire. The “fires” are the difficulties we face with our boss at work, or the problems in our personal struggle with sin…right? Well…yes that’s right. But if we aren’t careful, the “translation” that we have to do with verses like this can be a little misleading.

I think most of us understand verses like this to be applicable to our lives in a figurative sense, not a literal one. We let the words roll of our tongue without really weighing what they mean. But it would be wise to be careful here or we may forget that figurative isn’t the same as fake. The “figurative” realities of scripture are as real as the screen you’re reading this on. Maybe even more real…

There’s a popular song that many churches are singing right now by Hillsong United called “Oceans.” It’s a beautiful song that speaks of the way that God leads us out to walk on the waters and trust in him. Many people (myself included) sing this song at the top of their lungs with hands lifted high. But this beautiful metaphor falls under the same category of the passage from Isaiah. If we aren’t careful we may be guilty of treating the truth casually.

So let’s think about this: what does it really mean to ask God to call you to step out in faith, to walk where your own feet would fail? Remember Peter? Do you think it wasn’t scary when Jesus called him to step out of the boat and walk on the stormy water?
I imagine it was terrifying! And yet in our minds we tend to think only about how cool it would have been to defy the laws of physics.

Or what does it mean to pass through the water and the fire? Does that sound fun to you? Deep water has always frightened me, and fire that isn’t in a fireplace has a will of its own. I don’t think I’d enjoy passing through either. How many of us take risks like that on purpose, and what’s more, how many of us actually trust that God will carry us through? That takes more than understanding or agreeing with a metaphor.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I have been guilty of praying prayers like “God please grow my faith” and of singing songs like “Oceans” without really knowing what I’m asking for. I have this disease which makes me incredibly envious of people who have gone through hard things (people with a Ph.D, brain cancer survivors, olympic athletes) because of the benefits that they enjoy. It takes me a minute to stop and consider that those benefits cost them dearly.

Am I willing to pay that same price in order to reap the benefits?

Most of the time the answer is no, I’m just looking for my free “go-to-the-front-of-the-line-without-doing-the-work” pass.

Sometimes we tend to think that everything will be pleasant and easy because we confuse God’s love for us with nothing being hard. But that’s simply the wrong way to think. That reasoning will lead us to immediately question God’s love when things go wrong.
Did you notice that the verse says “the fire shall not consume you”? That doesn’t mean it won’t be scary as heck.

So maybe you are in the fire. Fire takes on many forms, and the Bible is very clear that it proves our character and the quality of our kingdom work (1 Cor. 3:13). Maybe you’re in the flood, barely able to keep your head above water. But if you’ve sung “Oceans” and meant it, just know that the fire is what you’ve asked for, because by the fire your faith is grown. You can’t learn to swim in the kiddie pool.

There’s another song that I love by a girl named Ginny Owens called “If You Want Me To.” One of the lines that sticks with me is

“You never said it would be easy,
You only said I’d never go alone.”

That’s the source of our comfort. Life isn’t always easy, but God is always with us.
You can take that to the bank:

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

– Jesus

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