“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
When I was a teenager, I had a Basset Hound named Julius. My friends and I all had named our dogs after a dictator or an emperor. As it so happened, our high school English teacher was engaged to marry a man named Julius. Therefore, I thought it would be funny to name my dog both after the Roman Emperor and our teacher’s fiance’.
My family lived on country farm along Farm to Market Road 604, a well-paved, two lane highway running between Clyde, Texas, and Denton Valley.
One of Julius’ peculiar habits was that, on a cold day, he would lie down on the yellow stripe right out in the middle of the highway.
I suppose his “strategy” was this: The drivers of the cars would assume that he was a dead dog lying in the middle of the road and try to avoid hitting him in order to keep from “messing up” their automobiles. It worked. He never was hit and lived to a ripe old age.
However, any way you look at it, Julius practiced risky behavior. Of course, being a dog, he probably did not ponder the deeper existential meaning of his behavior. At least I doubt it. I believe he just was looking for a warm place and found the blacktop comforting. I don’t think he ever paid much attention to the cars speeding by on either side of him.
Some people, though, would interpret his behavior as “having faith.” Others would say that is nonsense. They would contend that Julius was simply taking a great risk and tempting fate.
Remember that Jesus said, “ Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10: 15 NRSV)
He also said, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 20 NRSV)
Now, it is important to note that Jesus did not say “receive the kingdom of God as a dog ...” or “If you have faith the size of a dog’s faith ...”
Just what, then, was Jesus trying to communicate to us about faith?
Certainly he did not mean that we can go engage in risky behaviors and say, “I am trusting God to protect me.” Nor did he mean that he does not want us to step out in ways we feel are right even though they are filled with uncertainty. No, in fact, that is the very essence of faith -- stepping out into areas of uncertainty because we believe it is the right thing to do.
Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his book “A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered,” gave what I believe is the best description of faith that I have ever seen.
He said, “ The unconscious is always one step ahead of the conscious mind. It is, therefore, impossible to know that what you are doing is right because knowing is a function of consciousness. Your unconscious might be one step ahead of you in the right direction or wrong direction.
"However, if your will is steadfastly to the good and if you are willing to suffer fully when the good seems ambiguous (which, to me, is ninety-eight percent of the time) then your unconscious will always be one step ahead of your conscious mind in the right direction. In other words, the Holy Spirit will lead you and you will do the right thing. Only you will not have the luxury of knowing it at the time you are doing it. Indeed, you will do the right thing precisely because you have been willing to forgo that luxury.”
Now, that is “no nonsense” faith.
The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org