We used to have a computer game of Prince and Persia growing up, my brothers and sisters and I. Figuring out how to get through the different levels and eventually winning level 12 by defeating the evil Royal Vizier (probably named Jaffar, but my memory’s a little fuzzy on this point. We’ll go with Jaffar.) was a group effort. Even my dad was enlisted to fight the sumo wrestler-sized bad guy on level 8, especially when we only had 15 minutes left before bed and we just had to beat this level!
But level 12… Level 12 took not only expert arrow-key pressing skills, but also the ingenuity to find secret invisible panels to escape from the Evil Jaffar (whom you only thought you had defeated, but was only playing dead and waiting for you to leave the screen before getting up and making a surprise attack on you two screens later!)
But the funny thing was (spoiler alert) you only found the secret invisible panels (these were floor panels that you could walk on) if you tried to run off the edge of the level (meaning the floor level, not the stage of the game). You were more than three stories up at this point and the jump off this level was a definite crash landing that ended your life. You could turn around and wait for Jaffar to run on the screen and fight him, but no matter how much life you had stored up in those little bottles of life at the bottom of the screen, he always stabbed you enough or edged you off the floor level backwards so that you’d fall to your death.
No, to activate the secret panels, you had to keep running from the Evil Vizier, without looking back. You had to choose your own death. But in doing that, suddenly when you stepped off into nothingness, expecting to fall and become a messy Prince of Persia Pancake, floor panels appeared underneath your feet. But you had to keep running. If you backtracked, the whole thing fell apart. And of course, each panel didn’t appear until your foot stepped out onto thin air. So you didn’t know how long these secret panels would keep saving you.
Three or four screens later, the panels connected you to a ledge and to the Final Showdown with Jaffar (who is still running after you), where you could finally jab the fatal blow and save the princess! … and her cat.
Well, faith is just like that. No, not the cat.
So, you will probably not find yourself running from Evil Viziers in crazy turbans anytime during this life, but there will come a time when you feel like there is no way out of where you are, and some impending doom, whether despair or something tangible, is bearing down on you. When that happens, faith is the unlooked for, secret invisible panels, that will lift your feet to new life.
One piece of over-quoted scripture (that I’m going to quote here) is “Faith is the realization of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I think we’ve heard that so many times that we stop hearing what it means.
Reworded, it reads something like: “Faith makes real what we hope for; it is the proof and confirmation of what we cannot see.”
In a society where mottos like “just have faith” are as trite as “just do it,” we lose sight of what faith really is, what it can really do when strengthened. Intangible things like faith and hope seem wishy-washy, not something solid that you can rely on. They are sentiments in a sappy Hallmark card.
But they weren’t for our biblical ancestors like Abraham (and Sarah!), Joseph, Moses, David, Judith, and hey, even That Guy who died on the cross for us. No, faith was their very lifeblood. (OK, so it’s like secret panels and little bottles of life energy at the bottom of the screen. Whatever. It’s like a lot of things.)
What I’m trying to get at is that “having faith” is not just believing in a creed of things, not just professing that you believe in God and that God loves you. It is having eyesight that perceives the invisible (the spiritual) as easily as we see the physical reality of things.
It is saying, I need to leave this place of death, despair, fear, loneliness, etc.. I am not trapped. Maybe I don’t know where I’m going from here or how I will get there, but God has meant me for life and he will take me there, even though it might mean I have to step out onto empty air to get away from this place.
If the Prince of Persia had had any practice in relying on faith rather than his own skill in getting to the next level, he’d have been able to see those invisible panels as clearly as the physically tangible ones. They’d already be there waiting for him when he came to that screen. (Faith makes real what we hope for. Think of all those gospel stories when Jesus says a person’s faith allowed Him to heal her or him.)
When our faith is first growing, our spiritual eyes are not very good yet, and we have to fight with our baser instincts to be able to let them go and walk blindly. But a well fed faith that is mature and strong produces clear eyesight. By this faith we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is leading us by sure pathways, and taking the rickety and unstable, or even barely-there, route is easier. (I won’t say easy, because I don’t think even any of the great saints would say trusting God is easy. But it’s easier when your faith is a confirmation of God’s promises and not a tentative step that tests rather than shifts your weight forward.)
Not there yet? (How can faith be a confirmation of God’s promises, you may be asking?) Don’t worry. If you keep asking for this faith, God will give it to you little by little (until suddenly what you have is a lot). God wants us to be able to see in the dark.
That thing that we’re hoping, that thing that faith makes real, is who God is calling us to be. He wants us to be these awesomely glorified super humans (not the fallen humanity we are now, but the risen humanity that Jesus became).
When that whole Transfiguration thing went down (Mark 9:2-10), Jesus was giving a glimpse to his disciples of what risen, glorified humans would be like. Yeah the disciples had seen people raised from the dead (i.e. Lazarus and the centurion’s daughter), but they had never seen what someone who had been raised to life eternal would look like. With the transfiguration Jesus was giving them something to hope for. The Messiah would save the nation by taking sin away from humanity so that they could become the kind of [super] humans they were before.
When we act in faith, trusting God despite the fact that we think we might be ruining our lives (by society’s standards) by doing what He’s asking us to do, with each faithful action we are changed into that awesomely glorified super human that He had in mind for us when we were still kicking around in our mother’s womb (and even before that… before time even started). Faith (when we employ it in our actions by saying yes to God and following His will) is proof that God is changing us, sanctifying us, saving us, keeping his promises/covenants (these are all synonymous here).
Without faith, can we allow God to follow through on His promises? (Not that we can limit God. God does have the ability to make us do His will. He could save us by making us obey him like little marionettes… like we control the Prince of Persia with our computer strokes…woah. Ok, this simile is getting way too complicated for even me now. –But God limits Himself and lets us reject Him if we want.)
If we don’t have faith then we don’t find and see the secret supports of grace. We don’t change into who God has promised he will make us. We are stuck on the screen, basically just a sitting duck for evil to take down.
And I don’t know about you, but I would take being an awesomely glorified super human over being just an average Joe any day.
So take my hand and we’ll run from this place. Only don’t look back.
We’ll leap off the edge of expected, looking like idiots to everyone around us –ourselves included, walk on water, move mountains, and fall in love in a quite absolute, final way. …And beat level 12.