Faith, a heartfelt trust in God and his mercy towards us, is the most important thing in a Christian’s life. A good argument can be made, in fact, that it is the only important thing, because faith is what pleases God more than anything else. Furthermore, it is faith that gives us salvation, creates all of our good works, and brings us peace of mind. Faith is pretty much the whole ballgame. We must, therefore, cling to it with every fiber of strength in our will.
Here’s the problem, though. Occasionally, faith is nowhere to be found. No matter how hard we try to make it appear, it doesn’t happen. Such an apparent absence of faith occurs frequently with obsessional fears. At that time, we OCDers can try our hardest to make ourselves put trust in God, yet find that our fears become only stronger. It seems God is not available. We are left grasping and grasping for faith—indeed, our attempts at finding it become compulsive. What can God have mind here? What are we to make of this situation?
Martin Luther wrote that faith sometimes “crawls away and hides.” He knew this from his personal experience of obsessional fears. Luther concluded that in these times, God is teaching us a difficult lesson: Faith is a gift, and not something that we can produce by ourselves. If we think we can give ourselves faith through our own efforts, can we view it as a gift? When we are trying hard to make ourselves have faith, who are we relying on? Is it God or ourselves? The point is that God wants to be recognized as the giver of faith.
When there is no faith to cling to, we must put our hope in God to provide it, yet do nothing ourselves. When we find ourselves compulsively seeking faith, we must stop and wait for God to give us grace when he pleases. God in time will give us the gift of faith, and then we will have learned the lesson that He is, indeed, completely trustworthy. From our perspective, of course, the big problem with this plan is that it requires us to wait for an indeterminate period of time on an enormous cross of fear and uncertainty.
Luther says that before faith is revealed, “man must utterly despair of his own ability.” This is his “Theology of the Cross.” Luther felt that it is in fearful despair that we find God; because it is there that we find Jesus, who is suffering the same thing as us (“Oh, God, why have you forsaken me?).” “Our theology stops at the cross,” wrote Luther. The good news is that if we die with Christ in fear, we rise with him in faith.