A church here in Starkville has a puzzling saying posted on its sign: “Faith Changes Facts.” Since I drove past the other day, I’ve been wondering what that sentence could possibly mean, and more than that, why anybody thought it necessary to say such a thing.

Does whoever selected the slogan intend for us to think that faith can nullify natural laws or alter uncomfortable realities? If I believe I won’t be hurt if I jump off a high building, does my faith do away with the effects of gravity? If my loved one has cancer that is resistant to treatment, does my conviction that there is no such thing as cancer send the disease into remission?

Or maybe the congregation is weighing in on the constant battle over “evolution vs. creation.” Just because I might not want to believe that apes and humans came from a common ancestor or that organisms change and adapt to their environments over time or that the earth is billions of years old, does that render scientific evidence for all these assertions wrong and trumped-up?

Please! Faith doesn’t change facts. That’s not what faith is for. Faith gives us strength to face facts, to accept our inoperable cancer and die with dignity; to move through the long, dark night of grief with the assurance that mourning will be turned to dancing; to look in the mirror and see that aging visage staring back at us and know that we are not defined by how we look or what we have, but by how we live. Then we trust God to guide us today and the next day and the next.

The sentence on the church signboard is nothing more than childish magical thinking, the common idea that if you believe something hard enough and repeat it long enough, it will happen. Mature biblical faith by contrast is robust and realistic; it leads us out into a world that doesn’t always work to our benefit or the way we think it should, and we go because we have confidence that in the midst of those uncomfortable realities, we meet God, working his will and showing his love.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.