People of faith often turn to the scriptures for comfort and encouragement. Occasionally, however, the same people stub their toe on a difficult passage such as one from the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Here we have a teaching that speaks of those who have – they will receive more. And those who have nothing – what they do have will be taken away. On the surface it appears that a thief of the night broke into our Bibles and placed there some teaching from the world. Not only is the teaching difficult. It is a potential embarrassment to Jesus.
Recently I have been given a set of fresh lenses in which to view this disturbing teaching. My wife, Grace is an instructor with Weight Watchers International. She is passionate about coming alongside people and helping them make healthy lifestyle choices, particularly in the area of diet and exercise. What I have learned from her is that people who have health generally grow healthier through healthy choices in what they eat and regular, vigorous exercise. Proper diet and exercise invigorates them. The result? Those who have health receive more health.
On the other hand, those who are unhealthy generally continue to make poor choices in diet and engage in little exercise. Consequently, what little health they do have diminishes. Simply, what they have is taken from them.
In the fourth chapter of Mark Jesus teaches us that the same principal holds true for our spiritual health. To the one who has faith more faith is given. That is because times of doubt opens windows to larger understandings of God, dark nights of the soul sharpen the eyes of the heart to see God where God is most invisible. People of faith increase in faith in times of struggle and ordeals simply because they are familiar with the traditional resources of the faith such as scripture and prayer and know how to use them.
To those who have little faith, doubts tend to destroy what small faith they may have had. Difficulties that follow only harden the unbelief. Jesus is right; those who have nothing will soon find that what little they may have had is soon taken from them. If later they experience success and prosperity they credit their own self-sufficiency.
Sometime ago I learned of a professor who arrived on the faculty of Yale University. He was a man of faith but, caught up in a demanding schedule of teaching and faculty meetings neglected the nourishment of his faith. As the years passed he seemed to lose all religious interest and was soon rated by the students as uncaring. Near the end of his teaching career he made this self-observation: “I never consciously gave up a religious belief. It was as if I had put my beliefs into a drawer, and when I opened it, there was nothing there at all.”