What is extreme faith?
I am publishing a top 10 list of extreme acts of faith from people in the Bible. The list comes in part as a result of suggestions received by members of the Revolutingnow group page on Facebook. This article explains the list and includes honorable mentions of acts that did not quite make the list. This top 10 list is not a list of the greatest acts of faith in the Bible. Though each of these examples will be great acts of faith, being great is not enough to make this list. The deed must be great, but it also must be characterized as extreme. What does it mean to have extreme faith? Many factors combine to qualify an act of faith as extreme, but they may be reduced to being a great faith that overcomes great odds.
To resurrect a dead person is great. To resurrect an entire valley of dry bones is extreme. To make our list, people in the Bible had to express a faith that led them to do something great, and to do it despite multiple reasons why, from a natural perspective, they should not have believed. We should be fairly adept at identifying an act of faith as great, but pinpointing what makes it extreme is a little more difficult. A list of characteristics will help turn this nebulous task into a more concrete one.
Characteristics of extreme faith
To qualify as extreme, an act of faith must satisfy a strict set of requirements. The examples that best represent these requirements make the list. The ones that represent them in the greatest measure will be at the top of the list. I am using a list of four characteristics that together determine that an act of faith is truly extreme. At least three of these characteristics must be present for an act of faith to make the list. Here are the characteristics.
1. Faith is not expected from this person. Another way of saying it is that the person has no reason to believe. Faith is more extreme when it resides in someone whom we do not expect to believe. We expect Jesus to believe; we don’t expect a Roman Centurion to. We expect faith from an Israelite, but not from a Gentile. The less a disinterested onlooker expects the person to believe, the more extreme it is when they do.
2. An opposition to faith exists. Something in the story should indicate factors that provide potential hindrances to faith. It could be people discouraging the believer or circumstances making it more difficult to believe. In any case, the extreme believer is unmoved by the hindrances and chooses to believe anyway.
3. The individual has a lot to lose by stepping out in faith. An extreme situation produces extreme faith. If acting in faith means you might lose your job if God does not come through, then there is some measure of extremity to your faith. But if believing results in your death if God does not come through, that is extreme faith. The more a person has to lose by believing, the better the chances that their act of faith makes our top 10 list.
4. There is something unprecedented or unique about the act of faith. If you need God to heal someone of blindness, it helps to know that he has done that before. If you need God to resurrect Thomas Jefferson and have him explain the First Amendment to the Supreme Court, well, that is a little more extreme. The first time God does something is more extreme than the second or third, because there is no history to go on that can bolster our faith. In our list we are looking for things that have never been done before, or factors in a situation that make the person’s faith unique.
Many great acts of faith, which are also extreme in their own right, will not make our top 10 list. there is only room for 10, and it is inevitable that some of our favorite acts of extreme faith will be left off the list. To illustrate how some acts of faith made the list while others did not, I will mention a few examples that did not make the list and explain why they fell short. Here are my honorable mentions.
#11: The healings and miracles of Jesus. There is no doubt that Jesus had the greatest faith of anyone who ever lived. If we are talking about great faith, Jesus would dominate the list. But because we are looking for extreme faith, one key factor keeps Jesus’ miracles off the list: we all expect him to have faith. If anyone should believe no matter what the situation, it is Jesus. He knew he was God’s son, an advantage no other person has, and he knew exactly what God wanted to do in every situation. That does not mean it was always easy for him to believe, but it does lessen the extremity of his faith. Nevertheless, there is one spot in the top 10 for an act of Jesus.
#12: Joshua and his men march around Jericho. This event is clearly unprecedented, and if it does not work, Israel will have a difficult time conquering the Promised Land. This being the first battle of the conquest, failure here would be devastating. But there is no stated opposition to faith. The Israelites are alone outside the city and just have to decide whether to believe or not. Furthermore, the angel of the Lord appears to help Joshua in his faith. We expect Joshua to believe, since he is one of only two believing Israelite men to make it through the entire 40 years of wandering. The rest of the army is a different matter. We are surprised to see them obeying Joshua. Essentially, this event could make the list, but another similar event has better qualifications and takes a spot ahead of Joshua.
#13: Friends lower a paralytic through a roof. Opening a hole in the roof of a man’s house and lowering a crippled man through it is definitely unique in an extreme sort of way. Getting his sins forgiven in addition to the miracle is also a nice touch. To some degree one can argue that we do not expect them to have faith, but these men are as likely to believe as anyone else in Israel. There is no specific reason they should not believe. Opposition exists when they could not get the paralytic to Jesus because of the crowd, but it is primarily opposition to receiving the miracle, not something that threatened their faith that Jesus could heal him. It is also unclear whether the paralytic himself had faith. Jesus saw “their” faith, which must refer to the men lowering him through the roof, because that is what Jesus saw. But it probably includes the paralytic or Jesus would not have forgiven him his sins. Our top 10 list includes three people who received a personal miracle from Jesus in the Gospels. The ones that are included exceed this instance in being extreme.
In my next post I will reveal the top 10 extreme acts of faith in the Bible. Check in at the Facebook Revolutingnow group page, or go straight to http://www.revoolutingnow.wordpress.com to see the article when it comes out. I await your responses and I look forward to interacting with you on this.