by Roger Wyatt | 15th April 2021 | more posts on 'Living in Faith'
Photograph: Roger Wyatt. Peacock mosaic from the floor of the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna.
I’ve come to see, more and more, that faith is a determination. It is something we must pick up when we wake in the morning, and carry with us throughout the day, like a shield of protection. Of course, comparing faith to a shield is not an original thought and the apostle Paul, writing from prison to the Ephesians (in his great comparison between the Christian life and the dress and service of a Roman soldier) says, ‘In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’ (Ephesians 6:16). What the NIV translates as ‘in addition to’ is represented by the Greek preposition ἐν (en), which may better translate as ‘over’ or ‘besides’ – it is translated as ‘above’ in many versions of the Bible. The point of emphasis might seem a trivial one, but when ἐν is translated in such a way it shifts the meaning of the verse from being about an additional extra that we should not forget about, to being the most essential of items that should be remembered ‘above all else’. The second word in the verse, ‘all’ πᾶσιν (pasin), goes further to concretize such a reading.
From what would have been a simple point of grammar, Paul develops his figure of speech to compare something intangible, that is faith, with something tangible, a shield, that can be ‘taken’ or ‘lifted up’ in a posture of protection against the arrows of an oncoming enemy. It is in this daily posturing that faith is, I suggest, a decision or determination – in fact, ἀναλαβόντες (analabontes), suggests a repeated action, ‘to pick up again’. However, knowing that we must do something, and knowing what to do are often two different matters, and probably like me you are left asking, how do I pick up the shield of faith again, and how does it actually protect me?
May I suggest that whilst faith is well understood as something to do with hearing, as per Romans 10:17, it also has something to do with seeing. Put simply, we can see the world with eyes of faith or with eyes of unbelief. If we choose the latter, we find ourselves in a world where there is no God, God does not love us, God will not protect or care for us and sooner or later we anticipate that everything is going to go disastrously wrong. In contrast, when we choose to see the world with the eyes of faith, we understand that God is with us, that he loves us, that he has a plan and that he is good. It is as we oscillate between these two positions and find ourselves in the world of unbelief that life can become painful - our mental health suffers, and we find ourselves overwhelmed by anxieties and fears. However, the ‘taking up of the shield’, so to speak, is to inwardly choose to live by the light of faith and refuse to accept the darkness of unbelief. In that sense, faith is an act of refusal as well as an act of determination. Moreover, and importantly, what we discover as we choose the path of faith, centring our lives on what God has said, is that the arrows of disbelief (what Paul calls ‘the flaming arrows of the evil one’), come raining down upon our minds and hearts. This is will of evil, to force us into the realm of unbelief, to cause us to lower our shield and succumb to a distorted view of the world, and our place in it.
When considered in the light of the above, the statement Paul makes in this verse is beyond profound, for he is informing us that by making a determination of faith we will quench or extinguish (σβέσαι sbesai) not some of the flaming darts assailing us, but all of them (πάντα panta). Moreover, the verse advises us to expect resistance as we choose the way of faith, and to not be surprised by it. Additionally, it should be said, that by refusing unbelief and determining to believe we are not convincing ourselves of something, but rather choosing to align ourselves with how God says things are. What we discover as we do so, and daily orientate ourselves in this posture of faith, is more of the fullness of life promised us by Jesus, along with greater a sense of strength and resolve that enables us to walk through testing times.
‘Above everything else, take up again the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming arrows of unbelief’