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Questions and Answers: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?

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Polly: Good morning, Grant! How’s it going?

Grant: Pretty well. How are you?

Polly: Oh, I’m all right. Busy as usual. I’m trying to raise money for a mission trip our church youth group is hoping to go on next year. I say, would you be interested, Grant? Either in donating or coming along? Or both, I’m not particular.

Grant: Well, I’m not sure, Polly — I always have trouble figuring out what I should give to, or get involved in, as a Christian disciple. I mean, how am I supposed to show  that I’m following Jesus by what I give or do? Sometimes I just can’t help thinking… I’m afraid this is going to sound pretty shocking.

Polly: Go ahead. I really want to hear what you’re thinking.

Grant: Well, I’ve never talked about this with anyone before, Polly, but I’ve always wondered — why do we have to give to God? He has everything, and gives us everything we have. It almost seems backwards, and a little sacrilegious, even, to think God could need us for anything. Why does He even need us to share the Gospel, like the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 seems to imply? Some people have come to know Jesus directly through dreams and visions. Why doesn’t God always do it that way? And why do we have to give to the poor and suffering. Now that Jesus has died and risen again, conquering death and sin and all the hurts it causes, why haven’t all the problems in the world stopped? Why does God want us to give, when we can’t really give anything except what He gives us?

Polly: Well, because He wants us to be involved. You’re right, Grant, we can’t give anything to God, or to anyone else, that isn’t really God’s gift to us. C.S. Lewis wrote: If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these… discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now.1

Grant: Awake to what? I don’t get it. If God isn’t getting anything “to the good,” as you put it, from us, why give anything at all?

Polly: Well, think about the father-child analogy for a minute more, in more detail. Even though the father has really paid for the present himself, wouldn’t he rather get it from his child than go out and buy it himself?

Grant: Yes, I suppose so.

Polly: And why would he? Because it’s not only about the giving of the gift, it’s about the giving of oneself. Would you say, in a sense, that that child belongs to its father, that the father could claim it as his own?

Grant: Of course he could. But it won’t do him much good unless his child wants to be claimed as his father’s child!

Polly: Precisely! You’ve put your finger right on it, Grant! Not only does everything we have belong to God, but we also belong to God ourselves, as His created children. But in order for God to have the relationship with us that He wants to have, we have to participate, just like that child with its father. We have to show God that we love Him and appreciate everything He has done for us, that we are glad to call ourselves His children in obedience and gratitude. And that’s where giving comes in.

Grant: How does that connect with being grateful?

Polly: Again, it’s about participating: doing and not just feeling gratitude. We have to show that we’re grateful.

Grant: But how do we do that?

Polly: Well, in some cases, giving something to someone who has done something nice for you is a simple way to show you’re grateful. But sometimes that can just seem like you’re “paying them off,” especially in more complex situations. So the best way to show gratitude to someone who has taken care of you is to go and take care of someone else.

Grant: But why? Why don’t we just take care of them back?

Polly: Sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. As C.S. Lewis explained, God didn’t create the world to work on a debt-paying mindset of “he did this bit and I did that.”2 Often our relationships are not perfectly reciprocal, but complementary, especially our relationship with God. There’s a wonderful story by Dan Murdoch that illustrates this point called “Why the Old Man Planted Trees.”3 In the story, a young man asks an old gardener why the gardener continues to plant trees when he will not live long enough to enjoy their fruit. The old man replies that, just as he enjoyed the fruit of the trees planted by his forefathers, it is only right for him to plant trees to be enjoyed by later generations. So, the only way we can thank God — and our parents and other people who are in a position to take care of us — is by taking care of others, whom we are in a position to care for. And in turn, they won’t take care of us, but of others still. So it all works out to make everyone grateful and giving, and brings us all closer to God and our neighbors in the love that God wants us to fully display in our lives.

Grant: So I guess it all really ties in with the two Greatest Commandments: loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. And that leads into the Great Commission again — maybe, Polly, I’ll sign up for that mission trip after all, just to say “thank you” to God myself!

Ask your children

What do you think about Polly’s answers to Grant’s questions? Do you have any other questions of your own that this dialogue has brought up for you? Challenge them to think up more responses they could give, if someone asked them a question like Grant’s.


1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 50th Anniversary ed. (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002), p. 143.
2Ibid. p. 149.
3Dan Murdoch, “Why the Old Man Planted Trees,” Salute to Courage, ed. Laurel Hicks et al. (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, Pensacola Christian College, 1997), pp. 269-271.

C.S. Lewis Institute

C.S. Lewis Institute, In the legacy of C. S. Lewis, we develop wholehearted disciples of Jesus Christ who will articulate, defend, share, and live their faith in personal and public life.


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