At the victory banquet, Faith sits by unneeded. She does her work in the midst of the battle.

I hardly recognized her. First there had come by a lovely young woman, almost bouncing along from good health, animal spirits, and the anticipation of a special candlelight dinner that evening. How much I could have wished that this was she. But this was Happiness, and I was not looking for her.

Then came an older person, face calm and step deliberate, eyes hardly on the surroundings, apparently looking through or beyond them to something out of this immediate life. This, too, was not she; this was Meditation.

Now striding crisply along came a young man, head erect, back straight, clearly marked as Courage. But still he was not the one I was looking for.

Finally, in a long cloak, black and cowled, she came. As she slowly drew near, I saw tear stains on her face. This, I knew, was she; this was Faith.

How I recognized her is really hard to tell. I certainly had not had in mind such a vision. I had expected a strongly striding, victorious figure, with shoulders back and face aglow, ready to shout, “Victory! Hallelujah!” I had often sung that gospel song, “Faith Is the Victory.” I had listened to many a sermon and testimony about the glories and successes of faith. I had firmly in mind my stereotype of what Faith looked like, of her radiant face and bearing. To see Faith in this dark guise was outside my expectation.

But there she was, shuffling along. Why did she look like this?

Faith Before Triumph

This was Faith in a guise strange and unexpected to me, probably strange to all of us, for we all lean toward triumphalism. Only the grimmest realist can wholly escape that leaning. We all tend to overlook just what Faith looks like, to consider where she habitually lives.

Look at Hebrews 11, that great celebration of heroes of faith. In it there are more struggles of faith than any celebration of victories. The triumphal words that are there seem a little breathless, as if uttered after hard battle.

There is Abraham, who left country and family and “went out” to lifelong wandering as a stranger in a foreign land, and who took his son up on the mountain to sacrifice him, the heir of the promise. All this was done in what had to be struggles of faith. Surely none of this, while it was going on, gave occasion for shouts of victory. And indeed, Abraham never saw the object of his faith, never saw the promised multitude of descendants possessing the land. He lived in faith; he died in faith.

Article continues below

There is Joseph, who, as he lay dying spoke of a deliverance he would not see, a triumph never to be his. And there is Moses, who gave up the life of an Egyptian prince to lead an ill-ordered band of slaves through a desert to freedom in a promised land; but he never set foot on that soil. Then there are those nameless heroes (vv. 35–38) who by faith came to ends far from evidently triumphant: imprisoned, flogged, tortured, beheaded, sawn in two, and so on, all in faith but not in triumphant delivery.

Moreover, of all these, even of those who by faith received some measure of victory, it is written: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39, NIV). Faith for these was a more costly struggle than victory, and it was a faith they took to the grave.

So that old gospel song must be sung with caution. Faith is not the victory, if by is we mean “is identical with.” Faith and victory are not the same thing. They are related, and there is never victory without faith, for faith is the means to victory. But the place and time of faith is separate from that of victory. Faith must come before victory. And when victory is assured, when the results are in and certain, then faith is no longer needed. Faith’s work has been done, and she has slipped away to the next struggle.

Nor is the old song to be understood as saying that faith guarantees victory. That is, it does not mean that a feeling of faith about some matter guarantees its accomplishment. Sadly, we can be mistaken in our faith. Paul must surely have had faith that his prayer for deliverance from his “thorn in the flesh” would be granted. But it wasn’t. God had other purposes for Paul. Faith, however strongly felt, does not guarantee our desire. It does not manipulate nor control God.

But the song “Faith Is the Victory” does remind us that faith and victory are linked. Faith does end in victory. Yet victory presupposes some kind of struggle or confrontation. No one speaks of a victorious nap, or meal, or walk. Rather, victory is the child of struggle, of battle. Just as the sign in restaurants warns us, “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” Christians should post signs that give the warning, “No fight, no struggle, no victory.”

In Ephesians 6, Paul writes of putting on the whole armor of God, including the shield of faith. He is thinking of battle, of battle to stand victorious. And here is faith in the very center of that battle. Again, the centurion’s faith (Matt. 7), which so astonished Jesus, was exercised while the servant still suffered and before the healing. In the midst of struggle is where we find faith acting, not in victory.

Article continues below
Our Necessary Resort

But this leads to an unpleasant conclusion. If faith comes in battle and before victory, and if we must live by faith, then we must expect to live in struggle, in battle.

Look at Job. Here he is, property gone, family dead, wife alienated, badgered by well-meaning friends, covered with sores, brooding on the village garbage pile, asking over and over, “Why, why, why?” The victim of inexplicable suffering, undeserved and never explained, he is not certain that he will live, and if he does, what has he to hope for? Nothing is sure but suffering and questioning. Here is darkness, uncertainty, disaster, all the inducements to despair. But in the midst of this grim struggle, what do we hear? “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (13:15).

This is Faith, shouting stubborn defiance in the midst of battle. Everything is against Job—God to all appearances inexplicably his enemy, his friends disbelieving his protestations of righteousness, utterly deserted. And yet that cry, “Though he slay me.…”

Here is the habitat of Faith, not in prosperity and ease, but on the village garbage heap; not in health, but scraping sores; not surrounded by family and friends, but lonely and alone. Here is Faith’s home; here Faith labors. Here is the land of not-yet and maybe-never, of waiting, of not-knowing, of uncertainty, of doubt. The habitat of Faith is the desert, not the lush stream bank; the darkness, not the warm sunlight; the trial, not the triumph. She lives her life in the hospice, in the hospital room of the dying patient, in the home of the Alzheimer’s victim.

Faith is our companion and stay in distress. She fights at our side in darkness and doubt and enables us to trust though the circumstances shout against her. And so it is that she is with us in our human condition until the final obtainment, the final victory. Faith remains our necessary resort, our stay and help, not in the day of triumph (she is not needed at the banquet), but in the struggle and dust and dimness of our battle. No wonder that in the confusion and in our longing for certainty and victory and peace, we may so often mistake her when she passes by.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.