I love to read, but don’t always have time to read as much as I would like. I tend to be in the middle of multiple books at any given time, but don’t always finish them. When I go on vacation, though, I like to take one book along and try to finish it if I can.
On our vacation to the Redwoods last week I succeeded in that goal. I took with me “have a little faith” by Mitch Albom. I bought it several months ago because it was on the sale table at Powell’s Books and the title intrigued me. Also, I had previously read “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by the same author and thought it was pretty good.
“have a little faith” is a relatively small book at only 259 pages, and it is billed as a true story. Oprah said it was the “Best Nonfiction Book of 2009.” It was definitely well written and engaging, but I’m not sure I would use the adjective “best” to describe it. There were a lot of nonfiction books in 2009, many of which contained a better underlying message.
I do have to get out of the way one of my stylistic problems with this book. Whenever there is dialogue, what is said by the other party is in quotation marks as it should be, but whatever is said by the author is not. I suppose the author could claim literary license here, and at least he was consistent with this style, but it kind of annoyed me.
“have a little faith” is definitely a feel good book. It starts with the author’s rabbi asking if he would do his eulogy when he dies, and proceeds with his recounting the many meetings he had with the rabbi to get to know him better. Interspersed is the story of how the author came to know a drug addict criminal turned evangelical pastor with a heart for the homeless and downtrodden. Throughout there is an awesome message of loving others and of faith in action.
My biggest concern with this book comes in the Epilogue, where the author recounts “one last memory.” The author asks the rabbi what he would do if when he got to heaven he discovered he only had five minutes with God. True to what we have learned throughout the book about the rabbi, he says he would give three of his five minutes away to someone who was suffering and required God’s love. Then with his last minutes he says this:
“All right. In that final minute, I would say, ‘Look, Lord, I’ve done X amount of good stuff on earth. I have tried to follow your teachings and to pass them on. I have loved my family. I’ve been part of a community. And I have been, I think, fairly good to people.
“‘So, Heavenly Father, for all this, what is my reward?'”
And what do you think God will say?
“He’ll say, ‘Reward? What reward? That’s what you were supposed to do.'”
What I saw in this exchange was someone who tried to and thought he had earned his way to heaven. There was nothing in his answer to show what God had done; it was all about what he had done. He had a little faith, but it was faith more in himself, in community, and in religion than it was in God. I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine, if I had only five minutes to spend with God, using even a second of it telling Him about what I had done. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).
If I had only five minutes with God, I would spend every second of it praising Him for His love, grace, and mercy. I would praise Him for His mighty creation, and I would thank Him for forgiving every transgression I had ever committed towards Him. That is, if I could even find the words to speak at all! “What is my reward?” Who could ask that of the Almighty? I deserve no reward, and yet being in His presence (even for just five minutes) would be all the reward I could ever hope for.
As I pondered the title of the book – “have a little faith” – I wondered if a little faith in one’s religion is enough. As I read scripture, I don’t believe it is. I think it is necessary to have a great deal of faith in God Himself as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And if one has only a little faith, it still needs to be faith in what God has done through the cross to atone for sin. I don’t want to have just a little faith. I want faith as big as Mt. Everest, as vast as the Pacific Ocean, as all-encompassing as the entire Universe. If faith is in people, perhaps it can only be a little faith. But when faith is in God alone, in Christ alone, then God will grant faith bigger than we can imagine.