Sizing the Problem, Empowering God
Anyone who has worked with consumer electronics is aware of the bewildering variety of batteries that can be put into products. Some take AAs, some take AAAs, some take Cs, some Ds, and some take the 9 volt dual post types. Some take single batteries, and some require multiple batteries. Some products require one type in one piece and a different one in another piece that work together.
I won't go into the design details or the origin or content of the experience that motivates design engineers to choose one battery type over another. Rather, I want to focus on the idea of classifying, not batteries, but the devices that those batteries can power. That is, instead of talking about AA alkaline batteries as a type of battery, we talk about AA alkaline battery devices as a class of device.
When we look at members of a battery device class, we see a high degree of variety. We see flashlights, toys of various kinds, fans, sound devices, MP3 players, my beeper for work, cordless microphones, and radios that form the AA alkaline battery device class. I have a pen that has a light powered by a AA battery, as well as a spoon from a box of Frosted Flakes that lights up from a AA battery. There are definitely devices powered by AA alkaline batteries that I don't know about. What you won't find are digital cameras in this class: I've tried using AA alkaline batteries in a digital camera, and found them inadequate for the task. Or rather, one could say that the digital camera demands more power than two AA alkaline batteries can deliver. That digital camera belongs in the class of AA lithium battery devices. Obviously, that class also includes all the members of the AA alkaline battery device class thanks to the "form factor" of AA batteries having the same voltage and physical configuration. What differs is the amount of amperage each battery is capable of generating.
The same is true of faith. Some people's faith are like AA alkaline batteries, while some have a faith like AA lithium batteries. The latter can do, by faith, bigger things than the former. This should not be a surprise, for Jesus talked about people having great and small faith. This should not be a cause for offense or jealousy for those with small faith, nor a cause for pride for those with great faith, since all Christians are part of the Church, the Body of Christ, where the latter are required to help the former, both in praying for the big things that others cannot believe for, as well as helping those with lesser faith grow that faith.
We will discuss methodologies and strategies in another essay for growing faith (tack #2).
To make it easer to talk about this concept, I must introduce a new term: isopistic. It is a composed word of greek origin. The prefix "iso-" means "the same", and we use it when talking in chemistry about "isomers": chemicals with almost similar structures. "Isometric" drawings are drawing where the lines on the drawing have the same proportional lengths, angles, and areas as that which is being depicted, except that it is magnified or minimized in scale: almost all of your scientific drawings in books are not isometric, but drawings in "Gray's Anatomy" almost always are (with the exception of coloring and removed irrelevant details). "Pistic" comes from "pistis", the greek word used in the New Testament for "faith".
"Isopistic" essentially means "same faith". Thus, if there are two problems that can be solved by the same amount of faith, I will call them "isopistic in relation to each other". For instance, we have miracles where Elisha causes an axehead to float on the water, Jesus walks on the sea, and Peter walks on the sea. These are isopistic in relation to each other because they involve the same phenomenon: Gravity was cancelled, just on different objects. I believe it is safe to say that the same amount of faith was required to make all three phenomena happen.
Why talk about "isopistic" faith? Well, if we know that our faith can handle problem A, and we can determine that another problem B is isopistic to problem A, then our faith should be able to handle problem B. We may not think so, believing we may need more faith if B is to be solved, but the reality is that we can solve it with the faith we already have. We don't need an increase in our faith, but we do need more confidence in the faith we already have. All that is required is to wield it with a bit of imagination, innovation, good timing, and some measure of courage and daring. To illustrate I will recount an experience that was foundational to a key ministry of Grace United Methodist Church of Vidalia, Georgia: my pastor Larry Rollins was invited to join a mission team to Africa being led by a seminary friend of his. He expressed doubt about the ability to raise the funds at a bible study class. I pulled him aside after the class and asked him how much was required, expecting a number between $10,000 and $15,000 dollars. He said it would require $2,500. I confess, I must have looked quite stupid in the way I reacted, having had no problem raising more money than that yearly by prayer and claiming the promises my first time through Graduate School 20 years earlier. I told him I'd pray for that money, and to not worry about it. By various means and ways, the money was raised, he went to Africa, and connected with the pastor of Wanyanga United Methodist Church. Thus began an alliance between the two churches that is serving as the template for grass-roots cooperation between United Methodist Churches in the State of Georgia and Uganda. Those of us who believe that the solution for problems in Africa require the transformation of individuals, not governments, see this as a real revolution. This is what a currently sized faith can do, when applied with courage, daring, and good timing.
Another personal example that illustrates applying a currently-sized faith with some imagination and innovation: My church is undertaking a building program, and is getting the money through a three year fund-raising campaign. I sized my pledge by calculating how much we knew we were getting from bonuses from work each year, added in that amount of money that I knew, by previous experience, that I could get by prayer, times three years. Based on that, and what I could put in this year, I made my pledge. Of course I have no clear or obvious idea of where the money will come from over the next three years than I did when I prayed for help for my tuition 25 years ago, but personal experience tells me it will come. (This is where Stage 2 techniques come into play.)
How do we know these very different problems are isopistic? After all, getting through graduate school, getting a pastor to Africa, and expanding a church building complex are all different problems. However, I know they are isopistic because a bit of engineering insight, reasoning, and imagination allowed me to restate each problem as being solvable by using prayer to roust up a fixed and known amount of money by faith per year. Engineers thrive on working within challenging boundaries. If anyone else thinks that the circumstances are impossible, then it only enhances one's image of being a miracle worker in their eyes when one pulls it off successfully.
Although not labelled as such, this passage in Mark 16:14-18 appears to be a list of capabilities that are isopistic in relation to having sufficient faith (belief) to be baptized and saved:
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."
Different denominations view this list differently. Some have problems with speaking in tongues while others hold it as positive evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence in the believer. Some use this passage to justify snake handling during church services, while everyone else thinks doing so justifies committment to an insane asylum. Some believe in divine healing by laying on of hands, while others doubt it happens in our day and age. It seems that all churches that believe in the existence of demons and the Devil also hold that casting them out is a capability common to all Christians, although some reserve exorcism for the "specially trained". A full discussion of these positions, and a defense of the nature of these capabilities as being isopistic with respect to having a saving faith will have to be deferred to another essay.
Is the search for isopistic solutions within the capabilities of one's faith supported by scripture? Based on the reaction of the master in Jesus' Parable of the Talents to the servant that did nothing with his single talent, I would believe it is mandatory! The servants who got five and two talents respectively certainly could engage in bigger business transactions than the servant who got one, in the same way that businesses with better initial funding tend to grow faster than under-capitalized ones in a given business niche. The master's problem with this servant was that the latter failed to employ imagination and effort in seeking one-talent-sized business opportunities. Besides, if the servant was sure that he was a two-talent servant, worthy of being a player in a certain business niche that required two talents to enter, he could have worked to grow his single talent into two in a business not of his liking to get the two talents necessary to break into the field where he felt his strengths truly lay. Of course, I speculate in sympathy of the lazy servant. His little speech to his master reveals that his objection had nothing to do with the master badly perceiving his true talents, but was a veiled objection to working for the master's profit in any way.
But there is a more subtle lesson in the Parable that is at the foundation of this website's purpose. The bank that the master referred to was only one of the many options open to the lazy servant. Another option that would have been far more profitable was to take his one talent to his fellow servant who got five and say "I have no idea what to do, but I see that the master thinks you're the best of us. Let's pool our money. I'll be your go-fer and you tell me what to do. We'll split the profits in proportion to the initial investment. After all, we work for the same master, don't we?" At the master's return, the one talent servant would have brought his two and said, "I had no idea what to do, but I knew you were a smart man who knows where talent lies. Fred over there actually made 12 talents from 6 because he and I pooled our resources and worked together for you. Beats the stinky 3% I'd have made putting it into the bank, no?" Many expositors read Jesus into the role of master, so I would think that Jesus would be pleased with this sort of thinking and acting. I refer those who object to this interpretation to Jesus' Parable of the Unfaithful, but Shrewd, Steward. At the core of this proposal of what the lazy servant could have done is the belief that by pooling our talents and intelligence together, as we seek to do at this website as well as in church, those who are two and five talent people can help develop the abilities of one talent people in the course of developing our own. I cannot imagine Jesus or the Holy Spirit possibly objecting to this, for is this not the very purpose of the Church? The whole point behind Stage Three capabilities is to facilitate this process of mutual aid to mutual benefit for everyone and the Kingdom of God.
Let's review what I've covered so far. Thanks to success in actually suppressing compulsive thoughts, we know we have the faith that the Holy Spirit requires to implement that suppression by cooperating with us. The earlier analysis of what was really involved helps us realize that the Holy Spirit actually initiates neurotransmitter secretions (though not neurotransmitters themselves) to create counter-thoughts to effect the initial suppression of temptations. Since virtually all thoughts arise from neurotransmitter secretations, we can conclude that, if we exercise the same faith and cooperation, the Holy Spirit can generate independent thoughts by unilaterally initiating such secretions, even if there is no temptation needing suppression: THAT is the entire basis for Stage 2, the essays for which were unwritten at the time this essay was being written. Thus, the ability of the Holy Spirit to generate counter-neurotransmitters to cancel thoughts (Stage 1) is isopistically equal to the capability to generate thoughts (Stage 2). Isopistic capabilities are symmetric, which means that someone like me, who exercised Stage 2-class cooperation with the Spirit (although I didn't know it) should be able to exercise the same faith, and level of cooperation, to suppress compulsions and temptations (stage 1).
So what else can the Holy Spirit do with that level and kind of capability? That is, what other things can the Holy Spirit, with cooperation from us, do with the same amount of faith?
You would be surprised.
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