Faith and doubt live so close together; they are like two sides of the same coin. One day both will become obsolete, on that day when we see the truth of eternity face to face. For now, though, we live in the land of the unseen and we must live by faith.
Prayers go up by faith. In God’s ideal plan the priest burns incense on the altar in front of the veil or curtain that separates him from the Most Holy Place.
“And you shall put (the altar of incense) in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.” Exodus 30:6-8
Though he cannot see it, the priest knows that the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant sits just beyond the veil. In faith he offers up the incense to God, whose veiled or unseen presence rests upon the mercy seat. The aroma of the burning incense goes up to heaven as a sweet and pleasing fragrance to God, even as our prayers offered in faith are pleasing to God. As David said, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).
But the plans for the sanctuary and altar are only instructions given to Moses, not yet fulfilled. Before God finishes meeting with Moses, there is a cry of tumult coming up from the Israelite camp:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Exodus 32:1
The people cannot see Moses. He has been on the mountain for weeks. Their little faith loses sight of him and God, whose glory is hidden behind the smoke on the mountain. So the people press Aaron to make them a visible, tangible god, and fearfully he obliges them with a golden statue of a calf like Egypt’s god Apis. What contrast between the faithful service God planned and the faithless reality on the ground!
But one man of faith rescues the people from impending destruction. Moses has learned to trust God’s character, and implores God to “remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13). Moses sees the reality of the unfulfilled promise and God relents from his plans for disaster.
We live in front of the curtain which will one day be forever drawn back. In fact, the unseen reality is that Jesus has already torn apart the curtain that separated us from the Most Holy Place. Through him we have access to God now, at every moment. But we must live out that reality by faith. We walk by faith. By faith we please God. By faithfully praying we please him. As for me, let me be found trusting faithfully in the unseen reality of God’s presence as he receives the sweet aroma of my prayers.
“And yet when I wish to explore how faith works, I usually sneak in by the back door of doubt, for I best learn about my own need for faith during its absence. God’s invisibility guarantees I will experience times of doubt. Everyone dangles on a pendulum that swings from belief to unbelief, back to belief, and ends – where?” Phillip Yancey
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” St Augustine
“Believers, look up – take courage. The angels are nearer than you think.” Billy Graham
“Faith indeed tells what the senses do not tell, but not the contrary of what they see. It is above them and not contrary to them.” Blaise Pascal
“If any of you should ask me for an epitome of the Christian religion, I should say that it is in one word – prayer. Live and die without prayer, and you will pray long enough when you get to hell.” Charles Spurgeon