“Have Faith in God.” These words from Jesus follow immediately after the observation that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed earlier in the day had indeed withered and died and they immediately precede the statement by Jesus in which he said, “I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” Mark 11:23 (NLT)
Does Jesus’s directive to “Have faith in God” apply to the fig tree or to the mountain or both? There are many things that Jesus said and did that can be difficult to understand. When Jesus made this statement, certainly there were some who were still asking themselves, “Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?” It wasn’t even the right time of year for there to be fruit. It must be an illustration with a deeper application.
While some of the disciples were still scratching their heads wondering what the fig tree had done to deserve such a fate, Jesus proceeds to tell them about tossing a mountain into the sea, but only if they believed and had no doubts. By now, some heads were about to explode. First, it was the innocent fig tree in the wrong place at the wrong time and then this mountain was threatened with uprooting and removal. What did it all mean?
It is most convenient to spiritualize both the fig tree and the mountain because we find it difficult to see a practical application in either scenario. What we can fail to realize is that in this discourse neither the fig tree nor the mountain are as significant as Jesus urging us to “Have faith in God.” The understanding of what God does may eventually come, but even if it doesn’t, it is more important for us to be confident in God. If we cannot learn to have faith in God in the face of mystery, we are likely to be frustrated and bewildered.
Faith is not certainty and understanding. It is about having faith in God even when we do not understand. For some, faith requires a specific conviction of what is needed for what the desired outcome should be, but many times in life we can relate to this verse. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Romans 8:26 (NLT).
There are times in life when we have insight and God reveals to us specific direction and we are able to pray with targeted conviction, strong faith and without doubts, but there will be other times when we are standing between withered fig trees and mountains and we won’t be exactly sure what it means or what we should do. We will remember Jesus and his command to “Have faith in God” and at that time our faith will be tested and stretched, not because we have understanding of the situation, but because we have determined to place our confidence in the goodness and faithfulness of God.