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Dependence of faith on free will

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). With these words our Savior tells us that He offers to each of us the gift of faith, but it is up to us to accept or to reject this gift.

The Lord is merciful to those who doubt not from obstinacy but due to spiritual weakness and inexperience. Those who seek the truth and lament their lack of faith receive Divine help to acquire faith. Thus, for example, Christ took pity on the despairing father of the possessed youth who cried out: "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) and healed his sick son. He likewise had compassion on the apostle Peter who, having become frightened of the storm, began to sink. Giving His hand to Peter, the Lord gently rebuked him, saying: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:30). Nor did the Lord reject the doubting Thomas, who wished to be personally convinced of the miracle of the Resurrection. The Lord, having condescended to Thomas with His appearance, did not, however, praise him for becoming a believer on the basis of an obvious proof but said to him, "You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who do not see and believe" (John 20:29). In other words, faith based on external experience has little value; it's actually not faith but ordinary knowledge. True faith is born of inner experience; it demands sensitivity, a spiritual up-lifting, and, therefore, is worthy of praise.

However, we see the complete opposite of such a searching faith in the Jewish scribes and Pharisees of Christ's time. They obstinately and stubbornly refused to believe in Jesus Christ as the God-sent Messiah. Neither the fulfillment in Christ of the ancient prophecies, nor His countless miracles and raising of the dead, nor signs in nature, nor even His Resurrection shook their unbelief. On the contrary, with each new miracle they became still more embittered and hostile towards Him. Thus if even Christ was unable to awaken faith in those who did not want to believe, is it any wonder that in our time there are conscious and adamant atheists? They claim that they do not believe because they see no miracles. But the real reason for their unbelief lies not in a lack of miracles, which occur daily in different parts of the world, but in the negative direction of their will. They simply don't want God to exist.

The problem of unbelief is closely tied to the sinfulness of human nature. Because the subject of faith is not an abstract theory but a positive teaching that demands certain behavior and imposes definite responsibilities, not everyone is willing to change his life around to adapt to its high moral standards. Faith puts a check on a person's greed. It calls him to overcome his selfishness, to live moderately, to do good to others, even to sacrifice himself. When a man prefers his passions over the will of God and places his own good over the good of others, then he will do everything he can to repudiate arguments in favor of faith. The Savior indicated that an evil will is the chief cause of unbelief when He said: "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).

Being capable of suppressing faith within himself, man is also capable of strengthening it. Turning again to the Gospel, we find in it striking examples of ardent faith. Inspiring in this regard are the examples of the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, the woman with an issue of blood, the blind men of Jericho, and similar others. The Lord repeatedly called for His listeners to imitate the faith of these people. Consequently, it lies within our power, with God's help, to gather and direct our spiritual capabilities towards a greater faith. Faith, as everything good, demands effort. That is the reason a reward is promised for it: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).

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