The Lost Balloon: A Reflection on Sola Fide

“Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.” Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 61

Tuesday was a very windy day in the Windy City. As I do every Tuesday, I had spent the entire morning at my church. My five and three year old had thoroughly enjoyed their morning with a sweet caretaker, Rosemary, who showers the church’s children with attention, plays with them, and brings varying delights to them week after week. Last Tuesday–a very windy day in the Windy City–Rosemary brought balloons.

As we left church at the end of the morning, I said to my three year old daughter, “Be sure to hold your balloon very tightly. Don’t let go. It’s very windy, and if you let go, the balloon will be gone!”

Image by Karim Manjra
Image by Karim Manjra

In an unexpected moment just as we neared our car, a strong gust tore the balloon from her hand. Instantly it was out of reach, leaving me with a sinking and eerie feeling– had she ever even had it in her grasp? Motherly instinct kicked in, and I said to my daughter, “Stay here and don’t move.”

Through the parking lot I ran, both focused on the task at hand and scolding myself in my mind. “What on earth are you thinking? This balloon is out of your reach, and you know it!” It sailed and bounced on, somehow pulling me after, compelling me to the chase. It was in this moment of self conscious exertion that I began to think of the balloon as a metaphor for my justification and righteousness before God.

As it made landing in a boggy thicket of rushes, I told myself to abandon the task. It sat resting in a low spot, glistening in the sun, seemingly glued in place. A few steps into the mud, and I was irritated with myself for trying. Just like the works we so often slip into relying upon, I somehow knew that all of my mud-trudging would leave me both empty handed and dirty.

“Maybe I *can* overtake it after all,” I thought each time it paused to entice me. I knew deep down this was not true, while my mind continued to race. “It’s not that far out of reach; the law is not that high a standard; the wind is not that strong; you are more capable than you think; your righteousness is worthy.”

The scene repeated twice more: the balloon was pulled up a steep hill onto the soccer field, and I was again pulled with it. It found a resting spot beside a small fence, and I re-exerted myself. Just as I thought I drew near, it was blown over the fence and into a baseball field. I knew deep down that I would never catch it, and yet I spied a small gate that had been left open and slipped through it. I raced across the field, nearing my prize.

In a moment of both dread and relief, the balloon was suddenly–finally–pulled over the high back fence of the outfield by the relentless wind. It’s destination: a wild wetland; a journey I knew I was incapable of making. The balloon and my justification were not to be caught as a result of my effort.

I turned to begin the long, defeated walk back to the car, noticing immediately just how far away I had gotten. I was disappointed in myself, pained to deliver the news to my daughter that I had failed. As I reached the car and climbed into my seat, the kids were silent. “I’m sorry honey. I couldn’t get the balloon,” I said.

We sat quietly for just a moment, and then the small words came from the back seat: “It’s okay, Mommy. Daddy will give me a balloon when we get home.” Aah, the faith of a child. She is trusting and resting in what she knows to be true: that her father can restore what is lost, and that he will do for her what she cannot do for herself.

“…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.” Excerpted WCF Ch. XIV

 

 


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