But If Not
The following is an excerpt from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. Whatever you may think of the man, when a person speaks something truthful, it deserves to be heard by all who love and cherish the truth (if you disagree, you might want to read what old Brother Brigham said about the subject.)
This is my favorite part:
But let me move now to the basic point of the message. Know this morning, if we forget everything I’ve said, I hope you won’t forget this. It came to the point after saying “Our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, but! if he doesn’t deliver us, we still are not gonna bow.” “But if not” — do you get that? That these men were saying that “Our faith is so deep and that we’ve found something so dear and so precious that nothing can turn us away from it. Our God is able to deliver us, but if not…” This simply means, my friends, that the ultimate test of one’s faith is his ability to say “But if not.” You see there is what you may call an ‘if’ faith, and there is a ‘though’ faith. And the permanent faith, the lasting, the powerful faith is the ‘though’ faith. Now the ‘if’ faith says, “If all goes well; if life is hopeful, prosperous and happy; if I don’t have to go to jail; if I don’t have to face the agonies and burdens of life; if I’m not ever called bad names because of taking a stand that I feel that I must take; if none of these things happen, then I’ll have faith in God, then I’ll be alright.” That’s the ‘if’ faith. You know, a lot of people have the ‘if’ faith. Jacob found himself in that dilemma once, and his faith was contingent on an if. And he said “Now if God will be with me and if he will keep me in this way that I go; and if God will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the LORD be my God.” That’s the ‘if’ faith; Jacob hadn’t quite gotten to the essence of religion.
There is a ‘though’ faith, though. And the ‘though’ faith says “Though things go wrong; though evil is temporarily triumphant; though sickness comes and the cross looms, neverthless! I’m gonna believe anyway and I’m gonna have faith anyway; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” And old Job got to that point, he had a ‘though’ faith. He looked out and everything that he had had been taken away from him, and even his wife said to him “Now, what you ought to do, Brother Job, is to curse God and die. God has been unkind to you, and you should have let God know a long time ago that you would only follow him if he allowed you to stay rich, if he allowed your cattle to stay in place. You ought to curse him and die, Job, because he hasn’t treated you right.” But Job said “Honey, I’m sorry but my faith is deeper than that. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. My faith is a ‘though’ faith.” And this is the essence of life and religion. The question is whether you have an ‘if’ faith, or whether you have a ‘though’ faith.
You know what this says in substance, that ultimately religion is not a bargaining matter. A lot of people bargain with God. “If you just let me avoid pain, God; if you allow me to be happy in all of its dimensions; if you don’t allow any suffering any suffering to come; if you don’t allow frustrating moments to come, then I’ll be alright, I’ll give you a tenth of my income, and I’ll go to church and I’ll have faith in you.” But religion is not a bargaining experience, it’s not a commercial relationship. And you know, no great experience in the bargaining atmosphere. Think of friendship, think of love, and think of marriage. These things are not based on ‘if,’ they’re based on ‘though.’ These great experiences are not based on a bargaining relationship, not an ‘if’ faith, but a ‘though’ faith.
And I’m coming to my conclusion now. And I want to say to you this morning, my friends, that somewhere along the way you should discover something that’s so dear, so precious to you, that is so eternally worthful, that you will never give it up. You ought to discover some principle, you ought to have some great faith that grips you so much that you will never give it up. Somehow you go on and say “I know that the God that I worship is able to deliver me, but if not, I’m going on anyhow, I’m going to stand up for it anyway. What does this mean? It means, in the final analysis, you do right not to avoid hell. If you’re doing right merely to keep from going to something that traditional theology has called hell then you aren’t* doing right. If you do right merely to go to a condition that theologians have called heaven, you aren’t doing right. If you are doing right to avoid pain and to achieve happiness and pleasure then you aren’t doing right. Ultimately you must do right because it’s right to do right. And you got to say “But if not.” You must love ultimately because it’s lovely to love. You must be just because it’s right to be just. You must be honest because it’s right to be honest. This is what this text is saying more than anything else. And finally, you must do it because it has gripped you so much that you are willing to die for it if necessary.
And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause–and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice. These boys stand before us today, and I thank God for them, for they had found something. The fiery furnace couldn’t stop them from believing. They said “Throw us into the fiery furnace.” But you know the interesting thing is, the Bible talks about a miracle. Because they had faith enough to say “But if not,” God was with them as an eternal companion.
Pretty awesome stuff. The whole speech is great, I get pumped up whenever I read it. Like I said, I love truth, wherever it may be found.
Updated: November 14, 2010