Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Faith, or the Lack Thereof

It’s difficult to believe in things we have never seen with our own eyes, especially in an age like ours, full of skepticism and mistrust.  We’re taught that ‘seeing is believing’, that evidence must come before conclusions and beliefs.  And while there isn’t anything implicitly wrong with those assumptions, it certainly stacks the deck against believing in a God who cannot be seen.  And to be honest, I sometimes find it difficult to believe…to wrap my head around the mysteries of salvation.  I’ve spent a good deal of my life living in the interplay between faith and doubt.  And while I sometimes envy people whose faith never seems to waver, never seems to shake, I’ve come to a point where I understand that, for me, taking as my spiritual dance partners both doubt and faith is what has made me the disciple I am today.

There’s a certain kind of electricity that charges the air when we have to give ourselves, mind, body, and soul, over to something that we cannot see, something that we can’t verify, something that may even terrify us.  When, in spite of all the impulses of resistance that would have us flee from a life of faithful discipleship, we still give ourselves over to the goodness of God and the mysteries of Jesus Christ.  For the truth of the Christian Gospel is not that we are saved by our faith, as if our act of believing is what seals the deal and sets us free.  The truth of the Gospel is that the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is what has saved us.  It’s the work of the Holy Spirit within us, around us, above and below us that saves us and makes us new.  For even if our doubt would have us second-guess our commitments, or even leave us awake at 2 in the morning wondering why we’ve committed our lives to this invisible God, there is nothing we can do to escape God’s presence. Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 

There is nowhere that we can hide from God, even in the secret places of our hearts, those places of doubt or fear that we so desperately don’t want to admit we have.  And it’s within that interplay between doubt and faith that real magic can happen.  In the letter to the Hebrews, we bear witness to the wonderful works of faithfulness done by our matriarchs and patriarchs.  Some walked through the Red Sea, resisted empires of domination, and fought with lions. Others were tortured for the faith, wandering through deserts and living in caves.  And the testimony is that, in the midst of these struggles, they remained faithful to the God who had called them into service.

Yet, their humanity remained intact...and with that humanity comes the fear, doubt, and all the other things we experience that can cripple us from action.  But somehow, they found a well of strength to draw from, to persevere, to do what God had called them to do.  And therein lies the beauty of this life of discipleship and service we are called to.  The measure of our faith depends more on how we choose to live, how we choose to act, how faithful we remain in our lives, even if we are struggling with believing in what we cannot see and touch.

There’s a story from the Gospel of John that always fascinates and inspires me.  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ It’s one of the most famous interactions of Jesus, when he revealed himself to Thomas, the last holdout in believing that Jesus was truly risen from the dead.  Thomas saw with his eyes the Risen Christ, touched the wounds in his body.  He had something tangible upon which to put his faith.  But Jesus’ reply to him doesn’t lift up and exalt the kind of faith in things we can see.  For he understood the struggle of those who would follow after him, the struggle of putting our trust in things we cannot see. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Like the father of a child Jesus cured in the Gospel of Mark, perhaps the most honest prayer we can make sometimes is, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.” And in these moments, the true and deep faith of unknowing comes forth, where we take a flying leap into the arms of God, trusting in God much more than concretely knowing God in the ways we know and experience one another.  And in response to this often difficult and confusing life of faith, I’m thankful for the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Romans: For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Six years ago, I wrote a prayer that speaks to this interplay between doubt and faith, between.  If you find yourself living between those two poles of spirituality, perhaps you can make it your own, too.  Come to me quickly, Oh Lord…come to me quickly. And if it is not to be quick, at least come to me eventually. For your servant I will remain even in the midst of your silence, which I will one day know not to be true silence, but simply an invitation to dance in total harmony with the Mystery that sits above all mysteries.

*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on August 14, 2016.  The texts were Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, and Luke 12:49-56.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your sermon. As I have gotten older and become somewhat aware of how immense the universe is, I wonder how the Creator could be that involved with us tiny humans. It helps to be aware of the struggles others confess to.