Grief Considered

Grief is normal and, no matter what culture tells us, is neither short nor shameful. Then again, the church has not always done well in teaching us how to grieve either. We have the Easter promise of resurrection so some people try to make grief a ‘test of faith’ where we’re supposed to “be happy because they’re with Jesus” or “not be sad because we’ll see each other again.” This is utter bollocks.

Grief is love when the beloved is not there, it’s love-in-absence. Our neat and semi-orderly world was built on the presence of this person, and now they’re gone. As people of faith we know that they are not gone forever, but having moved to a country without phone, mail, or internet services, we can’t communicate with them. Our lives have intertwined over years and suddenly they are not there. We touched each other in so many ways and now, like a music we never noticed as it played in the background, the silence is shocking.

What can we do? How do we “pick up the pieces” as the saying goes?

The first thing to do is to know that pieces picking up is not our job. Pieces go into the hands of the Peace Maker. We haven’t dropped them, we cannot fix them, they really are beyond our ability to change. The God who can “make a way out of no way” on the other hand is more than capable of “fixing things.” 

The WAY God fixes is not about gluing, stitching, or even welding things back together “the way they used to be.” God fixed sin by gathering it up on the cross, sticking it in a hole in the ground, and leaving it there, God fixed the power of hell by smashing down the doors and breaking all the chains. He fixed death by rising again in a body that has scars, eats food, and walks through walls. In other words, God fixes things by fundamentally changing them rather than just patching them up.

What God “fixes” in us through the process of grief is not the death or the pain of death. He doesn’t just close up old wounds and give us good scar tissue to bear the weight of life. What God does is transform our hearts so we continue to live into the life he made for us. We let our loved one go into Jesus’ hands and take them back and let them go into his hands again and take them back again. Through the process we learn to trust that Jesus holds them forever and holds us forever and that “no one can snatch them out of my hands.”

The process goes on throughout our life as we learn to be this new person through grief, as we learn to trust the God who keeps us. It is a thing as deep as love and as wide as love because it IS love. It is, again, the love we have for “absent friends” as the old toast goes. And, as the Song of all Songs reminds us “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” And so we will love and let go and take back and learn to trust and weep and laugh because “love is mighty as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.

And nothing can separate us from the love OF God, not even grief.

Amen

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Dropping Peace

John 14.23-29

We’re familiar with the general, sentimental reading of this passage. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The thing about our translation though is that “leave,” while correct, is an unexpected translation of our old friend afiemi “to forgive.”

The thing is that “peace I forgive to you” just doesn’t have the right “ring” now does it? This is because “to forgive” also means “to drop” as in “my peace I drop into your life.” In a sense then, what Jesus is saying is that peace is a thing Jesus drops into our life and then (because this is part of what drop/forgive/leave means) leaves it there.

Jesus is not one of those “givesy backsy” people who hands something over and then comes back wanting it again. He gives and leaves it. In a sense, Peace is the mic that Jesus drops as a “boom, mic drop” into our life. Instead of being some oatey-floaty feeling, a nice sentiment, this peace that is given is a concrete thing. A thing that can be dropped and left.

Cyril of Alexandria suggests that this peace that Jesus is dropping is not just a thing but in fact a particular thing, the Holy Spirit. Jesus has just gotten through talking about the Spirit as “the advocate who will teach… and remind you of what I have said.” Then the next thing he’s talking about is giving peace. And not just giving it but leaving it with the people.

Regardless of the specific identity of this peace which is given, it’s clear that this is a thing dropped into our life. To push the meaning a bit more, it is a thing abandoned in us. It is his peace, a peace only he can give.

It is a peace that isn’t like the simple “absence of war” we’ve been taught to expect from the word. It’s not a generic bit of warm-feelingness or something we can get from a store or a resort experience. This is more than the byproduct of a good massage or a really good day at the spa. It’s something bone-deeper than a good sauna session, more comforting than a warm furry one and a fluffy blanket on a morning when you don’t have to get up. This is peace as a thing that sits in our life and asks “so now whatcha gonna do?”

So what are we going to do with this peace that has been dropped into our life? This (possibly indigestible) lump lodged in the middle of our being? We can ignore it or move around it like an uninterested in moving lump of growly dog. Perhaps we could take it seriously instead.

Take this peace as something that redefines what we mean by “peace” and reorients our living.

It won’t necessarily be flash or obvious like a new gadget that dominates our actions. It may be, as Emily Dickinson put it “the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all –” Or perhaps it is rather subtle, like the “red thread” that in Japanese tradition binds two lovers together across the years.

Regardless of how this peace thing in our life may actually work (and as I’ve seen it, it is by turns flashy and subtle), this peace that has been dropped into our life will, if permitted, re-explain the story of our life.

Most of the peace we have found “as the world gives” is temporary. We’re happy and relaxed in life and then boom it’s all in pieces. We’re bopping along in a tranquil and hopeful and then discover that the abrasiveness of life has worn through it all and we’re stuck reaching for the tattered fragments of what once was.

The peace Jesus gives is more than that. It is the thing that let Paul say “I have learned to be content in all things” and to proclaim “rejoice always” and mean it. It is the peace that challenges us to trust it when we come to the end of ourself. It is the peace that gives us confidence in the ongoing redemption of even the most awful pile of junk that has dropped into our days.

So then, what are we to do with this promise? “Not-grieve your heart nor be-afraid.” The hyphens are important here because both verbs have the Greek negative modifier “not-whatever this verb means.” Yes, this is a cumbersome way to speak of it but it helps show that not-grief, not-agitated, not-distressed is the destination for our life of trust (because both faith and trust are meant by the Greek word pisteuo).

This does not mean that we are to pretend that our heart is unbroken or ungrieving, that’s inhuman. It means that the heart break and grief we face will not, in spite of the way they feel, destroy us utterly. Some emotions feel so huge that if we were ever to allow them free reign, we’d disintegrate immediately. They are regarded as so huge, so awful, so all mighty powerful that nothing that touches them can live.

In one sense, this is totally bogus. We die of actual heart failure, not a broken heart or grief. And yet, when grief, anxiety, and yes heart break take from us our willingness to live, our body will often follow, particularly if it is already weak. And that’s where the Peace of Christ comes in.

What we lose is our willingness to choose life. Once lost, finding it again, particularly willing ourselves to find it, is something of a mug’s game. As Bujold pointed out “Like integrity, love of life was not a subject to be studied, it was a contagion to be caught. And you had to catch it from someone who had it.”

So who do we know whose enthusiasm for life is so strong and contagious that a whole bunch of people locked away from life by fear chose to live fully? Whose absolute determination to live “till the covers fall off,” ran the biggest jailbreak of them all?

Yep. Just like in the movies “you know a guy.” And that’s a good thing.

And to be completely fair, sometimes to live completely, we actually have to die, or at least our false self has to die. The fake face of competence and confidence we’ve used to hide from the world has to flake off. Sometimes, to be fully alive, we have to let the old understanding of who we were to die away in order to really live.

This is like what happens in human relationships. We have numerous simplified selves, and more than a few false faces we hold up to the world. Most of the time these faces are good enough simulacra that we can get by with each other just fine. But when relationships become more intimate, when we go deeper into the land of being ‘naked and unashamed‘ before each other, the more our false faces pinch and bite. Eventually, if we keep our false front up, we will kill the intimacy on which true relationship is built.

In order then to love and be loved truly, madly, and deeply, we absolutely must allow the falseness to die.

But Jesus has already showed us how to die, and how to rise up again. He has already dropped the power of life into us and now we have it, the Peace of Christ. A lump of life that will not be dismissed or eroded or thrown away. Boom, mic drop. There it is, no givesy-backsy.

Peace, Power, Life.

Amen.

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A Little Resurrection

Acts 9.1-6

In one sense, resurrection is a Big Thing, perhaps even The Big Thing. The thing is, being Big it can end up feeling “out there” some thing for the Super Worthy and not Schlubs Like Me. The point of resurrection however, is that it IS for us, so let’s take a few steps sideways with the help of Saul of Tarsus and see if there’s something more here.

The Greek word for resurrection means “stand up again.” It is most commonly written anastasia and the root is anistemi. At base, the verb means “to stand up again, rise up” and far from being some once in a lifetime experience, standing up again is pretty much what we do all the time. There’s even a song about that. Thus, in a semi-serious, semi-silly way of thinking, every time we get up again, we are “experiencing resurrection.”

“But wait,’ as one of my history professors liked to say “there’s so much more!” This is because in the life of the church, every Sunday is considered a “little Easter.” It is the weekly moment where we remember that it was “early in the morning, on the first day of the week” that the women found the empty tomb and went to tell the disciples. Even more, since the Jewish Sabbath recalls The Seventh Day, when God rested from the creation of the world, Sunday is the Eighth Day, the beginning of God’s new creation.

For both of these reasons, Sunday is a Little Easter and, for those who love good Easter hymns, we can sing them all year long! (bwahahahaha!) In fact, as Lent is a penitential season, a housecleaning time that folks do not generally like, Sundays during Lent are called “Sundays IN Lent” as compared to the following “Sundays OF Easter.” Each Sunday is a little Easter. Which should then lead to the observation that “if we have a little Easter, is there a little resurrection to go with it?”

Why yes there is.

Saul, later to be renamed Paul, of Tarsus was on his way to go break heads for God (a sadly all to common pastime among zealots of all stripes). Along the way on the Road to Damascus he has a ‘wet carp to the face’ moment. He’s so surprised that he falls off his horse and gets into a conversation with a stranger. The stranger tells him things he doesn’t want to hear, starting with ‘yer a poopyheaded idjit‘ (I am paraphrasing here). And then gives Saul a new direction for life “Go into the city and you will be shown what is necessary.”

This new direction is itself a great antidote to the “God has a Plan for your life” people who blithely insist that God’s plan is some mail order nine volume set with things like “7:32am, swat snooze button.” Saul has no clue what the city holds, he (at the moment) can’t even see the city or the road to get there. Furthermore, he will not get his imitation leather bound day planner for his life when he gets to the city at all. He’s going to end up being “shown what it is necessary for you to do.” He will, to use a dire old American saying “know it when he sees it.”

He will learn the next thing to do when he’s in a place he isn’t yet and able to see what he can’t yet see. In other words, he’s going to figure it out piece by piece as each one is revealed to him. To be fair, this is how God usually operates. In fact, there was another Saul in the bible who, after being anointed as king was told to “do what comes next” because God would be with him.

So far so big picture future focus, but I seem to recall a comment about resurrection?

Yep, we’ve got your resurrection thingie right here.

The first thing Saul gets after the wet-carp, going-bind, “yer-an-idjit” thing is a really simple direction “get up.” The Greek is anistemi, and is the word used for resurrection.

In fact, a lot of times in the New Testament, when we read “rise up” and “stand up” the word used is anistemi. Thus there is a connection between the act of standing up again on our feet that is connected to resurrection. And because the bible includes a good deal of spiritual comment as well as physical, the act of standing on our metaphorical, spiritual, emotional feet is also a resurrection. The key difference between the anistemi of Saul and the anistemi of Jesus is who was rising up and why.

Jesus’ resurrection is mystically connected to the resurrection of the cosmos, it is the “big R” Resurrection. What Saul does on the Damascus road is a “little r” resurrection. A “little resurrection” if you will, but still a resurrection.

In truth, much of our life in faith is a series of little resurrections, standing-up-agains from the places into which we fall. Some of the things are small, the way our frustration at life came out sideways and hurt a friend, some are significant issues with which we argue, some of them are wider culturally enforced stupidities into which we were born.

Regardless of why we are “down” at this particular moment, the power of Jesus’ big R resurrection in us gives the power for us each day to stand up again, to begin again when we thought we had ended. In short, the big R resurrection comes to us so we can have our little r resurrections day after day after day.

Sometimes we will get the message to stand up during a blinding flash on the Damascus road, sometimes it will be a more subtle invitation, sometimes we may even have had enough of this flopping around on the ground business and reach for the strength of Jesus to get us to stand up again. Regardless of why specifically we are standing up, Jesus’ power in us gives the energy TO stand up and to keep on standing up forever.

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What We Cling To

John 20.19-31

It’s sometimes called the Office of the Keys, that bit where Jesus says “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” We’ve had lots of theological fun and some great yelling sessions about what exactly this means.

More than one Christian has felt that this means if everyone else is ready to forgive, if even God is prepared to forgive, but YOU aren’t ready, then the unforgiven person goes straight to hell because of YOUR unforgiveness. (Interestingly, and strictly for history nerds, this is a ‘hot potato’ version of the Liberum Veto that ended up scuttling the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and led to the partitions of Poland). In this context, people ‘forgive’ lest their own unwillingness condemn others. Which causes the ‘stampede to forgiveness’ after tragedies.

The thing is, that we’ve allowed the traditional interpretation overshadow the actual Greek words and the nuances we’ve missed while having flaming rows about who has the duty and even right to forgive.

You see, what Jesus says is “If one should afiemi the sins [of someone], they have been afiemi to them. If one should krateo [the sins, they have been] krateo [to them.]”

The parallelism is pretty clear so John didn’t record all the fluffy words we would use to make a precise translation. But its clear just the same. “If a person [subjunctive verb] the sins [these are implied the sins of another but the sinner’s identity is not clearly stated] they have been [perfect verb].

Should someone do A [the subjunctive “should” verb], then it has been accomplished [to them]. The key question to face then is what exactly these two verbs mean.

Afiemi is the verb for “forgive, let go of, drop, cease to hold on to.”

Krateo is a bit more fun because it is “to grasp, take possession.” It’s the root of the -crat in Aristo-crat, Demo-crat, and Pluto-crat

So, should one let go of sin, the sins are “let go of.” A better way to say this is “dropped.” Should one drop the sin of another, it has already been dropped. This works particularly well if one thinks of sin as an injury for which one gets a claim ticket against the person who injured one. The actual violation, the missing of the mark (the meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘sin’) by the other person, gives one a claim against them.

What we hold onto then is something like a claim ticket against the other person. They did an injury, they therefore owe us to fix what they’ve broken. BUT and this is the most common reality, even though “they owe us,” they may not recognize the claim, their fix may be no fix at all, or perhaps they delayed so long in ‘making it up to us’ that they’ve died.

However it happens, we have a claim against them, a claim ticket if you will, and it is going unredeemed. What we can do then is drop the ticket, i.e. forgive the other person. And that’s what happens in this promise of Jesus. Should we drop our claim against another person, the claim has already been dropped.

So what happens if we do the other thing, if we krateo instead of afiemi? Well, if we don’t drop it, we hold on to it. In fact, one could say that since krateo carries the sense of “power” and “possession,” we could say, without doing too much damage to the text, that the opposite of dropping our claim is clinging to it. We take power over it and clutch it in our fist. We own it and make it our possession.

And if we take this claim ticket against the universe and clutch it in our fist, it has not only not been dropped, it has been reinforced by our claiming it, our claiming power over (and sometimes through) it. In a sense then it has already been clutched close.

Which brings us at last to the conclusion of the tale. When we are injured by the universe or others, we get a claim against them, a claim to which they can through effort and personal growth make amends. Their amends may or may not redeem our claim. They may even, through ineptitude and ongoing cluelessness, reinforce the injury done us thus making another claim for us to address.

But if we leave ‘fixing this’ in the hands of other people, our personal and spiritual life is now held hostage to someone else’s capacity to fix us. They may be truly amazing people, able to fix all that is wrong within us by a simple word, but if they are truly that good they probably wouldn’t have incurred the claim in the first place. More likely, they are frail contradictory and foolish people trying to do well for and with us but not too sure about how to be their best or fix their own life themselves. Putting our fixing in someone else’s hands takes the pressure off us but the odds are not in our favor.

This leaves us with the challenge of fixing ourselves and dealing with this pile of unresolved claim tickets ourselves. Note that we are not all alone in this, we have allies and friends, this is not on us alone with our reed thin strength alone. But we are going to have to do something with this pile of tickets.

Clutching them close, holding onto them for dear life, is a mug’s game. Waiting for someone else to resolve them leaves us a hostage to fortune and the random factors of the universe. Which more or less leaves us stuck with (ugh) dropping it. It leaves us with the hard task of letting go of all those tickets.

Make no mistake, letting go is hard, not least because part of letting go (as we’ve been taught it in society) includes saying that our entirely legitimate claims won’t be met or fixed or resolved. When I was younger, this was easier to do because I had been taught that I didn’t actually matter so injury to me was normal and expected. Part of the walk to health has been accepting that I do matter and the injuries done to me, the sins against me, were and are WRONG. We have value and the shortcut to forgiveness of pretending that “it doesn’t matter/it ain’t no thing” is itself a second injury.

So we have a pile of valid claims tickets, we have been legitimately hurt and have a right to be angry. How do we let go, afiemi, drop, forgive these injuries without discounting ourselves or simply playing ‘let’s pretend” until “everything is OK?”

Work.

Lots of work.

Some successes, some failures, and the occasional successful failure that teaches us a better way to succeed.

It takes time, effort, energy, and persistence. That’s why they’re called spiritual practices not spiritual achievements.

And to be completely honest, it takes other people. Life is too hard to get through on our own. And so, ironically, we need the very people who are going to hurt us in order to learn how to take our huge pile of claim tickets and toss them into the incinerator of grace.

We need the people who are also struggling with their pile of tickets to help us get to the point where we can learn to both extend and receive grace. We need each other’s strength in order to let go of, afiemi, the tickets we’ve inherited from the abrasiveness of life and the wounds of others who have not yet learned how to drop their own tickets against the world. Even more, it takes the strength of that which is larger than we are, the Everlasting Mercy that, in the face of human sin, shows Divine Mercy and Holy Grace.

Jesus is right, if we should drop the claim ticket, it has already been dropped. If on the other hand, we cling to it and make it the center of our power in life, if we krateo that ticket, we cling to the very thing that clings to us like a waterlogged jacket when we’re swimming for our life.

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Locked Through Fear

John 20.19-31

On Thomas Sunday we tend to spend a lot of time focused on Thomas and his ‘doubts.’ In part, this gives us a chance to feel happy mocking a ‘weakness’ that other people have (but totally not us, honest!). We get to get on people who are not ‘sold out for Jesus’ and those who have trouble wrapping their heads around the notion that resurrection means them too.

And then there’s this fun bit of ‘stage dressing’ we miss entirely so we can get to the part about yelling at Thomas. “And the doors were kekleismenown where the disciples were dia ton phobon…”

The first word there is the perfect (completed past action) participle of kleiow “to shut, bar, close fast.” Like the gates of a fortress prepared for assault, the doors were barred. One might even get poetic and say that “the doors were clenched shut.” And why were they clenched? Dia ton phobon “through the fear.”

Yes, the translation is usually done “because of the fear” but dia is more commonly translated as “through” than “because.” For instance “no one comes to the father if not dia me” and “all things came into being dia him” and “enter dia the narrow gate.” So while it is true that the doors were locked because the fear was in the air, they were also locked through fear. Fear was the bar that held the door shut against everything outside.

The doors were clenched closed through fear and while those heavy bars and chains kept the hypothetical crowds of angry Others on the outside, who else was on the other side? Jesus.

After all, if he hadn’t been on the outside of the door, why would we have needed to know that the door was locked or that Jesus “came and stood in their midst?” Note that it doesn’t say that he “appeared” out of thin air, but that he came and stood in their midst. The implication is that there was no puff of smoke or grand trumpet bit. Jesus just came in and stood among them.

He walked through the doors clenched closed by fear and stood in the heart of his frightened, confused, disciples and said “Peace to you.”

If the doors had been open, this would have been totally normal. If the doors had been shut but not barred, it would have caused no comment whatsoever. But the doors were clenched closed, barred with something heavy under the knob or with an actual bar set into slots like a castle gate. And Jesus walked right through. That’s why John felt it worth noting. The doors were clenched closed through fear and Jesus walked right through them.

He saw the defenses the disciples had raised and ignored them to walk into the heart of the gathering that needed him. And when he came, he gave peace.

The peace was so effective that when the disciples were gathering again a week later, the doors were just shut. There is no mention of fear at all.

So then, what does this mean to us?

Let me answer that question with another one. Where are you clenched closed in fear?

Oooh, it’s not so much fun to have Thomas Sunday when the topic for discussion is our own fearfulness now is it. But that is pretty much what we have to do here because it is the parts of our life which are locked through fear that generally guard our tenderest hurts. In fact, a good chunk of our social maladaption and even addictions come from attempts to protect old hurts. We turn to all manner of “crutches” to protect the sad/hurt part and the fear of being hurt again bars the doors of our wound against all comers.

This is a bit more dramatic that we might like to see or say but it does point to part of what was happening that day “the first day of the week” when the disciples gathered behind locked doors. They had been hurt by Outside deeply and horribly. They had watched their friend die by inches as a public spectacle. To add to the mess, he was a holy man, a messenger from God who brought love close to them. And he was dead.

They’d had a day or so to start to absorb the horror but were probably still in the fog of extreme hurt, so they were protecting themselves. Anyone who has tried to walk with another through deep and passionate grief knows that the person can at times lash out to defend themself against even the people who are trying to help them. A hurt pet can bite the vet who is trying to help them, and people are no different.

We do not know each other’s injury but they are there. For that matter, substance abusers are rarely hooked into the addiction spiral by casual curiosity in the midst of abundant good choices. The opioids that ravage us today are pain-killers, they are designed to help bodies that hurt and not all hurts are physical (although many are). Cocaine and Methamphetamine give energy to the tired, lethargic, and hopeless. Alcohol, that old standby, dulls the edges of life and gives a warm feeling. There are so many other ways in which these addictions come in to meet our hurt and Parasitically defend against further harm by introducing a new kind of harm by closing the doors of life within us.

And those are just the more obvious ways in which we consciously and unconsciously clench the doors of our heart closed and bar them against the outside world. There are heart habits and personal behaviors that are just as life warping as any addiction. The person who is always suspicious of others. The one who closes themself off from interaction because people are dangerous. Even the ebullient glad-hander can be hiding by meeting so many people without being deeply available.

The doors of our heart snap shut against outsiders with truly depressing regularity. So what can we do to deal with this?

First is simply to recognize that we’re doing this . Look to the fearful defenses and ask ‘are the conditions that prompted this defense still in effect?” This is the sniff test to see if the danger is still real.

Second however, is more challenging. It is to see Jesus in our midst saying “peace be with you.” The doors were barred and locked by fear but Jesus still stood in the midst of the disciples saying “peace with you.” Even though fear was all around and they wanted to flee from future hurt, there God stood in their midst and blessed them with peace.

Having checked to see if the fear is still warranted and having heard the word of peace, what next? Next comes reaching out to others for help as we deal with the wounds of the past. While the disciples locked the door because of fear of a future mob coming to do them ill, the were still nursing their pain at the death of a Dear One. They still carried that hurt and would continue to do so even if the mob they feared had never come to beat down the doors.

And so as they dealt with grief behind those doors locked by fear, we too have doors and grief. So the first step is to check and see if the reason for fear remains, then to hear the word of peace and blessing, and finally to deal with the mess within. For this, as I’ve said, we need allies and to trust the one who tells us “Peace be with you.” We will ultimately need these friends and this word of peace because the fourth task is forgiving our hurt, dropping our claim ticket against the universe instead of clinging to it. But that is another work for another post.

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All The Doubt I Have

One of the key misunderstandings of faith v. doubt is that Real Believers Don’t Doubt. We are told that the Truly Faithful never question because there is never a reason for them to doubt. Well good for them but that’s neither biblical nor the pathway to spiritual life.

Anyone who has read the Psalms will be familiar with the laments, the “why have you let this happen?” Psalms where the psalmist asks “why?” While these Psalms do usually end on an up note, they start out by asking the “where are you God?” question that is the essential move of doubt. This is because doubt is fundamentally a question of “why is God not where I expect God to be/doing what I expect God to do?” Thus, when God is not busy doing and being to our expectations, we doubt.

If the Psalms are too tame a field for God being unexpected in a negative way, might I direct your attention to Job. In the whole book Job’s friends are attempting to convince him that all the awful things that are happening to him are punishment for Doing Bad Things. God cannot (so they think) be wrong or do “bad” so all the badness Job is facing must be Justice for Job’s Misdeeds.

Job is not impressed with this line of reasoning, going on and on that he is being punished unjustly, that God is being unjust, and that he’s entirely innocent. And who comes out to be right in the end? Job.

After grilling Job with an excellent bit of sarcasm (“where were you when I made the world, hmmmm?“) to remind him that he really is out of his depth; God tells Job’s friends that Job is right. Job’s ranting about injustice, his defending his own integrity over against the smug certainties of his friends? That stuff is right and God agrees with it. (OK, probably not all of it but he does tell Job’s friends that “You have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.”

So all Job’s doubts and his yelling at God, actions which even the kindliest person would have to call “doubting,” are actually biblical and theologically approved.

“But wait,” as one of my professors was fond of saying, “there’s so much more!”

If you remember above, I defined doubt as that moment of mismatch between what we expect God to do/be and what God is actually doing/being. That moment when we go to sit down in the chair we know is behind us only to find out that we were a bit off target. Doubt then is the down-elevator feeling in the pit of our stomach when we realize that the picture of God doesn’t match the reality of what God does. And this leads us to the other reason why “no doubt faith” is neither biblical nor a path to spiritual life.

Part of our spiritual life is the changing image of God we have. When we are kids, our teachers gave us an image of God that we could understand. We got a child-sized God to fit our child-sized life. For some people that actually is enough, the child-God they got is actually big enough to deal with the changes and chances of life without having to face questions of fit. Sometimes, the teaching was good and flexible enough (and perhaps the challenges of life are small enough) that the image of God doesn’t need to grow.

Sometimes however, we find ourselves confronting issues bigger than we are while accompanied by that child-sized God we got in our earliest days. This disconnect leads to the experience of doubt and can lead us in several directions.

We can decide that our child-sized God must be defended at all costs and turn away from the issues bigger than us. This denial of doubt can work, as long as the situation isn’t too big or goes on too long. If it does however, we find ourselves in the place Steve Taylor described “Shivering with doubts that were left unattended. So you tossed away the cloak that you could have mended. Don’t you know by now why the chosen are few? It’s harder to believe than not to.” Eventually the mismatch and our unwillingness to address it erodes the child-sized God within us and we throw the whole God business out the window.

If on the other hand we embrace the doubt, we take a good look at our image of God and the situation before us and then wrestle in the dark with what we do not know, we can grow. We may well, like Jacob, exit the wrestling session limping, carrying some wound which will change our life into the future. Yet still, if we take the wrestling seriously, if we look to our doubt as a sign of a place where we need to labor to grow, our understanding of God can grow to match our life, our trust in the Holy can deepen, and we can go into a future with health and hope.

Thus doubt, if attended to with study, labor, companions, and trust, (all of which are part of a faithful life), can be a doorway into greater trust.

Some people never need to face doubt, perhaps their child’s understanding of God is indeed big enough to face the issues of their days. Perhaps they have decided to hold fast to what they knew and reject what they do not. But if they (and we) embrace the possibility that doubt is a marker of an issue to address, they (and we) can grow deeper into faith.

Faith takes all my trust to live and it needs my doubt as well because trust and doubt together can drive me deeper into what it means to know and be known by the mystery in the dark which loves me.

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