Believe It Or Not
When I was in my second year of seminary I was assigned, in Theology class, to write a paper called, What it Means to Me to be a Christian. This paper prompted a faith crisis in my life. I had learned in Biblical studies class about the historical critical method of Bible study which directed one to find out the historical context of-a passage of scripture and the possible source from which the writer got the material in order to determine it's meaning for today. In using this Bible study method I became aware of certain discrepancies and myths in the Bible. In Theology class we were directed to ask questions such as, "Who is God?, Why Jesus? and What is Sin?." As a result of these now things I was leaning about Christianity I struggled in writing that paper, asking myself the question, "How do I know any of this stuff is true?" I entered a very down time, a doubting time. I had difficulty believing.
Faith is a difficult thing when it is seen as believing certain facts to be true. Two persons from the first chapter of Luke illustrate this point for us. Zechariah was a priest married to Elizabeth. They had never been able to have a baby during their marriage and now they were both advanced in years and there was no longer a chance for a child.
One of Zechariah's priestly tasks was to burn incense and pray on behalf of the people of Israel while alone in the temple. While doing this one day an angel appeared to Zechariah, nearly scaring him out of his wits. "Don't be afraid," said the angel. "God cares about you and will give you and Elizabeth a son. Name him John. He will be a great man, a prophet. It will be his job to prepare the Lord's people for the Messiah."
Zechariah responded to this tremendous news by saying, "We're old, my wife and I. What sign will you show me that this will happen?" Oops, Zechariah, don't ask for signs; it shows a lack of trust and faith. But he got his sign, he was struck dumb, unable to say a word until the baby was born. For Elizabeth did conceive and gave birth to a son, whom we know as John the Baptist.
Luke then contrasts Zechariah with another person who received a bizarre message from an angel, Mary, the mother of our Lord. Mary was a teenaged girl, engaged to be married to Joseph. An angel appeared to her and said, "Guess what? You're going to have a baby, a son, to be named Jesus. He will be the King we've been waiting for. His kingdom will never end. God has been good to you, Mary."
Practical Mary asked simply for clarification saying, "Now can this be since I am still a virgin." To which the angel Gabriel responded by telling her that nothing is impossible with God; that even now her relative Elizabeth was six months pregnant.
Mary then accepted the angel's word to her saying, "I am the Lord's servant. So be it." Still being a practical girl, Mary rushed to see Elizabeth who indeed was pregnant. Mary's faith was confirmed.
Such faith was applauded often in the Gospel of Luke, faith to believe God's promises. The disciple, Thomas, earned the name, Doubting Thomas, because he did not believe that the risen Jesus had appeared to his fellow disciples. Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
Pastor Fred Craddock tells a story of such faith. He said there was a slow minded kid who lived in his neighborhood when he was growing up. The other kids often made fun of him and teased him. He'd believe anything you told him. They'd tell him that the school had burned down and he'd run to the school to see it. They would tell him that his mother was calling him and he'd rush home to find she, of course, had not called. He always believed whatever they told him.
One day a revival meeting came to Craddock's town. Craddock and his boyhood friends and their families attended. When the preacher asked for people to come forward to commit their lives to Christ, Craddock said the rest of the kids stayed seated, feeling rather uncomfortable by the whole affair. But that kid they always teased went forward and knelt in prayer. He simply believed it!
Such child like faith it something, isn't it? But it is difficult to have it if faith is seen as believing certain facts to be true. Faith is not that. Faith is a relationship with Jesus. I wrote my paper in seminary from the perspective of doubt saying basically that even though I did not understand everything about Christianity, nor was it all logical, that God still loves me and sticks by me despite my doubt and unbelief.
Ernest Ronan, in his book, The Life of Jesus, written in 1863 understood this relational quality of faith when he said, "People did not become his disciples by believing this thing or that thing, but in being attached to his person and in loving him."
When Mary believed, she believed in that loving relationship with God. When Zechariah doubted and asked for a sign, he, maybe just for a moment, doubted that relationship with God; doubted that God would be faithful to him no matter what. Mary is to be commended for her faith and has been revered through the centuries as a result.
But me, I relate more to Zechariah, looking for signs, doubting God's promises, having a "show me" attitude more often than I would like. But not always. I relate in my faith life to a story of a little boy who was out flying a kite. It was a beautiful day for kite-flying with a light wind. The boy let out his kite string much farther than usual for him so that the kite disappeared behind a low lying cloud. A woman came up to the boy and said, " What are you doing?" "I'm flying a kite," he replied. "Flying a kite are you? I don't see a kite," teased the woman. "I can't see it." said the boy," but every once and a while a feel the tug on the string, so I know for sure it's there!"
I can't always see what I want to see in my relationship with God, but I feel the tug and know that God is there. That tug comes to you and me through a supportive group of Christians, in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, in a friend's embrace, a quiet moment of reflection by a lake. You name it, God is there in all circumstances tugging at us in some way, reminding us that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are loved forever and for always.
Marjorie Weiss Danville, Pennsylvania