Wretched Faith

We’re 4 months into 2016 and I already want to nuke this entire year. Wave after wave of tragedy has hit us. David Bowie, Prince, the Paris bombings, etc. etc.

Beyond the general tragedy that has generated storm clouds over the earth, there is also personal tragedy. At the beginning of this year, my father-in-law committed suicide. Then, after attempting to conceive for our fourth child and the shock of finding out we found out we’re having twins, we found out weeks later we had lost one.

My wife has been the one who has faced the most devastation with these personal losses. Her hopes have been continually dashed upon the rocks and her faith has been thoroughly thrashed. So, I write this not for my sake, but for hers.

I have certainly grieved but my proximity to the aforementioned tragedies is rather distant in comparison to my wife’s. I watch the story as a bit player. She’s one of the main characters. As such, the faith she’s already been fighting for in her heart is tattered and torn at this point. It’s been beaten by life. To a degree, its failed her in adversity. I could see how she may see God has failed her. If she’s mad at God, frankly I wouldn’t blame her.

As the husband and supposed “spiritual leader” of this relationship, I try to bring words of comfort. I have wanted to say things like “God mourns with you” or “Christ knows what you’re going through”, but even before they’d come out of my mouth, I’d know they’d come off as cliches. I only have to look at the tear-soaked face of my wife to understand that what she needs now is for me to shut up and put my arm around her.

At this point, I’m just present. I’m trying to listen and not trying to solve. With that being said, I have to have an outlet. Hence, this blog post. I’m not going to try to solve theodicy, nor am I going to say that everything will be OK. I’m just giving my perspective on why faith is important, even among all the tragedy.

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator says,

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

I tend to agree with that. Faith isn’t an intellectual assent. It’s not a matter of solving the questions of existence with equations and logic. Theologians aren’t scientists and scientists aren’t theologians. A Christian should be particularly apt to understand this as Jesus often told parables to people to get them to understand what he meant. Could Jesus have chosen a more obscure vehicle for theology? I think Jesus gave truth wrapped in mystery so that we could search for truth instead of expecting it to be hand-wrapped for us on a silver platter. And as Jesus told us in John 14:6, Christ himself is “truth”. We seek a person, not a knowledge.

In this season, I’ve had time to think and pray. I will be the first to admit that I’m horrendous at regularly reading scripture, but when I’m in a period of anxiety or mourning, the scriptures are where I turn. I have found regular comfort in reading the Psalms, and the prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah particularly. The curious thing about the prophets is that they follow a familiar pattern. There is a warning, a fall and a promise of redemption. Often, the promise of redemption isn’t fulfilled until decades later. A lot of good that does the Israelites living in squalor and exile at the time of the prophecy! I guess that’s probably why a lot of prophets got stoned.

I’ve also found myself reading Job and the interesting thing about Job is that it has a happy ending but the book is 42 chapters long and the happy ending is one chapter at the end with a brief mention of what happened to Job. It’s rather anticlimactic for a book about tragedy. Most of the book is Job talking to his friends and Job’s friends giving him awful advice and then God enters the scene and wrecks it up. The book is a lesson on the transcendence of God in the midst of tragedy and how we’re little ants on an anthill compared to God. The thing about Job is that without putting Jesus in the picture, God seems rather malevolent and cruel. Job 19:25 has Job making what many of the early church considered to be the foreshadowing to Christ when he says,

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”

You have to understand that nobody believes they will “see” God. The Jewish people didn’t believe God was some figure that could be related to in that way, at least in a literal sense. He was transcendent and almighty and no man will get to see God. There also wasn’t really a developed view of the afterlife. So, for Job to essentially say that he will come face to face with God, “with my own eyes” even (v.27) is not common to the Jewish frame of thinking. That’s why I see Jesus in this picture.

The conclusion I’m coming to here is that faith isn’t easy. It’s not something for the weak or feeble-minded. It’s not an opiate to make all our problems go away. Faith is hard. Believing in God doesn’t take a weak mind, but a strong one. It takes someone who is willing to live with the tension of not knowing why things happen and also the cosmic hope that justice will happen in the end. For the Christian, Jesus Christ is who we look to when the world is crashing around us. Just as Job knew that someday the light would shine at the end of the tunnel and the redeemer, reconciler and judge of the universe would advocate for him, we too believe this. Does this make our lives easier as we live in exile? No. It doesn’t. And anyone who tells you that is most likely lying. Faith is wretched and while Christ is near to us, we are still living in a world with real hurts and wounds. We may not feel the healing in the moment, but we must possess the hope that it is coming.

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” 

John 16:33b

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