January 15, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 26:31-35.
Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’; but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.” Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And all the disciples spoke likewise.”
I was listening to NPR this morning about young adults and their struggles with religion, part of a series this week entitled Losing Our Religion about the declining participation in organized religion in this country. One young man, Kyle, as an 18-year old teenager, had a Latin phrase tattooed on his wrist that translated means “salvation from the cross.” At the time he may have thought that his faith would never be shaken, just as the disciples all said likewise to Jesus. At the time he was tattooed he thought to himself that when he struggled with his faith, he would have to look at it and wouldn’t be able to “run away from it.” Now at age 27 he told the interviewer, “I don’t [believe in God] but I really want to.”
Like the disciples he has had his faith shaken. He admits that he is constantly struggling with this issue. I can identify with the disciples and with this young man. I’ve had times in my life when I didn’t believe or rather I don’t know if I believed or not, so I called myself an agnostic; I hedged. But even after my faith developed, I have had times when I question God, when I wonder if I really believe what I profess. Like Kyle, I have to admit that my faith is a continual struggle. As he says, there are no facts. I can’t accept what I believe on the basis of facts, of the intellect, of reasoning. It can’t be done, though lots of theologians and preachers have tried mightily.
As William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote in Nearer, My God, “It is certainly more prudent to acknowledge the barrier of mystery than to go to pieces searching for rational explanations beyond human reach. Do not seek to know the unknowable. Frustrate frustration by declining to divine divine purpose.” I like that simple conclusion, throwing up my hands in resignation, because really that’s all I can do.
I admire Kyle’s willingness to not let himself run away from his struggles with faith. If I were inclined to tattoos, I might consider that one for myself — salvation from the cross. Jesus knew that his disciples, Peter included, would cut and run. But Jesus also knew that they would overcome their struggles with fear and confusion and disappointment, the defeat of the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams as they had imagined them. They would realize that their salvation depended on the cross, that forgiveness of their sins had been conferred. When they realized that “fact” he knew that they would all meet him in Galilee.
Kyle went on to say to the interviewer, “But what about love? What about the ideas of forgiveness? I like to believe they are true and they are meaningful.” I think that is a sign of faith. Love and forgiveness, that is the bedrock of my faith upon which I can safely construct my life and withstand its shocks. The shock of Jesus’ crucifixion for the disciples is almost beyond my comprehension, but their faith was also built on what Jesus taught them about love and forgiveness. About God’s love for them and His forgiveness of their sins, even their abandonment of His son at his time of need. But also about love and forgiveness of others. Jesus gave them the command to love and the power to forgive.
The sheep dispersed, but they gathered again about their shepherd in faith as they confronted an unknown, uncertain future. Though they struggled at times to grasp that faith and hold it close — and I do as well, Jesus was full of understanding and patience as always. Buckley writes, “[T]he Gospels tell us that faith is a necessary instrument of communion between men and God….What we need, then, to tell ourselves is that the inclination to believe will be satisfied.” That gives me reassurance in spite of my struggle from time to time. I think Kyle could find reassurance in that as well because as he said, “I really want to [believe in God].” His and my inclination to believe will prevail, because in our struggles we are communicating with God, we are not running away. In that communication, questioning though it may be, we find communion.
P.S. Since I started posting these reflections as a blog, I have missed the near daily comments I would receive from one or more of you. It helped me to know that you share similar thoughts, questions, and experiences. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into your own faith journeys. If you’re like me, you don’t want to comment publicly. So, if you’re inclined, you can e-mail me privately at email@example.com. Thanks.