Friday, 6 April 2018

I believe, help thou my unbelief

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. (Psalm 71:14)

It is Autumn. A mellowness settles over the land as Summer slowly fades. The Maples have amber crowns, flurries of leaves drift from the Silver Birches. The last bounty of wild mushrooms filled our home with their delicious earthy scent. The Loeries visit often. We hear their raucous calls before the telltale burst of red passes overhead. A pair of sun-birds dart in and out of the pineapple sage outside my kitchen window. I watch them hovering over the crimson flowers from the corner of my eye, while preparing our food or doing the dishes. Our boys report the sighting of two rabbits in the forest, shy but inquisitive. We linger outside, relishing the soft golden days, interspersed with grumbling storms and torrents of silver rain. I become aware of a nostalgic kind of longing, most likely brought on by the shift of seasons. Like bitter-sweet memories of a seaside holiday, on a cold, mist-shrouded morning.

Life in the mountains continues to be both a blessing and a challenge. Little foxes keep nudging at the gate. Causing doubts that distort into knots of fear in the dead of night. But when the first light of a new day seeps through the curtains, a deep breath of hope loosens the cords.

Reading through the "Easter story" with the boys recently, there were a few things that glowed with new and deeper meaning. It is not always easy to put the beauty of a spiritual truth into words that will convey its depth aptly, but I will try.

Jesus sang! On the first night of Passover, after Jesus had shared His last supper with His friends, they did one last thing together before they headed out into the night. "When they had sung the hymn," it reads, "they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30, Mark 14:26). My Lord worshipped. Knowing full well what lay ahead for Him, He joined His voice with those of His friends, in a song. A song of praise, a Psalm, the music that rings through the ages in the hearts of all believers. God inhabits the praise of those who love and serve Him. Praising God with singing; even in the darkest moments, means to draw really close. Living out the hope that we have as His redeemed.

"We have this hope that burns within our hearts,

Hope in the coming of the Lord.
We have this faith that Christ alone imparts,
Faith in the promise of His Word.
We believe the time is here,
When nations far and near.
Shall awake, and shout and sing:
Hallelujah, Christ is King!"

Jesus understands our fears and doubts. Although Christianity is sometimes portrayed as an unthinking, monotonous, and even unrealistic faith, the Bible has quite a lot to say about doubt. Christianity clearly has faith at its core, yet doubt gets very good coverage in the Scriptures. The New Testament’s most prominent doubters are Jesus’ own disciples. That they doubted, does not surprise me, don't we all? It is Jesus' reaction to their unbelief, that takes my breath away.

On a dusty road, two of His disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened. Jesus himself came up and walked with them, joining in their conversation. Emmaus was a little more than 11 kilometers outside Jerusalem. Yet Jesus did not rush them. They were downcast, blinded by their own disappointments, and He simply walked with them, listening, hearing their confusion, their doubts. Then, He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27).

"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself..." That must have taken a looong time. He did not dismiss them for their foolishness, for being slow to believe. He simply kept walking, alongside two doubting men, giving of himself, explaining all that was written about himself. He wanted them to understand as well as to believe. He still does. Then, after a long, hot day on foot, they urge the compelling stranger to stay with them for the night. There was something about him... Jesus goes with them to their home, has a meal. At the table, after He gave thanks, He breaks the bread and gives it to them. Only then were their eyes opened. Doubt fled as the light of truth flooded the room. They hurry back to Jerusalem, (another 11+km), their hearts burning with what had been revealed to them. 

There, they found the Eleven and those with them, gathered together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told them what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. But even when presented with eye witness accounts, there was still doubt. Then, a hush fell over the room. Right there, seemingly from out of nowhere, Jesus stood among them and said: "Peace be with you.". And they... thought He was a ghost! It seems ludicrous, but I wonder if I would I have reacted any different...

How I would love to have been in that room when Jesus said (knowing their thoughts): "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is myself! Touch me and see, a ghost does not have flesh and blood as I have." There He was, real, tangible, the cruel scars on the skin of his hands and feet, yet fully God. The Conqueror of death. Defeating natural laws. Bewildering those hindered by these same laws. (Our oldest son loved this part. Whenever he is told that something is so, his first request is to see it. Then presented with the evidence, wherever possible, it has to be touched and handled before he is satisfied.) When Jesus saw that they were finding it all too good to be true, He asked them for a bite to eat. I can just see them scuttling to their feet, someone offering a piece of broiled fish with shaking hands. And watching Him take and eat it, their own mouths agape. What a joyful moment it must have been when their minds were finally quickened to accept what was right before them all the time.

This is the Jesus I am coming to know, bit by beautiful bit. Patient, kind, gentle, understanding. Forgiving, caring and just. Always drawing our eyes back to His Word. Now, even more than then, there is so much in the world that would contradict our faith if we let it. Doubt is the unsettling "thing"  that happens to us all when we experience "things" that don’t fit with what we understand of God and/or his creation. Jesus, as a perfect Spirit-filled, sinless human being, also experienced contradiction. Christians can expect contradiction to be a real, and difficult experience - one which might well lead to doubt. We only see things "blurrily" now, and we only see in part. But it will surely not be like this forever - the day will come when we will know fully. But while we are waiting, Jesus knows and understands us already. He was the one who started the relationship, not me. It helps me to remember that God knows me intimately, even if I don't always feel I know or understand Him. While we doubt, it is as if our eyes become subtly closed. It will seem dark. But the love of God in Jesus still continues to shine all around you.

There is a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "Who am I". These words sum it up in a simple and beautiful way. He wrote this poem in a Nazi prison, not long before he was killed. He was reflecting on the difference between the impression he gave that he had it all together, and the reality that he was eaten up with questions and doubt. But he finished the poem with words that were both a prayer and praise:

Who am I? 
They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, 
Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

The following are the words of a song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, which tells us that even the greatest ambassadors for God's Kingdom, struggle with doubt.

I believe help thou my unbelief
I'd take the finite risk of trusting like a child
I believe help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while

I long so much to feel the warmth that others seem to know
but should I never feel a thing I claim Him even so

I believe help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while...

Jesus is neither diminished nor changed by our doubts. He remains the same from everlasting to everlasting. It is in our daily praise and prayer that we continue to proclaim our belief, despite waves of contradiction all around us. Let Him put a new song in your heart, trust, walk into the unknown. For the unknown is known to God. We are known by God and loved; nonetheless!