what we do not see

gnjn5-c5ene-jovi-waqa

photo: Jovi Waqa

Maybe it sounds odd for a theologian to say, but here it is: it’s been a very long time since I thought or cared much about faith. I mean, I think all the time about the faith. But faith itself—the act of believing something—maybe hasn’t been high on my list of concerns since sometime in high school.

Part of this is a philosophical choice: I think the church of my childhood overrated faith. In their fervor to get me to convert, and to get me to get my friends to convert, those well-meaning people had me so wrapped up in “believing in Jesus” that my overserious little self constantly worried about what that could mean. How exactly do I know that I believe in Jesus today? How can I believe that Jesus lives in my heart when I still don’t understand what that means? Why is God so wrapped up in my ability to “be certain of what we cannot see,” like, why is that the prerequisite skill for heaven-entrance?

I’m honestly still not sure of the answers to all of those questions, and I don’t think they’re quite as important as they were made out to be. Faith is part of following Jesus, but the greatest of these is love. I think God cares a lot more about who and what we love than about all the specifics of what we believe. The greatest commandment is not to mentally assent to a list of propositions, but to orient the desires of our hearts toward God. And I’ll admit, maybe this is a convenient way for me to think about things, because when you’re in theology school, you’re never sure what you believe. If you had to write a creed on any given day in theology school, it would be something like “I believe in skimming, the deadline Almighty, and the power of a good night’s sleep.” The rest is up for grabs if you’re giving your reading any serious thought.

Those were pretty much all my thoughts on faith until the gospel of Matthew kind of slammed into me a couple weeks ago. It started with the Beatitudes, just reading them over and over with a level of obsession I’ve only dedicated to Wendell Berry’s poems and, before that, Ding-Dong, the red book where all the different animals come to the doorbell. One night I finished the Beatitudes and just kept on reading all the way through to “the end of the age” and it felt like everything was new. Every old truth about Jesus and how he was utterly crazy and also just speaking the most obvious common sense, all these things he said and did felt so outrageous and scary and good and true.

It’s a moment I’ve been reaching back for, trying to hold on to, ever since, because nothing else feels to me like it could possibly become new these days. Trump’s absurdities and the reactions to them are wearying in equal measure: anger and blame going around in circles, while even those calling for care and compassion so often mean their words to challenge everyone but themselves. The problems seem so big and getting bigger as we watch, not least because so many think they have solutions to the problems if only everyone else could be marched over to their own point of view. Add to that the loneliness and bewilderment of being new in town, and my feet are dragging. I want to quit my job and hunker down for the (nonexistent South Carolina) winter with my puppy and some junk food and Netflix or maybe a sci-fi novel. It just feels so patently obvious that the world is being devoured by humanity’s worst impulses, greed and anger and violence and indifference to suffering and fear; it’s hard to want to go out there in all that.

In Matthew, Jesus knows about greed and anger and violence and fear. He speaks constantly against them; but he doesn’t just berate people for giving into them. He says where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He says be reconciled to your brother. He says turn the other cheek, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He says do not be afraid; even the very hairs of your head are numbered. He is not saying that greed and anger and violence and fear are bad and destroying the world. He is saying that they are empty lies. Jesus is showing the world as it truly is and, in the process, sucking all the power out of those evils that seem so all-encompassing.

Jesus is, in fact, asking us for our belief. He is imploring us to believe the truth even though the world will call us crazy: the truth that even so long as the smallest light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it. The kingdom of God is like the tiniest seed. The kingdom of God is humility. The kingdom of God is giving two pennies. It does not obey the laws of physics and its power does not equal money. The kingdom of God is pilgrims sent out two by two, not armies deployed by the millions. It is servanthood, not political clout. It is a meal with the least of these, not the thinkpiece of the year.

Faith means we act like this is true despite all evidence to the contrary. We pray as if it matters. We love as if people could change. We sing as if war and death did not have the final word. We get up in the morning and listen kindly to our coworkers or teach people’s children or clean our houses or feed people or write our little pieces as if these things could be cosmically significant, as if thankfulness could feed five thousand, as if compassion could heal diseases, as if a servant could lead justice to victory. As if love could raise the dead: so by faith we practice resurrection.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Matt

     /  November 30, 2016

    What a great insight about faith and love; that’s going to stay with me for a while.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for writing this post, Lyndsey. I hear Advent longing in this post, which stirs my own heart for the return of the King and his peaceable Kingdom. I hope you continue writing. There are good words here.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: