30 Mar Jesus Weeps
I love radio.
I love listening to informed interviews, as I learn about science, philosophy, politics and history. But at times, when the conversation turns to religion, the assumptions that drive these conversations are based on superficial renderings of Christianity (and perhaps other religions too, but I can only speak from deep knowledge about Christian faith).
I once heard Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National sharing, with some relish, that he had heard from a doctor that often it was people ‘of faith’ who actually were most fearful of death at the end of their lives.
Adam’s wasn’t denying his own fear of death, but he expressed some delight in hearing that for many Christians, when it came down to it, they were just as afraid – or even more afraid – of death than others. For Adams, it seemed that this was proof that their faith had been a lie in the first place.
In some contrast, I was not surprised to hear about this finding. Largely because I suspect for a certain proportion of the population their faith in God, or in some kind of ‘karma’ system or reincarnation is fuelled by fear about what happens after death – and this includes people who identify as Christians.
It stands to reason that if peoples’ faith is propelled by fear – and they have not actually done the deep work of mature faith – when they are confronted with the end of their lives their fears will finally erupt to the surface and they will be terrified.
So what does mature faith look like?
There are some hallmarks of mature faith. Mature faith can hold doubt. Mature faith is robust enough to fight with God, wrestle with God, struggle with questions of meaning and life and sacred text and theology. Mature faith is able to express doubt, questions, rage and emptiness in the context of real life – to God and with God. Mature faith is able to listen for God within that wrestling.
When faith is kept at a surface level: ‘keeping up appearances’, with God, trying to say the right words in prayer, or be nice, and have no doubts, all of the time – this is fake plastic faith. Not only is this kind of faith not honest, this is not going to sustain for the long road when life confronts us with pain and suffering and death.
It grieves me that so many people in our society have been sold a lie. They think that faith in Christ – being a Christian – is about blindly believing or not questioning or not doubting. You often hear such reflections as people are interviewed on the radio or on TV, or in the newspaper. In buying this false version of Christianity (and wisely rejecting this rendering of faith) these people end up missing the treasure – the profound, complex, beautiful gift of the Jesus of the gospels: the God who sneaks up on us in Jesus and blows our stereotypes apart and who calls us into rich, authentic life.
This Sunday around the world the reading is from John’s gospel and it is about doubts and rage and grief and faithful people who are full of all of these (John 11. 1-45). Jesus doesn’t yell at these people for their doubts, anger and grief. Jesus doesn’t shun or chastise these people.
Jesus weeps with these people, and for these people.
The God of Christian faith can deal with our tears and rage and questions, these are not the opposite of faith, but signs of an organic, healthy, mature faith.
And this is part of the astonishing good news.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas