“I’m not all that sure I believe in the virgin birth.”
“Really,” I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise. “Why not?”
Not an unusual conversation, certainly. But close your eyes and picture one of those silhouettes on a news show, speaking in a voice that’s been digitally disguised to protect the identity of the speaker.
“Well,” said the silhouette, “that’s not exactly something you say if you feel called to be God’s minister in the world.”
I smiled a rueful acknowledgment and waited. I don’t know how many others this minister confided in, but even now, years later, I feel privileged that this person I respect so much was honest enough to admit to questioning the faith we share. It is one of the dialogues that has shaped my own faith journey.
I thought of this conversation again today when a friend of mine called and asked how I was doing. She knows that I’ve been wrestling with why God suddenly took a close friend who was making a difference in the world and yet left my mom in a nursing home, trapped and confused inside a body debilitated by two strokes.
Having had the wind knocked out of me by my friend’s death three months ago, I have regained some equilibrium. For me, it always helps to dump the unanswerable questions on the floor and wade through them with people I trust to understand. I told my friend that my only certainty sometimes is that the Spirit is in the muck with me. I study the holy texts of my faith every day, as best I can in my limited understanding. Ultimately, I’ve decided to leave the details of what happened 2000 years ago and what will happen after I die up to an unfathomable God. I can’t control either of those things, so I’ve decided that I will live my life as abundantly as I can for as long as I can.
“Funny you should mention control,” my friend responded. She shared that she heard a sermon at her church recently where the minister explained that we must give up control—and that it’s not in our nature in the modern world to give up control. She said, “So what am I supposed to do—quit my job and sit on my butt and wait for God to put food on my table?”
I laughed. We both knew how ridiculous that sounded and that that isn’t what her pastor meant. And like all human beings, we understand the struggle to find balance in a faith full of contradictions.
She laughed. “I do struggle with that. You and I are going to have to sit down over a bottle of wine some time and talk about all the questions. I just don’t get why things like Sandy Hook happen. And if God doesn’t answer our prayers to keep that from happening, why do we pray?”
“I know,” I said. “For me, all I really know is that praying somehow brings me closer to that Spirit that is in us all. And I know that every single time I’ve cried out, I’ve felt that Presence, and I can’t chalk that up to coincidence. And when I cry out, I’ve seen the face of God in the people who love and comfort me.”
We both admitted that we pray we are never tested in the way the Sandy Hook parents have been. It’s hard to breathe when I think about that. Would I still cling to my faith? I honestly don’t know, and I pray that I never have to find out. But I do know with certainty that if the unspeakable happened, I’d see the face of God in people of any faith and no faith who would gather ‘round me and wrap me in their arms, just as they did ten years ago when I had cancer.
Today’s lectionary reading is the passage from the Book of Acts where the apostles choose a replacement for Judas. And do you know how they do it? They cast lots. I’ve read that passage many times, but it is only recently that I really paid attention to that detail. These men—who have seen Jesus perform miracles, who should understand God better than any of us ever will—ultimately leave the decision up to chance. I chuckle. And I suspect I’m not the only one who finds humor in the stories of ordinary human beings in the face of the uncertainty.
I think again of that silhouetted minister, admitting doubts just as Thomas did and spending a lifetime in search of the answers–and along the way, being the face and hands and feet of God in the world in spite of all the personal doubts.
And I wonder what would happen if we allowed our ministers and our leaders and ourselves to voice the unspeakable questions that—if we’re honest—we all ask.
Speak. Tell me the stories of your own questioning.