Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! Perhaps the most honest words ever uttered.
I want to believe completely. I want to be certain. But certain would mean that I have absolutely no doubt. None at all. Nada. But the truth is, I do have doubt — at least a little doubt — daily.
I mean, what can we really know for sure these days? Even when there’s overwhelming evidence — eye witnesses, testimonials, on-the scene reporting, and confirmation by multiple sources — someone will inject a tidbit of information (is it dis-information?) which calls it all into question. Suddenly, I’m beating back the doubt that creeps in under the door I slammed shut and thought I had securely sealed.
How do I know who to trust or what to believe? I ask myself because, after all, this is really a personal matter. That’s when a voice from long ago rings in my ears. Mom prepared me for moments like these. When I found something hard to believe or when words directed at me felt hurtful, rude or unkind, she’d say, “Consider the source.”
Consider the source. From whom do the words come? What do their actions tell you about what they say? Mom didn’t tell me who to doubt or who to believe. She offered me a gift of much more value: she taught me to how to perform the trust test. Got doubts? Consider, not just what they say, but what they do, which shows you who they really are. Don’t just take them at face value.
Now God I could take at face value, but as I have not seen God face to face, and since God told Moses “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live,” (Exodus 33:20) I’m thinking life is going to have some doubtables. I am expecting there will be plenty of opportunities for my very human self to consider the source and still be left with uncertainty. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!
Can I hold on to belief AND doubt and still live?! I mean, holding two apparently contradictory things together without resolution is exhausting! The more you bring them together, the more they repel one another. Here, take Matter and Anti-Matter and see if you can get them to talk things out.
Some days, belief and doubt feel very much like matter and anti-matter. I can’t even bring them into shouting distance without risking blowing myself up. How can I possibly hold onto two completely competing realities and live?
Yet, sometimes the hardest questions have the simplest answers.
Wayne, a man of deep and abiding faith in God, showed me this as he shared the story of his last moments with Jane, his beloved wife of fifty-one years. * She had nearly reached the end of her brave battle with cancer, and, knowing that time was short, Wayne sat by her bedside reading silently from Acts Chapter 2 . “Just as I looked up, Jane passed from this life.” he said. “In that moment, I felt both the deepest sadness and the greatest joy.”
The deepest sadness and the greatest joy, I thought. What could be more opposite; yet, what could be more true? Two competing emotions in the same place, at the same time. No overlap. No dilution. Full force. Mighty power.
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ~ Acts 2:17-21
What a mighty wind of hope even in the deepest despair. Sadness and Joy, Heaven and Earth… Somehow, belief builds a bridge.
So, as I dive deep into my days where conflicting opinions, different understandings, and sometimes even belief and doubt both compete for my allegiance, I am buoyed by the story of this couple, the faith they shared, and the moment that will linger between them until they meet again.
they meet again. God knows that this tiny little “if “occasionally arises in my very human mind because I don’t understand how two people can be reunited in heaven after both have become the dust of the ground. So, I’m left to consider the source.
Who could have scripted a moment like this? Who could have invoked such words? such thoughts? such emotions? Where has humanity witnessed such a moment? a moment where Great Joy met Deep Sadness and turned tears of despair into shouts of joy?
Could it be that such a source is doing it still?
Every time I admit my doubt to God, He injects a tiny glimmer of consider this that I could never have imagined and thus invites belief to take its proper place again. God doesn’t expect us to be doubtless, just faithful.
*Wayne has kindly and generously offered his permission to share his story here.
It’s interesting how language lives. It upgrades. It downgrades. It takes to the streets and to the wires and the wireless: it is news, radio and late night tv. Who would have ever imagined there would be an urban dictionary? Who could have predicted that words today would have such different meanings than they did yesterday?
Yep. How we use words is a-changin,’ and not just generation to generation, but person to person, thanks to popular culture characters and personalities in the news. We seem to keep finding new ways to express things for an impact. As Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat, helped us discover, “Not so much” is a very useful expression. Other things he had to say, not so much.
One must guard, though, against the imprecision of words which may on the surface appear harmless, but in fact have significant impact. The word of concern to me right now is “sad.” Recently I have heard so many applications of “sad.” As in, that’s sad, they are so sad, that was just sad, such a sad country, a sad, sad person.
Is it sad? Or am I sad? Because these are two very different things that have become entwined, perhaps to our peril.
Much in our world today makes me feel sad, but it is not sad. It may be cruel, unjust, uncivil or unkind. It may be ignorant, ill-informed or ill-advised. It may be belligerent and abusive or fraudulent and deceptive. But I would challenge us to get better at addressing it by being more precise with our language.
Sad doesn’t capture it. Giving it the “sad” label, which has become popular, may be intended to express our discontent, but this misses the mark, and diminishes these:
Sad is… losing a parent, a child, a spouse, a beloved friend.
Sad is… getting a potentially deadly diagnosis.
Sad is… hearing your season, your career, your life is finished.
Sad is… you’re out of a job, evicted from your house, no longer welcome.
That is sadness. It is an emotion. Often accompanied by deep, gut-wrenching, heart-racking sobs which come from a depth you didn’t know you had. That is true sadness.
Using ‘that is sad’ for a behavior, choice, policy, proposal, or person is a stand in for our disappointment, discontent and perhaps even disbelief. We are angry, disgusted by what we see, hear or read. But that is not sad. We are sad. Let’s say what we mean.
Sad, in its current linguisity (if that’s not a word, it should be), as a label, is lazy. But more than this, it allows us to dismiss something we don’t like by concluding that this is terminal case. Nothing to do about this one. “That’s sad” has become an off-hand way to dismiss people, things, and practices. It’s a “safe” way to have the last word, pretending to have empathy because sad sounds like a feeling. I am entitled to my feelings. You can’t disagree with sad.
In fact, when used this way, sad is not a feeling, it’s a label; a cowardly way to assign a category to what we can’t or would rather not deal with — distancing and dismissing it all at once.
The thing is, you and I are sad for a reason. True sadness invites me to sit with you and tell you how sorry I am. It asks, “Can I help you?” “What may I do for you?” “How can I pray for you?”
Let’s not succumb to putting the sad label on people as a cushion to rest on. Who are we to decide who and who isn’t a hopeless human? We are made to help.
In the faith that I follow, there is no such thing; no one is hopeless and no cause is hopeless. Our Lord went looking for that one very lost sheep, and when he found it, he carried it home. I’ll bet that lost sheep was very, very sad. But Jesus left the rest behind just to search for him.
No one is hopelessly lost, but our language certainly can make them sound that way. Can we revive our language. When we say “that is sad,” is that what we really mean? Or are we simply parroting a phrase made popular by a very human being? Instead, when we are sad, can we say so?
Can we sound out our own feelings and then use our language precisely? to describe, to admit, to honor, and to speak truth in love. Because love changes things. It brought that lost sheep all the way back home.