(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, April 15, 2011)
Daily Office Readings for Sunday, April 15, 2012:
Psalms 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalms 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
1 John 1:1-7
"Never trust a man who says, 'Trust me.'"--Blaze Starr's mother, from the movie Blaze (1989,) starring Paul Newman
"Do you trust me?" seems to be the theme of our readings today. Psalm 146 exhorts us to trust God, but not the people of the world. In Exodus 14, we hear how quickly people give up trust in the face of fear ("Was it because there no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" One can almost hear them saying, "You know, it really wasn't that bad when we got whipped for not putting enough straw in their bricks.") We are told in 1 John to suspend what we know about dark and light ("This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.") Finally, our Gospel is Jesus saying what Blaze Starr's mother warned against ("If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" Shades of "Would I lie to you?")
I've got your back.
Our experience in the world is "don't believe it." Even the people we love the most have betrayed us now and then, or, at the very least, let us down--and we haven't even gotten to the places where the evidence is that God let us down, too. Every single one of us can recall a place where God was pretty darn silent. We've all had those times where we prayed earnestly for something--so earnestly we had tears, cracked voices, and tremors--and the exact thing we feared came to pass anyway, despite our prayers. Every single one of us have felt our trust shattered by what appears to be Jesus' inability to keep a promise. When people try to explain around that one, from some kind of weird need to let Jesus off the hook, frankly...it sounds really lame and disingenuous.
For some of us, the feeling was so strong we walked away from the church--temporarily or forever.
Honestly, I don't have an easy answer for that one, other than the only thing I know is that our understanding of anything is two-dimensional--it's based on our past and the present moment--where, in contrast, God's understanding of things is three-dimensional, and includes the future along with the past and the present. I suspect that third dimension of the future includes after our deaths. Trusting in "we just don't know the whole story," might be more palatable than trying to rationalize the reasons for the prayers that seemingly go unanswered or contrary to our desires.
It's probably not a coincidence that John 14's "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me," might be the second most popular funeral text in my neck of the woods, right after, "In my father's house are many mansions." The Greek word for "believe" in this verse is rooted in the word pisteuo. What gets lost in translation is that it can also be used in the imperative, so it might be more accurate to say, "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, you also believe in me." So it's very possible that the intent of this passage is actually more like, "Don't worry. You have a belief in God and also a belief in me"--suggesting that this part of the discourse in John is more about our belief being a survival manual than a celestial soda machine, doling out soft drinks if only we plug it with the right number of prayer quarters.
In that sense, rather than being told our belief will magically make our troubles disappear, we are told that our belief will help us through grief and loss. As overused as it is at funerals, it might well be the best way to fully understand its meaning. Perhaps the question is not, "How can I believe the message in this text when I know for a fact that I've felt let down by God?" but "When do I learn to accept what I may not yet understand in its entirety?"