Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Faith is about real, concrete reality. . .
Faith, specifically, the Christian faith is about real things, reality that matters. If it about life and death. It is about hope and despair. It is about truth and falsehood. There is nothing more real than these things. A few weeks ago I spent hours with a family whose five year old had died suddenly. There is no more real death than the unexpected death of a child -- a life stolen from those who expect their children to survive them and, indeed, bury them. Though our minds are filled with questions in such a devastating loss, answers provide little comfort. Neither does some vague hope that maybe death is not the end. What this family wanted was hope as concrete and real as an empty tomb that promises life stronger than death, the presence of the God who bears with them the pain of their loss, and the courage necessary to love their two other boys and restore their lives in some way. They did not want to hear spiritual talk but begged to know the concrete foundation of our faith in the real events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection -- AND the real, concrete consequences of His work of redemption for them in this terrible hour.
We talk as if hope were merely a spiritual matter. The sad truth is that the most prescribed medications in America are for problems of depression and despair. Watch the TV and you see commercials for medicines that may give help to those who feel in the bodies the hopelessness of their hearts and minds, who are paralyzed by this despair, and who have surrendered their lives to the power of depression. Hope is not a spiritual matter, a little extra we can live without. Hope is a concrete need and we need a concrete hope to satisfy it. It is no secret that Scripture attests to the more than 500 who witnessed the risen Lord. Witnesses to encourage us in a hope which is real.
At Christmas I reminded the assembled congregation (largely folks who seldom attend) that the facts of Jesus' birth are facts that do not change because we believe them nor do they change because we do not believe them. Christianity is faith not in fiction or dreams but in the consequences of facts and true events. Like gravity, we can choose to disbelieve but if we walk off a tall building it is the fact that will determine our faith and not whether or not we believe it. We do not believe in the stable, manger, and Child of Mary to make them true. We believe in them so that their truth may accrue blessing and benefit to us. We believe for the consequences for us of what happened and not to make these events true.
The great temptation is to try to neatly divide our lives between the spiritual and real (largely secular) arenas of live. The lines we draw are made up lines. We do not believe the spiritual to make them true and we do not live in the domain of the real with occasional holidays in the spiritual. It is the spiritual reality that shapes and defines us for every aspect of our lives but the spiritual is just as true and factual as the real stuff of jobs and families and illnesses and money and bills.
In the end we have made it seem that life can be lived quite nicely absent faith and that faith merely adds a spiritual dimension to the concrete and ordinary routines of our material lives. Well, who wants or needs that kind of added extra. It is as if faith were merely the maraschino cherry added on to an already lush dessert of ice cream, fudge, nuts, and caramel sitting on a double chocolate brownie. If that is all faith is, a spiritual bonus, then you can keep it. I do not need a little added extra. I need something concrete and real to answer the sickness and death that is hidden in that dessert. I need truth that has consequences and faith than has power. The Gospel is not something we could live without but shouldn't -- it is the real and concrete life that steps out of the shadows of fear and death to begin here and now the blessed divine life that Jesus came for. It is the promise of the future already known and lived right now -- in anticipation of its coming.
No, I am weary of those who make faith about spiritual things while life is about real things. Such a faith is mostly worthless to me. I need a Christ who knows my real struggles, real sorrows, and real pain. I need a Savior whose flesh is mortal and whose victory is immortality. I need a faith rooted in life changing facts true whether I believe them or not but whose consequences make all the difference because I believe in them. Faith is about real things. Don't settle for anything less than a real Gospel built upon real facts to make a real difference in real life.