At the risk of contradicting myself by describing a very complicated and nuanced subject in a short and simple post, I felt the need today, so bear with me.
I’ve sought to live a life of faith for a little over 40 years now. I have lived long enough to encounter some disappointments along the way and these hardships have shaken my faith to my core.
Faith informs everything I do. It underpins my whole thought process. You could say it’s all I know. Therefore I can only speak from this perspective.
I write these words to those who have chosen a similar path as me. If faith is irrelevant to you, then this post will also be irrelevant.
You may have questioned why there is no reference in the four Gospels as to what to do when my prayers go unanswered. I got stuck there for a season, but now I think the inference is pretty obvious.
I learned the simplest definition of prayer as a little boy in the most childlike way. The point is to ask.
Ask and keep on asking.
If there was a caveat inserted into that statement, I would have gotten stuck on it. If the invitation by the Son of Man was presented as, “Ask, but….”, I would have tripped over the but.
About two years ago, the leaders at Bethel Church in Redding, CA called the members of the congregation to join together in praying for a two-year old girl to be revived after the child suddenly stopped breathing. The vigil went on for about five days without receiving the desired outcome. They relented and turned their intercession energy into a memorial service.
This caused a firestorm of nationwide response, the loudest of which were the detractors calling these leaders false prophets. It was an extremely controversial moment.
But I could not help but ask myself what I would have done in that situation? Would I have had the courage to join in, and ask and keep on asking?
I concluded that my faith may have not drawn me toward such a response, but I could not find a reason to judge them for their zeal. The Son of Man said to ask and keep on asking. And they did.
This is why the Son of Man did not leave us a list of things we could and could not ask for.
I found myself in a similar situation when my wife was diagnosed for a third time of a recurrence of ovarian cancer. I believed she would be healed. I wrote it down and gave the story to some of my family and friends. I still have a picture of the lab test that showed a 900% decrease in her CA 125 blood test in less than 30 days. I thought that was my affirmation.
She died a year to the day later. I didn’t get what I wanted, nor what I asked for.
This led me to a second important discovery about faith. This time written in the Pentateuch.
“The secret things belong to our Maker, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever”
My faith was built as a child, and it will always stand on that foundation. Faith might appear to be childish to some, but there is a big difference in being childish and being childlike.
A child at its innocent core, is full of trust and acceptance of things he doesn’t understand. Especially about mom and dad.
I recall asking my dad questions for which there was no way to explain to a child, like, “Dad, what’s the Vietnam War?” His famous answer/non-answer is still in use today:
“Sorry son, you just have to pay attention.”
It was a complexity that a seven-year old could not grasp. All I could understand was what I didn’t understand. And I had to be OK with that.
I don’t know why my late wife wasn’t healed. And I’ll probably never know. I have to file that under The Secret Things. But I do know that I can’t allow that incident to prevent me from asking so boldly in the future.
A third lesson of faith has helped me navigate the uncertainty and incongruence of my experience. It is what I call Embracing The Paradox. A paradox is a contrast between two propositions where both seem true and yet self-contradictory.
The ancient wisdom of The Preacher states it this way:
It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears his Maker will avoid all extremes.
Faith is too complicated and complex to be solved by reliance on black/white, either/or solutions.
The recent Joe Rogan/Neil Young argument is an example of this simplistic thinking.
I’m not defending either party. I like Joe Rogan as an interviewer and I loved seeing Neil Young in concert in 2015 as a man in his 70’s that could still rock with the best of them. What didn’t set well was the My Way or the Highway ultimatum.
Let me defend NY’s freedom to make his choice. It’s his music and he can choose to distribute it as he pleases. I don’t question that right. I do question the ultimatum motive.
I can only speak for myself, and as a tiny voice in the social change machine, I don’t have the luxury to make demands out of an ultimatum. Do this or else.
Instead, I have to hold one and not let go of the other if I believe in an awakening of hope for a better future. I’m called to love my neighbor and my enemy. I don’t get to choose between one or the other. Nor can I see a better future where I silence, destroy or annihilate my opposition.
As with my unwanted circumstance and unanswered prayers, my faith requires me to hold all three of these
I need to ask and keep on asking
I need to accept there are secret things I will never know
I need to grasp the one and not let go of the other.
To be continued….