This sermon may be considered a “part two” to my September sermon, “Let go and Let God”. In that, I wrote of living in faith and trusting in God no matter what the circumstance. As quoted then, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. This “part two” came about by having been asked a question on my original position and again, being inspired by the Lectionary for today.
Today being the twenty-first Sunday after Pentacost the Lectionary reading suggests; “Then he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” [Luke 17:19]. But for a woman I spiritually counsel, whose husband suffers terminal illness, the question is askd, “What if I have no faith?”
Many of us feel, and some of us even taught- that to doubt God or question our faith and trust in God, is biggest offense possible. It can frighten us. A sign of weakness or sinful spirit; vulnerable to temptation and rebellion. People facing critical circumstances, terminal illness and unexpected loss, often wrestle with these emotions. And they need not be life altering, but sometimes even the slightest “bump in the road” can cause any of us to question. And for those of us who are clergy or religious, this can seem hypocritical and even downright treasonous. Throughout scripture there are those who questioned God- Jeremiah felt deceived and Job angrily challenged God. Even Thomas doubted God, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hand and put my finger into where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [John 20:25]
Nevertheless, we should take heart. Believe it or not, we are closest and most receptive to God, in our doubt. Thomas Merton, a Cistercian Trappist monk [much like our beloved Saint Aelred], wrote that “Faith means doubt, not the suppression of doubt. The only way to truly overcome doubt is to live through it. Someone who has never experience doubt, is not a person of faith.” Mother Teresa wrote extensively of her “dark long periods of spiritual desolation; questioning whether God cared, loved or even existed at all.” Even centuries ago, St. Augustine agreed- “Doubt is but an element of faith.”
St. Vincent de Paul wrote; “We belong to God. We must give ourselves to God everyday. Repeatedly and consistently, with all our doubts and cares, so that God can give to us His charity, so that we may be blessed to give it to others.”
In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II reflects that, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote we must be allowed to have doubt, to search for God and truth on our own terms. To do this- to have doubt, is “a manifestation of the grace of the Holy Spirit at work”, wrote Pope John Paul, “questioning God reveals your faith in him.”
But Pope John Paul takes us another step further. He reflects on our recitation of the Apostles Creed, where we declare our faith in the Church. “We are the Church,” the pontiff writes- “so we are to have faith in each other- a reliance on each other, to do God’s will and be God’s love.” John Paul charges us, “to pray and be as the father of the possessed boy, “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief.” [Mark 9:24].”
Inasmuch as we pray and portray to have faith, we must understand and accept that doubt is part of that faith. When we are frightened, exhausted, angry or suffering, it is then that we are most open to God. It is in these moments that we know in our hearts we believe in God, we just need God’s help in overcoming our unbelief. To let go and let God.
There is an old anecdote- when it comes to faith, for those who do not believe- no explanation is possible and for those who do believe, no explanation is necessary. Thank God, I do believe!
Let us pray.
Almighty God, you are my God. You know all things and have made all things. Make within us true and certain hearts. We give to you our doubts and uncertainties. Give to us the peace and strength of your presence. Send upon us your Holy Spirit to renew, restore and refresh us. Let the light of Your truth cast away all shadows from within us. In silent prayer let our cares and concerns be calm. Let us be still, and know that Thou art God. Amen.