On Faith and Cannonballs

"There are some things that affect us so deeply that move us so emotionally that it makes objective rational organizing of thought around a topic impossible." This was the honest and forthright opening to John Ray's sermon on faith and pain. He was preaching a passage from Jesus' teachings on faith, and confessed his struggle with the topic. He expounded, said that while his daughter lay fighting for her life in the hospital after a tragic accident, a well-meaning woman tried to prop up John's faith. "If you only have faith like a mustard seed," she said, "all things are possible."

Maybe all things are possible with faith, but these words don't do a hill of bean's worth of good to a man in the midst of trauma. These are the words that feel less like comfort and more like millstones, as if the entirety of outcomes rests on mustering up of some sort of religious fervor.

John's daughter would pass later that day, and John expounded on the near passing of his faith, too. He said with all candor, "yes, this passage has been used to deeply hurt me, and it's not the passages fault." Then, he fleshed out faith, spoke of the invisible hand that gives us the gift. And it was good.

I'm telling you this story for no purpose other than asking you to listen to his sermon. You can find it here. (For the iTunes download, click this link.)

I've been though a similar experience, have had others claim that my son's recovery from a mystery illness hinged on my faith. Titus pulled through, though, and this begs the following question: what does that say of my faith in contrast to John's faith? Nothing.

In honor of yesterday's sermon, and as a reminder to us all, I'm reposting Psalm #11 from my archives.

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Psalm #11 (Mustard Seeds:Cannonballs)

1.

If addiction to grief were a thing, such would be the carnal cravings of those with the most authentic lives. Children with velvet blankets, we might rub the corners first. Then we'd pull the edges over the eyes, shroud ourselves in night, usher in the dreams of the murder of crows, the legion of doubt, or the garden of Eden, whichever the night might first give.

Lord have mercy.

2.

If tomorrow’s healings rest in today’s faith are we to bear the eternal fever? The thing meant for hope-- the smallest seed of faith-- becomes a cannonball to be dodged as if such a thing were possible. If faith is a suspension of the will, the laws of nature, of nuclear hatred, fear, and the ashes of doubt that cover every potential promise, is such a thing possible? We, our own little gods, have always turned mustard seeds into cannonballs.

Christ have mercy.

3.

There was a man, said Theophilus' friend, with demons aplenty and he lived among the graves by the sea, among the pigs on the overlook of the foamy unpredictable. He was without his wits, and without wits can there be a mustering of any worthy faith? His demons were Legion, the usurpers of will, and they were as obstinate as the tide, once, but now no longer.

Only say the word and we shall be healed--

Theophilus, the demoniac and I know this to be true: every gentle hope of peace passes first through addiction; then, through a Word; then through life and into death. From sea to glassy sea, it moves, plunging headlong into the sparkling forever.

Lord Have mercy.

Psalm #11 (Mustard Seeds:Cannonballs)

On Mondays I’ve taken to writing psalms. I'm late to the game this week due in large part to the fact that I took my oldest son on a fun-filled, extended weekend bike trip. These kinds of excursions have a way of robbing one of words, at least for a day. (Some things need to simmer, anyhow.) So, I'm kicking off my week a little late. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere. The changing of the seasons is a marvel for some. For others, it signifies the coming of a more melancholic season. I wrote today's psalm for those others.

And after you take a gander at today's psalm, join me on my Facebook page for a word association game. (It'll be fun. I promise.)

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Psalm #11 (Mustard Seeds:Cannonballs)

1.

If addiction to grief were a thing, such would be the carnal cravings of those with the most authentic lives. Children with velvet blankets, we might rub the corners firsts. Then we'd pull the edges over the eyes, shroud ourselves in night, usher in the dreams of the murder of crows, the legion of doubt, or the garden of Eden, whichever the night might first give.

Lord have mercy.

2.

If tomorrow’s healings rest in today’s faith are we to bear the eternal fever? The thing meant for hope-- the smallest seed of faith-- becomes a cannonball to be dodged as if such a thing were possible. If faith is a suspension of the will, the laws of nature, of nuclear hatred, fear, and the ashes of doubt that cover every potential promise, is such a thing possible? We, our own little gods, have always turned mustard seeds into cannonballs.

Christ have mercy.

3.

There was a man, said Theophilus' friend, with demons aplenty and he lived among the graves by the sea, among the pigs on the overlook of the foamy unpredictable. He was without his wits, and without wits can there be a mustering of any worthy faith? His demons were Legion, the usurpers of will, and they were as obstinate as the tide, once, but now no longer.

Only say the word and we shall be healed--

Theophilus, the demoniac and I know this to be true: every gentle hope of peace passes first through addiction; then, through a Word; then through life and into death. From sea to glassy sea, it moves, plunging headlong into the sparkling forever.

Lord Have mercy.

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What God Doesn't Promise--Physical Healing

This week I am starting a 3 week series of posts touching on the goodness of God. This week we'll touch on the topic "What God Doesn't Promise." I'm hopeful that these posts will generate discussion, that the good work will be done collectively in the comments. I stood before an evangelist at the tender age of five and told him that I wanted rid of my asthma. He smiled at me with compassionate condescension and quipped, "with enough faith all things are possible." He marked my forehead with an olive oil cross and prayed that my lungs would open.  He claimed my healing by the stripes of Christ, praised God for my physical wholeness as a woman shook a tambourine for added glory. "We rejoice in this boy's healing even now," he said, then closed in Jesus name.

After the amen, he stooped and asked me whether I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit like fresh wind in my lungs . I told him, "I think so," but that was really just my way of sparing him hurt feelings. The truth is, I didn't feel anything despite my child-like faith.

It's been nearly thirty years since that healing service. I am still asthmatic. Perhaps I have too much Thomas in me.

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What when the prayers of healing, mustered with all the faith in the world, don't work? What when children are born with genetic defects that are absolutely incurable? What when faithful servants are persecuted to the death? If we say that prayers of faith will change all situations, if we make healing contingent on that which we muster, we are positioning ourselves precariously on the cliff of doubt and potential apostasy.

I've scoured the scriptures my entire life trying to find support for the faith-healer's prosperity position, all to no avail. And though I sincerely believe that God can (and does) heal, I do not believe that our faith in Christ is magic medicine. In fact, I am firmly convinced of this one thing--God does not promise an end to our physical suffering in this world.

What's more, God promises quite the opposite--"in this world you will have trouble." But in that, he tells us to "take heart," because he has transcended the world. And from his transcendent position he tells us, "you can be sure that I am always with you, to the very end."**

**Thanks to you who pointed me to the words of Jesus last night via email. You know who you are.