I started my ministry working in the Catholic Church. And one of the first people who really influenced me was a bishop up in Duluth, Minnesota by the name of Paul Anderson. He was a godly man who swore the following story is true.
In the Catholic Church at one time children were being confirmed in the fifth grade. Some bishops liked to ask particularly tough questions. They would walk the aisle way trying to put little fifth graders on the spot and if they missed a question out the door that they would go.
There was a certain bishop who liked to be hard-nosed and seemed to have a knack for picking the child who was most insecure.
One night he found a young man trying to hide behind a pillar. The bishop zeroed in on the boy asking ‘What’s the Holy Trinity?”
And this little boy kind of looked at him in terror and mumbled softly ‘it’s the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
And the bishop glared at him and said “I don’t understand. What’s the Holy Trinity?”
The terrified boy mumbled again “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Again the bishop said that he didn’t understand and asked the same question. The boy answered in his soft mumble. This happened several times.
Finally the bishop said “Young man, one more chance. What’s the Holy Trinity?”
The boy, quite embarrassed by this time once again said “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The bishop, with raised voice, challenged him saying, “I still don’t understand what you’re saying.” The boy, now filled with righteous indignation finally mustered all the courage he could and said in a loud, clear voice …”You’re not supposed to understand. It’s a mystery.”
In our world that sometimes wants nothing but certainty there is a stage of faith that is dominated it seems much more by questions than answers and requires us to embrace the mystery and uncertainty of our belief systems. Consider what Quaker writer Parker Palmer says. “A contradiction in paradox and the tension of opposites have always been at the heart of my experience. I seem tugged in one direction and then another. I had thought that living spiritually required a resolution of all contradictions and tensions before one could as it were gain one’s wings. Perhaps on the other hand contradictions and paradoxes are not impediments to our spiritual life, but an integral part of it.”
When life and faith appears uncertain we live and breathe what we don’t understand and what we’ve learned to be true no longer has the ring of authenticity. This ‘questioning’ stage of faith can happen to anybody. You can have the finest spiritual pedigree, the best of Christian educations, a life filled with blessings and then one day something happens and we find that our spiritual DNA isn’t enough for that particular moment in time.
Every been there?
Have you ever sensed a shift in the firm foundation of what you knew, what you experienced to be true and the faith that felt so secure? It’s a bewildering time.
It happens to the best. Some speculate that Mother Theresa through most of her adult life experienced more of the absence of God than His presence. Did you know that?
Elijah went from a great victory, taking on the prophets of Baal to shuddering in a cave, depressed, not sure of the protection of this God he served.
This questioning stage of faith is not uncommon. It’s not easy. Most don't welcome it. But when it comes our way we have no choice but to experience it. It's where God will meet us.
Sometimes in the journey of faith we run across people who are certain about everything and anything. You might know someone like that. And these kind of folks always have a ready bible verse, a practiced answer for every question, who live in the light of their knowledge, and who know exactly what needs to be said and thought at any given moment.
Usually these people are not the best guides for someone who is living in a ‘questioning’ stage of faith where contradiction, tensions, and paradox seem normative.
The best guides are those who are comfortable with ambiguity, who know that Jesus resides even amidst the shadows of life, and that a good God can use even these uncomfortable times to shape us into the man or woman He desires us to be. These guides are not wishy-washy. Their orthodoxy is lived in plain view. But they are comfortable with the tensions caused by uncertainty for it has helped shape their life. They will always point you to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - very real, quite mysterious, always loving you.
This is an excerpt from a sermon given at Christ Church of Oak Brook. If you want, listen to the whole thing. http://www.ccobtv.org/search.php?series_id=69&category=Sermon