Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jumping off bridges

I've been thinking lately about doubt--about the fact that none of us, on the earthside of eternity, are immune from it. We live in human skin, after all, and not until we're in our new unblemished bodies will we see face to face.  And only then.  Lately, there's been a dryness in my soul that is the breeding ground for doubt. From little ones to more ontological ones. God seems distant, silent, perhaps uninterested in my puny life.  And my life has taught me that these periods are far more difficult that seasons of suffering.  It's always been true for me that during real struggle, He adds a measure of grace.  But these moments, when my prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, His absence is like an open wound.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with my mother the spring before my dad died.  He hadn't been feeling well, but despite test after test, nothing had been discovered to account for it.  My dad wasn't a person who complained often or easily, so it was taken seriously that he felt weak and sickly.  My mother, of course, was VERY worried.  One day when I was talking to her on the phone, I asked her, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" She was hesitant to voice 'the worst thing', but I pressed her until she said, "He could die." 
"Yes," I said.  "Then you'd be separated for a little while--him in heaven, you here on earth. But after that, you'd both be with God. Can you handle that?"
She answered that she thought she could.
Later that day, my dad called to thank me for helping Mom feel better.  I asked if she'd told him what I'd made her admit, and she hadn't.  So I told him.  We had a good conversation about him dying, though I'm sure neither of us actually thought he would--at least not in the immediate future.
Three months later, however, he lay in a hospital bed in ICU, with his death a very real probability.  I asked him if I could pray with him, and he said, "Oh yes!"  After we prayed, I told him I thought Mom was being very strong (a surprising thing to me, actually...).
"She'll be fine until it's over," Dad answered.

"What do you mean?" I asked, though I knew and he knew I knew as I backed away from the bed.
He looked at me carefully for a moment, his blue eyes clear and very much alive.  Then he said gently, "I mean when I'm better, she'll fall apart."
 It wasn't what he meant to say, what he wanted to say.  He expected me to be able to talk about his death, given our conversation three months earlier, but I couldn't bear it.  My fear overwhelmed my faith--for him and for myself. 

I've kicked myself often for pulling away from that conversation.  The reality is that he was afraid as well, but was still being my dad and protecting me from my own fear.  My own doubts.  And trust me, despite my love of Jesus, my surrender to Him as Lord of my life, in that moment, I wasn't sure what I believed about death.  Not when it came to the death of my dad. 

He died the next morning, never having had the chance to talk about what was coming.  He died with the window shade wide open to a sunny day on earth.  And my biggest regret was that I didn't talk with him about the Son shining where He was going.  I can tell you, I'll never back away from such a moment again.

The thing is, we were created with gravity in place.  Our feet are held firmly to earth. And this planet is all we actually know.  I cannot remember before my life, my sight isn't clear enough to see ahead to heaven.  What I have is now. Every moment as it comes. I think if it was otherwise, if we really grasped what it will be like to be in the Throne room of the King, in the Father's house where there are many rooms for us, we'd be jumping off bridges to get there.  He meant it to be a mystery, to be what we know by faith and not by sight.

My life is based on the faith that Jesus of Nazareth was telling the truth.  That's it.  If He was telling the truth, if He was who He claimed to be, then I am secure--in this life, and in the life I'm waiting for.  If He was telling the truth, there is hope.  If He was a liar, there is none.  And put that baldly, it's a tremendous risk, this life of faith I live. Trusting the word of a man who lived 2000 years ago, who claimed to be God.  But I do believe Him. And even when doubts rear their ugly heads, I still them with His name.  I don't live easily with my doubts--with the absence that seems more real than His presence-- but I do live with them.  And say, as the man who wanted Jesus to heal his son, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief."

"Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a univers from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
                                         CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, ch. 8

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