It’s impossible to deny that life is full of mystery, and that as humans we are bound to wonder. What lies beyond the stars? How did we get here? Why do bad things happen to good people? What will tomorrow hold?
There are some mysteries in particular which I would call spiritual mysteries. Mysteries that seem to be more connected with the life of the soul, that don’t seem to make sense to our insistently logical brains.
Perhaps a better way to understand what I’m talking about is as spiritual paradoxes; things that don’t make sense but somehow in the light of who Jesus is they begin to seem possible. Things that are uniquely comprehensible only in the kingdom of God.
In this mini series I’ll consider four spiritual mysteries; not to try and make sense of them but to create a space for us to wonder and marvel further together at who God is and what he does in our lives.
3 // Spiritual Mysteries // Unbelief
To my shame, the outside of the windows on my house are extremely dirty. They’ve got those streaks that they get after lots of rain, and it’s especially clear when the sun is shining through that I haven’t cleaned them in quite some time.
Even clearer on a sparkly sunny morning are the immense cobwebs that cover them at this time of year. As I look through the window I see the fine, droplet covered threads perfectly woven together to create a masterpiece that only gets admired because the light hits it just right.
This morning as I was looking at one cobweb a huge gust of wind blew past the house, rattling the windows and thoroughly shaking the web. I watched closely, thinking surely this is it, such a fine and delicate thing could never survive this kind of wind. Yet how wrong I was; the web held firm and it’s still there now, glistening and growing. Despite the shaking, the howling, the force, the web would not be moved.
This small mystery of nature summarises for me another spiritual mystery. How is it that in moments of serious drought in our faith, when it feels like we’re clinging on by the most thin and worn thread, we somehow manage to keep believing?
I was always the keen one in our youth group. I was there every week, I was nose down in the Bible, I was always happy to pray out loud. I was determinedly and fiercely following Jesus wherever he might take me from a young age, and I felt that I had a seriously special relationship with him. I could hear his voice, I trusted his word and I was dead certain about who and what I believed.
I won’t fill this post with my life story, but I will tell you that like many other keen young Christians there came a day when certainty no longer seemed like something I could speak about. In fact, I felt in many ways like the very things which had founded my certainty for so many years were the very things that had made it fall away.
I had so many questions. I doubted the Bible, doubted history, doubted Jesus, doubted the Church. I felt insecure, as though the very foundations of my life were crumbling. When it came to my faith, I simply couldn’t say that I believed with any kind of conviction the things that once were so clear to me. It was deeply unsettling and confusing for a while there.
I don’t know if you’ve had an experience like this one, but I know that many Christians will experience this at some time in their walk with Jesus. It’s painful and disorienting and excruciatingly lonely, especially if you’re at vicar school surrounded by ‘expert’ Christians like I was.
Of course, there were so many questions in this time that it’s hard to separate them out, but I remember one dominant mystery that seemed to travel through everything. How is it that whilst everything I’ve believed no longer seems certain, I still can’t shake the idea that God is with me? That God is real and he loves me and he’s here? How is it that I still seem to keep believing in him?
Throughout all of my questioning and searching the truth that God is present, and that I am loved by him, never wavered. I felt as though I could no longer hear the voice of God and yet the sense that he still remained with me was powerful and overwhelming. I felt that I couldn’t see God’s hand at work and yet the knowledge in my heart that I am his beloved was staggering. These two things never went away. They were my spider’s web threads, clinging fiercely to the window panes of
God’s presence as the wind howled through me.
‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ cried a desperate father to Jesus in his moment of despair in Mark 9:24. He experienced this strange mystery of faith. This paradox of believing in some way whilst also not being really sure about anything at all.
I will never understand why my questioning didn’t make me lose this sense of God. It’s another mystery where I must choose to say ‘only by the grace of God.’ Only by his grace, his relentless chasing after me, was I able to cling like that.
The storms of life are ferocious, and sometimes our faith can be the collateral damage of those storms. Sometimes faith itself is the storm. But be encouraged today that there is something deep within you that knows how to cling with an almighty strength to the truth, by the grace of God. The questions and the doubts are not the end, more often they are a doorway to greater freedom and deeper intimacy with our Jesus. Frederich Buechner put it like this “doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” But perhaps more crucially, he also said that “God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”
Cling to him. Allow the wind to howl and the house to shake but may his love, his very person, be the thing to which you cling and which simultaneously clings to you. May you be held and kept safe by Jesus himself even if you feel you don’t believe. Allow yourself to question because you have heard this mystery; that though the truth may be hard to find, there’s a hand that holds you steady.