The Weird Peace of Faith

I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, in which I describe how “crazy faith” can and does propel people to do amazing things.  Faith doesn’t make sense, it is not logical, but it brings stability to unstable situations and gives sight where the circumstances at hand would beg blindness.

Then, this morning, I heard Rev. Lance Watson describe “courageous faith,” a faith that made the Biblical character Joshua tell the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could face their enemies. Whoever heard of such? And yet, courageous (crazy) faith makes people staunchly believe in something greater than themselves, and in standing on that belief, beat incredible odds.

Faith, it seems, gives people courage, the “courage to be,” as Paul Tillich describes. The very last line of his book, The Courage to Be, reads: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

The anxiety of doubt comes when we are in the midst of the most scary, the most traumatic situations of our lives. We wonder where God is, if God hears, if God cares …I imagine the slaves in America wondered about the presence and goodness  of God as they endured that horrible institution; I imagine, as well, that Jews, suffering under the brutality and insanity of Adolph Hitler during the Holocaust, wondered the same thing…”Would God allow such evil?”

And yet, it seems, God does allow evil, and the courage to be means that one is able to hold onto his or her belief in God “in spite of” one’s situation.

As a pastor, I have seen many a person struggle with the whole notion of the goodness of God, the presence of God, and the purposes of God. Why would God allow an innocent child to die of brain cancer, or a beloved mother to die an early and brutal death? Years ago, I watched a young mother struggle with her idea of God as she mourned, in excruciating pain, the death of her teen son who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the recent unrest in the Middle East, I can imagine mothers and fathers both in Gaza and in Israel wondering why God would allow such evil – the evil of war caused by people who will not listen to each other – to exist and to flourish.

God does allow evil.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is something weird about faith, because even in the midst of going through and suffering through abject evil, those who have faith experience a “weird” peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”  After a while, the person filled with faith has an ability to surrender doubt into the unknown. He or she is not aware of where the anxiety of doubt is going; one only knows that yesterday, he or she was upset and worried, and today, the worry, the anxiety, is gone.

And that is in spite of the fact that God allows evil to be.

We might feel better if God put a hand in front of all evil and all discomfort that confronts us, but God doing that would not necessarily increase our faith. Faith actually comes in the enduring and survival of, evil in our lives. Evil comes at us like a giant Tsunami, sometimes stunning us in its ferocity and intensity, and if we can find ourselves standing when the giant wave of evil passes back into the sea, we find that our faith in God increases. Somewhere in the midst of the fury of the evil that sometimes boxes our spirits, if we get to that place of weird peace, we are able to ride the evil and not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

Evil is strong and distasteful, but God is greater than any evil. That does not mean that God prevents evil; we have already established that God allows evil, and we may never understand why …but in the end, God really is greater than evil.

Maybe that’s why faith is so perplexing. Anyone who has experienced a weird peace in the midst of adversity knows exactly what I am talking about …

A candid observation …

The Convenient Use and Disuse of God

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyp...
Image via Wikipedia

When I visited the Holy Land some years ago, I remember standing on what I guess was a plaza. In back of me was the Wailing Wall, where Jewish men (no women !!) were praying fervently; to my left was the Dome of the Rock, or the Temple Mount,  built atop the earlier place where the Jewish Temple had stood before being destroyed in 70 ACE, and to my right was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

All three sites are awe-inspiring; all mark important holy sites with rich histories for all three major religions. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for example, stands on the site where Golgotha, or Calvary was, the place where Jesus was hung on a cross to die, and that site is also believed to be the place where his tomb was originally. Just the thought of the importance of that site is chilling.

For the Muslims, the Temple Mount is third in terms of being a holy site, after Mecca and Medina, but it sacred to Jews and Christians as well. It was the location of the Temple of Jerusalem, that built by Solomon and the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ACE.   It is supposedly the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac. for Muslims, it is thought to be the place from which the prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven.

The Wailing Wall is thought to be the western wall of the Second Temple. It is a moving site to see people praying there, sometimes wailing, and sometimes writing prayers and pushing them into holes that are in the wall itself.

The image of that place is something  I cannot get out of  my mind. The “truly religious” pray there, members of the three major faiths of the world. It is almost as if you can feel God himself there.

But in spite of the holiness of that place, the profound sense of the presence of God, there is the reality – and it hits you like a ton of bricks – that in spite of God and all this holiness, there is not peace but war, not a desire to be drawn together and live together, but a desire to use God and religious beliefs to keep apart and flame disagreements using God as the cover and the rationale.

The sense of holiness I felt was doused at that moment by cloud of sadness.

I thought about that site as I watched a program on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. I was mostly fascinated by what I was learning, but found myself deeply saddened as Klan members explained the meaning of the burning of crosses. Jesus was the light of the world, the Klansman said, and we light crosses to remind people that we bring the light of the world to a world of darkness, a world where (the “n” word) and Jews are not wanted.

Then the program showed a cross burning, or cross lighting ceremony, where scriptures were read and where, to my horror, the song “Amazing Grace” was sung as crosses were lit and were allowed to burn.

It hit me that God, or the sacredness of God, is different, and is explained and understood differently, by humans. The God of the KKK is one who allows murder and domestic terrorism in His name; this God condones racial and religious hatred. The God that everyone worships in Jerusalem on the site where all three major religions are represented is a God who allows, sanctions, enmity between religious groups, again in the name of God.

The God I believe in doesn’t condone or approve of any of that.

President Jimmy Carter explained, in an interview by Paul Raushenbush on the Huffington Post that he felt part of the reason he was elected president was to help bring peace to the Middle East. He was and is deeply religious, as was Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Three people of different faiths, President Carter suggests in the interview, had like minds when it came to what God would have wanted. These men seemed all to have been whispered to by God to bring the confusion about who God is and what God wants to an end.

Their efforts were not appreciated.  Anwar Sadat was assassinated, and President Carter was voted out of office;Begin lost support amongst Israelis and after his wife died, became more and more depressed and kind o faded out of the spotlight.  Before that happened, Begin and Sadat signed a peace treaty; they had been brought together by President Carter.  The Camp David Accords were socially historic but religiously monumental. Here were three men who saw God in the same way, their different faiths notwithstanding…but they were not appreciated. Their people thought they were wusses.

I think of the first term of President Barack Obama. I remember him saying he was going to reach across the isles; he was going to try to make Washington a different place. It was going to be place where “change” included Republicans and Democrats actually working together.

Instead, it has been a mess, with the Republicans jamming the president at every turn and the president coming off and being touted as being “weak” and “too accommodating.” It is as though the Gospel precepts are good for church, but are damned if one tries to practice them in real life.

One must not appear to be weak, and how better to appear strong if you take controversial stands on things, like your political beliefs, and use God as justification?

I cannot help but thinking that believing in God is a hard thing to do, if one is genuine. Believing in God and trying to do what a loving God would want does not win people praise or accolades, but instead resigns them to places of despair and loneliness.

I found myself, as I watched the history of the Klan, being angry at God. “Why don’t You just fix us?” I asked, meaning,  why doesn’t God make us differently, wire us differently, so that we are not only capable of bringing real peace to the world, but willing as well.

Of course, God didn’t answer.

God usually doesn’t…

A candid observation.

© 2012 Candid Observations