Persuasive speech is very much in vogue. One person pronounces that they have the final answer on a subject and three others refute what has just been said and state that they have the truth on that subject. Politicians, philosophers, cosmologists, scientists, and theologians all tend to get caught up in the shouting.
As a leader in a community of faith, it can be tempting to jump into the fray and make bold pronouncements myself. After all, the church down the road has made some bold statements about gender issues; and the one beside it suggests that they have the final answer on community and caring for the poor; the creation scientist church and the evolutionary theist church may be arguing it out but neither one lacks any confidence in the truth of which they speak. Maybe I should come out with some bold statements and put them up on our website to separate truth from error. But then I realize that it is alright to say, “I don’t understand it all . . . but I am trying to.”
Last Sunday evening our church community studied a difficult passage in the Gospel of John (John 6: 35-71). This passage follows soon after Jesus has demonstrated his power by feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish and by walking on water. In verses 35 to 71 Jesus says some very difficult things. In John 6:37 (NIV*), Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” These words and others like them have kept John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and their followers busy for hundreds of years of debate. Not too surprisingly, our community of faith did not come up with a final explanation of these words either.
Jesus follows these words with other difficult words such as those found in John 6:53-58. After Jesus said such shocking words several of his followers left him and would no longer follow his teachings. Jesus asked his closest followers if they were going to leave as well. Their answer was “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69; NIV). These close disciples did not have all of the answers. They could not understand these difficult words any better than the others who heard them or we who hear them today. Yet, they knew enough about this Jesus to keep following him. They knew that he had “words of eternal life.”
John Stackhouse has said, “I think the Christian religion, the Christian Church and, especially, the Christian God help me to know things much better than I ever would on my own. But they don’t make me other than human or lift me out of my humanness. They don’t make me certain.”#
Living in faith without certainty is possible. In fact, it is necessary.
*NIV = New International Version of the Bible