Part 1: Start with ‘Why’
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, May 15, 2022
Reading: Romans 10:11-15
New “Start with Why” series – for the next 5 Sundays we’re going to treat some big “Why” questions: Why Jesus? Why Give? Why Love? Why Church? You’ll want to be here for all of these as we explore these big questions about Christian faith and discipleship.
I want to start today’s topic, “Why Faith,” with the verse that ends this passage, which I love: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – biblical evidence that a pedicure is not a luxury, but a spiritual discipline.
Those who brought good news – apostles, evangelists the ones spreading the gospel of Jesus throughout the world – travelled and their feet were definitely not beautiful. But what the Apostle Paul was saying is that anyone or anything that brings faith to people transcends aesthetic beauty and transforms the soul, and soul beauty is much more captivating than physical beauty. This is a passage about how life-giving and beautiful it is when we share our faith with others.
Let me ask you a question: how did you come to have faith? Maybe you grew up in a Christian home and your parents took you to Sunday School. Maybe you came to faith later because you married someone who is a devout Christian. Maybe it was a friend who brought you to church; or you just happened to hear a sermon, or you watched something on TV where you heard about the Christian faith. At some point, somebody told you something about Jesus and about the Christian faith and that took hold in your life.
So, my next question is: how will others ever come to believe in Jesus unless those of us who already believe tell them about our own faith?
It reminds me of another Scripture verse you may have heard that says, “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that is in you.” This makes many people nervous, but it raises an important question: If someone (family member, colleague, etc.) were wrestling with what they believe, and they know you go to church, so they ask you what you believe and why, would you feel confident about telling them about your own faith?
A few years ago, I was leading a study group of a book called “Unbinding the Gospel,” and I found that people were taken aback when I asked them why they believe; I asked them, “what difference does being a Christian make in your life?” Over the course of eight weeks, they completed exercises and talked in a small group, and they found that once they could articulate it for themselves, and once they practiced telling each other why they believe (in a safe, small-group environment), then it suddenly became much easier for them to feel comfortable and confident talking about their faith if somebody else asked them.
So, I hope that today’s message will get you thinking about “why” you believe. And if you’re here today and you don’t believe, I hope it will set you on a journey of asking questions of your own about faith.
Why DO some people believe while others do not? There’s no doubt there are many obstacles to believing this absolutely outrageous proclamation that Christianity makes. I know many people find it easier to believe in reincarnation – that before they were born, they had previous lives as a fig tree or a duck or a 14th century milkmaid – than believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” You’ve probably heard a lot of the common challenges people have with the Christian faith, and maybe you even struggle with some of them yourself. I’m going to speak to three of the more common objections to faith:
Science vs. faith – The advance of scientific knowledge seems to challenge some of the beliefs that Christians have held close for many centuries. They say that scientific knowledge absolutely refutes what the Bible teaches. The challenge is that if the Bible is held as something that must be read literally from beginning to end, there can difficulty in reconciling what it says with modern scientific discoveries.
If, however, the Bible is read as a book that tells the story of what God did in the history of the world through Israel, and what He is doing in human history through Jesus, and not as a science textbook, then there is room to reconcile the Christian faith with modern science (i.e. Francis Collins). We can accept scientific discoveries and affirm that they are part of the work of a loving creator. We can learn more about the Almighty God of the Bible when we learn about science. Because science is mind-blowing: what God can do! But no matter what scientific discoveries are made, there always comes a point when nobody can answer the question of, “But what happened before that?” At some point in every single theory…something had to come from nothing.
Images of God – controlling, guilt, fear-based allegiance. One aspect of God’s character that we see in the Bible is his “wrath.” There are instances in the Bible where we read of God getting angry or carrying out punishments. We read in the Ten Commandments that “God is a jealous God,” that is, God doesn’t want anything to take his beloved people away from him, He doesn’t want anything to separate us from His love. This is not for selfish reasons (like the typical jealous boyfriend we often think of); God wants to keep us close and pour out His love on us, for OUR good. He wants to take care of us, make our lives good, and protect us from evil. When we read in the Bible of God becoming angry, it is anger directed at evil forces that are drawing his beloved people away from him and leading them onto a pathway of death or separation from God. He gets angry about the things that cause harm to the people he loves. It’s what has been called a “righteous anger,” in that it’s not mean or spiteful or selfish, but an anger born of love. Many parents can probably relate.
There have certainly been times and instances throughout history when this aspect of God’s character has been misrepresented, misunderstood or even manipulated in order to keep people in line by means of fear or guilt, or even to cause unspeakable harm to others (and I find much more is said about that than about the millions of Christians who are loving, kind, humble servants, like the ones I have met in churches over the past 50+ years). Unfortunately, when people uncritically accept this image of God, that representation then becomes a convenient excuse to turn their backs on God.
Existence of evil, suffering, pain, unanswered prayers. When we experience trials like these it can feel as if God does not exist or, worse, that God doesn’t care. It’s been a perennial question of Christians: If God is all-powerful and good, then why does He not stop evil things from happening? Is he not all-powerful? Is he not good? And if he’s not all-powerful or good, then why do we have faith in Him? No one has ever come up with the perfect answer to that question, at least not one that will satisfy a broken heart.
But I want to recall for you one of Jesus’ important parables, the Parable of the Weeds: Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Christian faith is belief that there is reason for hope, even in the face of suffering of evil. Christian doctrine teaches that there will come a day when God restores creation to its state of perfection and stamp out all evil and suffering, but until that day, good and evil are both a part of the human existence. The beautiful promise that we have is that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, God the Father and Christ the Son understand our pain, and through the Holy Spirit they walk with us to comfort and strengthen us.
I cannot name all the challenges that every person has with the question of faith in God; and I can certainly not give irrefutable arguments as to why everyone here should have perfect, unquestioned faith. Because faith is not purely a head thing – we will never be able to perfectly understand the fullness of God’s nature and all of God’s ways while we are living in the flesh. God created us as rational beings, yes, so we should absolutely engage our intellect as we approach questions of faith, but without the involvement of our hearts – without a deep longing for a relationship with God – we will never be able to grow in faith. As Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
Now, I’m a person who spends far too much time in my head. I have spent years, since I was fairly young, thinking about aspects of the faith, so I have lots of reasons why I believe in Jesus that can be reduced to logic, but instead of offering you only an apologetic on the Christian faith, what I want to offer you is a testimony, the personal, heart reasons why I have faith in this God who is a Holy Mystery.
Part of the reason for my faith is that God took me by the hand and never let me go. I grew up in the United Church and when I was a teenager, about 13 our church didn’t have a youth program, so I started attending youth group at a local Baptist church. That was a whole different experience because in Sunday School I learned about the power of God, almighty God, and the love of God. At the Baptist church was introduced to the concept of being saved: that you have to be born again and say a prayer to be saved. I didn’t know what this was all about really, but I did know the cute boy I had my eye on wanted me to be saved and offered to go into a room with me and pray the prayer with me so I would be saved. That’s the story of me being saved.
In my later teens and early twenties, I tried to walk away from the faith, and I would laugh at that former experience…but God had the last laugh. Once you invite God into your life, he moves in and stays!
Another central key to why I have faith is my personal experience of God’s presence in my life when I have needed Him most. That deep experience of God’s presence is not something that you can explain rationally, you feel it at the very core of your being…I’ve never in my life felt the depth of God’s powerful, loving presence more than I did at the worst, most painful moment of my life, which was the moment of my brother’s death. In that moment, God was a very real, strong being in the room who I could feel holding us all close to Him. It’s something that you can’t explain. You just know and experience in your being.
Other times I have experienced God leading me through difficult decisions in life, making amazing things happen in my life that I could never have imagined, that I never would have chosen for myself, and that turned out to be wonderful blessings!
During other difficult times in my life, I couldn’t necessarily feel God’s presence; in fact, it felt like God was absent, but once I came out on the other side I could look back and see how God was in the midst of it the whole time! That’s one of the reasons why I often encourage people to keep a prayer journal, because when your faith is faltering, you can look back and remember the things God has done in my life!
St. Augustine wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
There are definitely many reasons not to believe, and most of them are common and have probably been considered by everyone in this room. But the number of reasons to believe are as many as there are believers. If God is tugging on your heart, respond to that tugging. Take a step and see where it leads you. It might lead you into one of our studies, or to try out the Alpha program, or some other safe space to ask your own questions and face your own doubts. Whatever step you decide to take, take it with confidence and you’ll discover what your reasons are to believe; you’ll discover your own answer to the question, “Why Faith?” Thanks be to God. Amen.