“As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and follow him.”
I hear the same anguished cry in a variety of ways:
- “I think I’m losing my faith.”
- “I don’t know if there’s a God”.
- “God seems so far away, so distant.”
- “How do I know that all this God-stuff isn’t just my imagination?”
It is the number one, most frequent lament I listen to as a pastor, chaplain, and spiritual director. They are words wrung from hearts urgently pleading for some proof of God, some sign, some hint that God and heaven are for real.
There was a time I offered books to these cries of the heart, or set forth logical arguments for God’s existence, and rational proofs for the faith. From the time I was in college I had felt a calling to Christian apologetics, and an eagerness for demonstrating the airtight rationality of Biblical faith.
That was until I plunged headlong into my own dark night of the soul and questioned God and my faith. That was when all the logical arguments didn’t make any sense anymore. What once satisfied my head didn’t compute in my shattered heart. The rational proofs for God were no longer any more meaningful than the mathematical proof If x² is even and x is an integer, then x is even. It may be true, but so what! I needed something, or someone, to help my heart through the dark night.
Strangely the help I found came from a scene in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. It happens early in the novel when a woman, Madame Hohlakov, seeks help from the spiritual sage Father Zossima. She tells Father Zossima that she fears she is losing her faith.
Madame Hohlakov: “How – how can I get back my faith?…How can I prove it? How can I convince myself?”
Father Zossima: “But there’s no proving it, though you can be convinced of it.”
Madame Hohlakov: “How?”
Father Zossima: “By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”
It is by getting out of ourselves and loving the divine image in other people that we best experience the reality of God. I saw it work for my mother after my father’s death. She railed at God and complained at having been forgotten by Him. Then another widow, also a woman of a hard-won and profound faith, told my mother: “But you have to get out of yourself and care for others.” My mother did, and I saw her faith renewed and deepened.
The English poet Robert Bridges wrote his fellow poet and Oxford friend, Gerard Manley Hopkins, asking him to tell him how he could believe in God. Perhaps Bridges expected Hopkins to provide some long philosophical answer, but Hopkins wrote back: “Give alms”.
I have a teenage friend who just returned from a mission trip sponsored by a local Presbyterian church. My young friend found the act of reaching out to others to be powerful for growing his faith. Excitedly he told his family: “Before I went on this mission trip God was very small in my life, but now God is huge!” Father Zossima was right! “This has been tried. This is certain.”
There is an old maxim about how we act our way into better thinking, rather than think our way into better acting. Jesus commands us to act: “Follow me!” It is in the act of obeying Jesus that we experience the truth of what He says.
Do you find your faith faltering? Follow Jesus by giving of yourself to others! Does God seem only a vague idea? Go out and love someone every day! “This has been tried. This is certain.”
Grace and peace,
photo by DiAnn