Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus, Faith and Doubt (Part I)

I know it's been a while since I've used the ol' "J word", but as life continues to ebb and flow I am constantly reminded of Jesus' response to his disciples' fear in the Bible. In all my exploration of the concept of faith in various traditions, methodologies and religions, these stories still strike the deepest chord within me.

In one story, Jesus is sleeping on a boat during a raging storm and the disciples wake him, asking "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (Mark 4:38). Jesus gets up...and though it certainly isn't described this way I can picture a groggy-eyed, disoriented, and somewhat pissed off Jesus, having been woken with an abrupt start. After calming the wind and waves he asks, most likely pretty grumpily, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Then Jesus has this whole slew of amazing miracles that the disciples witness, again and again, including the feeding of four thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (Mark 8:1). Immediately following this, the disciples realize they had forgotten to bring the leftover bread (you know, from the seven loaves that fed four thousand), and they start freaking out about not having enough food. And I love Jesus' response, "Do you still not see or understand??!!"

O.K., the exclamation points are mine but I'm pretty sure it depicts Jesus' emotion and amazement at their wavering faith more accurately than a simple question mark. It so poignantly calls out mankind's obsession with a constant stream of affirmation. This isn't about the validity of the biblical stories themselves, and it doesn't matter whether you or I or anyone actually believes it happened just as it was described. It reveals the simple truth that once we've successfully overcome one fear or challenging circumstance, we always are met with another and we almost always meet the new fear or challenge with the same doubt and apprehension we felt previously. Even though, time and time again, the outcome of each situation has eventually brought us over that hill.

Do you still not understand?

Jesus said this in response to men who were experiencing a deep and terrifying fear. The danger - the fear - was imminent and that was all they could feel or think about. But even in the midst of rough seas and grumbling stomachs, Jesus so desired for them to find solace in promise. Their fear was unnecessary and wasted energy. It pained him to see them torture themselves with worry.

What situation are you facing right now where fear and doubt has taken over? You can you use past outcome and the constant flow of promise to mitigate those fears and let it all go?