RSS Feed

Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 11.01.2024

Video for January 11th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

If you watched last week, I began a conversation about the nature of faith and finished with a quote from Hebrews 11, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That is certainly the biblical definition, but how does that work with the reality of questions that we will all face in our spiritual journey. I had a university friend raised in a strict Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland.  Whenever they raised questions they were just told that you have to believe it.  They ended up at university with a load of unanswered questions. Faith didn’t survive the barrage of the secular world. They could have recited the truths, but the lack of permitted questioning prevented any real ownership. I wish I could persuade you of the truths on which Christian faith is based.  I think they are intrinsically reasonable (I’ll put a list of recommended books on the script on the website). But I can’t and don’t wish to coerce anyone into believing – to do so would be cultish at best. Jesus always invited, he never forced or coerced.

In fact, doubt and questioning is a normal, even necessary part of faith development. If we’ve been following Jesus for many years, its unlikely our faith is the same now as it was when we started. The Bible faithfully records such struggles.  Take John the Baptist for example, someone of whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” In his earlier ministry he saw Jesus walking towards him and exclaimed, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” But towards the end when he languishes in prison, he sends word to Jesus, “are you the one who is to come, or should be expect someone else?” These are not the words of someone ‘sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see’. John was deeply spiritual, but more influenced by his culture than he realised.  They were expecting a warrior messiah, not a person like Jesus. Doubt was necessary because that misunderstanding needed to be deconstructed. An evangelist I know once asked someone seeking faith, “tell me what type of God you don’t believe in, because I probably don’t believe in that God either.  Today the deconstruction might be around letting go the view that Christian faith is a form of therapeutic deism, in order to discover the Lord of Heaven and earth.  We often start our journey taking God on our terms.   Faith development is a process learning that he takes us on his. 

Jesus answer to John’s question is not direct.  He could have just said, “yes!” Instead he calls John to the evidence of his own experience: blind people see, lame people walk, deaf people hear, all through the work of Jesus.  This is what we might call proof. He is called back to what he does know first rather than speculate what he doesn’t. For us, the resurrection and christian experience are meant to stand as markers in the midst of the questions.  Similarly, in the midst of pain, the cross demonstrates unequivocally how much God loves a broken and hurting world. 

Ultimately, this tender conversation, conducted at a distance through intermediaries is Jesus the Pastor.  There is no – just believe it. This is Jesus meeting John where he is, taking his questions seriously and responding in ways that resonate with his experience.  As John reflected on the dialogue one could imagine him coming to a place of deeper trust. It may be that some of his questions remained.  Even some of the disciples at the end of the Gospels, confronted with the evidence of their own eyes of a living Jesus, are recorded as doubting. 

Communities of faith should not be places of enforced conformity.  There should always be room for robust questions and engagement because this is the process through which faith is owned and grows. We may have views about God which are wrong and bordering on the idolatrous – God in our own image.  A healthy spirituality and community allows a safe place for that to happen. Two thousand years of questioning, more aggressively in the last 50 years, have shown our trust in Jesus Christ to be remarkably resilient, and the truth claims of faith resistant to robust intellectual enquiry. Jesus lovingly helps a great saint of the faith to end well.  We should have no fear in our questioning that Jesus will abandon us for being impertinent!

Some suggested books

Anything by CS Lewis, but particularly Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain
If God, Then What, Andrew Wilson
God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God, John C Lennox
The Case for Faith: Lee Strobel

+ Richard


Powered by Church Edit