“A man who believes believes once for all. Don’t be afraid; regard even that as an invitation. One may, of course, be confused and one may doubt; but whoever once believes…may take comfort of the fact that he is being upheld. Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously; and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices for the devil to have lost his game.”
“Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously; and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices for the devil to have lost his game.”
-Karl Barth; Dogmatics In Outline
I have always wished I were a quieter person, the type of presence that slips into a room and is often unnoticed by others within. My parents used to joke that the difficult part in raising me was not teaching me to speak so much as getting me to shut up. And then I had to go and start a blog.
So this may come as somewhat of a surprise, but I don’t always have something to say.
I often find myself traveling back to a particular night of my youth that still seems to haunt me. I was up late, restless in the way I suppose teenagers often are. I snuck out of the house, not for the purpose of going to an illicit party or forbidden romantic rendezvous, but, really, just because I felt the compulsion to make conversation; though I wasn’t sure with whom.
Job is not the only biblical character who sought conversation with the Divine. Jacob, though he was rich and blessed, still wrestled with God. And lost.
But I didn’t get so far. Instead, I just sat on the hood of my Jeep in the driveway, staring up into the night sky. The stars were out and the air was clear. It seemed like the peaceful and pious kind of environment in which to spar with the Almighty. What I was asking for, I cannot say. I did not have the means to even articulate my request, but it was desperate and pervasive; I could feel it rising in my chest but the words to carry it escaped my mind. The urgency of this conundrum carried my thoughts like a trained carrier pigeon through a storm. Terrified and confused, it lost its way, finally arriving back at the place where it’d begun.
And so I just sat there, and didn’t say a thing. But I meant every word.
Seven years later, I still cannot tell you whether or not my prayer has yet been answered.
I try, every week, to conjure up some personal experience that speaks to and articulates the reality of my faith. This is not an obligation but a compulsion; the same way in which I enter a crowded room and cannot help but engage in conversation. The same conversation is taking place all around me, and I must contribute; this I believe.
But now and then, if I am honest, I find I do not have the words to speak about my faith. As many hours as I spend staring out a window or walking around and investigating the world beyond my front door, I find myself incapable of seeing the tiny miracles I know, I trust, must exist right in front of my own eyes. And I have nothing to say.
Karl Barth once said that when we believe, we must believe in spite of God’s hiddeness. This itself, is an act of grace. For who can see God and live? This is the question of sages past. And the answer was always the same: no one. Yet somehow I believe in his reality, as opposed to just an abstract notion contrived by my upbringing and imagination.
From the perspective of someone who cannot shut up, it is the silence of God that convinces me of his deity. He has a million things to say, and has said them, both through his words and through the Word, his Son. He has said them and continues to say them, every day in the tragic miracle of a spider web collecting dew on the grass, in the sunshine that sprints through our windows to shake us with the reality of it’s light, travelling millions of miles and rest upon our skin that’s slowly rotting on dying bones. God continues to say everything he has to say and yet at the same time he hides it; he created us with ears and yet there are those who cannot hear, refuse to hear. He gave us a knife called “freedom” with which he allowed us to cut our own throat. Abraham’s arm was stopped, but for some of us he does not always interfere.
He let me sit on my driveway, throughout that lonely night, until my back was cramped and I returned inside. Some would say, and I would be among them, that he did show up that night, in stars that’d long since burned out and the whisper of warm air that arose from the asphalt and swept across the driveway, sliding under my chin as a lover’s fingers before a long kiss. I cannot confirm this, but I do believe it.
Barth reminds us that it is not unbelief but only faith that should be taken seriously. Because if our faith is the grain of a mustard seed then that will suffice.
I have nothing else to say.