Utter dependence on God

Easter 2. 2013

John 20:19-31

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to die in order that we might truly live. Amen.

When we start out in life we are completely dependent on others for every aspect of our lives and, if we are lucky, we learn to trust  that our needs will be met. As we grow, we need to be taught about the world, learn what we can and can’t do, how to live in relationship with those around us and how to keep ourselves safe from danger. We learn to trust in and depend on the judgement of those older and wiser than ourselves. At times in our lives, especially in our teens, we test what we’ve been taught and we explore the boundaries that have been set to see how real they are and to determine whether danger really lurks on the other side. As a result of this process we form our own ideas and come to our own decisions as to how to live our lives. Over time, some of the rules and boundaries that were indispensable will be left behind. We no longer need to hold a parent’s hand to cross the road, we can go swimming without an adult watching and so on. As we grow, new skills and boundaries are learned. We learn how to drive, so we learn the road rules. We are old enough to drink and others hope that we will use that privilege responsibly.

At different times of our lives we unlearn some things – how to be dependent in particular – and we learn new things – how to be married, how to parent, how to live with illness or pain and how to age. Some of the changes we face will be embraced and the challenges taken on board, others may be resisted or resented. There will be individuals who adopt a positive attitude to change no matter what. When confronted with difficulties, they will grow and become better for it. However, others will balk at any difference or difficulty in their lives. Their growth will be stunted and they may become bitter and angry, unable to move on.

Our religious journeys are similar to our life’s journey. If we are open to the presence of God, we will grow through dependence to the rule bound childhood of faith into a liberating life-giving adulthood. The difference between the two is that ultimately our faith journey takes us through the independence of adulthood into a second infancy – that of complete dependence on and trust in God.

Just as in life, so in faith, some people have the confidence and courage to grow, to out-grow unnecessary regulations and to leave behind painful and negative pasts. However, unfortunately for some, the lessons taught and the emotional threats used to enforce the rules make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make their own minds up about right and wrong, healthy growth and unhealthy development. For such people, the consequences of questioning the teaching and boundaries of their childhood faith can be constant anxiety and self-doubt, fear of expulsion from the group and the terror of hellfire. There are others who do not grow in faith because they have come to like the certainty of their set beliefs and behaviours. They are comfortable in their beliefs and do not want them challenged or disturbed. For this group, any admission of doubt would be tantamount to a confession that they had lost their faith. They would feel rudderless and lost and so hold tight to what they have, unable to move forward.

Those unable or unwilling to grow become stuck in the rule-bound faith of their childhood and often justify their position by being critical and judgemental towards those who have taken a different road. They are governed by their own need for certainty and assurance and threatened by any suggestion that there is another way to be. Rules help them to feel safe. They cannot imagine a situation in which they might let go of the rules and allow God to direct their lives. Ultimately they are terrified of ceding control and opening themselves to the wisdom and love of God.

On the other hand, those who have the courage to step out in faith and to follow the path to the end are able to unlearn everything that they had learned. They have no fear of hell or judgement because they have learnt to trust in God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. They do not need to compare themselves with others because knowing themselves loved they can extend that love to those around them.

Paradoxically, our journey of faith is not a journey into certainty, but into uncertainty for in the final analysis God represents all that is unknown. Growing in faith is learning that there is only one rule and that it is not a rule but an attitude – loving and allowing ourselves to be loved. It is regaining the sense of wonder and even bewilderment about the nature of God and the nature of the universe. It is dying to our need for the rational and intelligible and rising with Christ to the impossible and unbelievable.

This is Thomas’ journey. He begins by wanting proof. What he has been told by his friends will not suffice, he wants to see and to touch. He cannot suspend his desire for the rational and the reasonable. What he knows, what he has seen, is that Jesus has died. Without clear proof to the contrary he will not be able to change this world view. When he does see Jesus, all that changes, his demand for certainty is exposed as and he is forced to concede that some things are beyond rational explanation. Thomas, having come face-to-face with the risen Christ, goes further than any other disciple by falling to his knees and identifying Jesus as both Lord and God. In that act, he lets go of certainty and rationality and gives himself over completely to God.

Certainty, compliance to a particular set of regulations, is a form of heresy. It claims that we know all there is to be known about God, it suggests that we have all the answers that we will ever need and ultimately implies that we have no need for God at all. Letting go can be a terrifying experience because we can never be sure what is on the other side. However, unless we have the courage to let go, to stop being in control, we will never know what it is to die with Christ and never experience the power of the resurrection in our lives.

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