What If Faith is a Question?
What do you think of when you think of faith?
Some folks think of the things you have to believe. To have faith is to believe certain propositions regardless of external evidence.
Others see faith more as a matter of trust. Faith is, quite literally, trusting in something or, even more, trusting in someone.
For most of my life I’ve leaned toward this latter view, that faith is relational. In the Apostles’ Creed, for instance, we don’t just confess the faith by saying “I believe that there is a God” but rather the more relational “I believe in God” – that is, I not only believe there is a God, but put my trust and confidence in this God. “I trust you, God,” is part of what we’re saying in the creed.
This past week, though, caught between the gospel readings for last Sunday and the one to come, I’ve been wondering more about whether we wouldn’t be well served by entertaining the possibility that faith is also a question.
It started while listening to Kara Root’s sermon Saturday evening. Kara is the pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. The text was, as you may recall, the stilling of the storm in Mark 4. Kara suggested that while it’s easy to focus on the lack of faith of the disciples betrayed by their fear, we might also pay attention to their faith-filled, and also fearful, question at the end, “Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” Perhaps faith isn’t having an answer or even simply a matter of trust; maybe faith is being willing to ask a question, even being willing to call into question something you once believed.
It continued the next day, Sunday morning – and no, I don’t usually go to church twice a weekend, but this Sunday was different – while listening to the sermon of Mary Pechauer of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Same text, delightfully different take. Mary also focused on the disciples’ holy awe and wondered if part of their fear stemmed precisely from realizing that they really had no idea what might happen to them with this wave-stilling, storm-rebuking Jesus in the boat. She then invited us to ask a similar question: what might God do with us, to us, through us, for the sake of God’s world? And then she promised us that we can trust that the God we encounter in Jesus may be wild, but is also good (think Aslan from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). Again, faith is a question – what might God do with me and with us?
So this week we’ve got Jairus and the woman who is bleeding. Here also, faith seems like a question, a question wrenched from their desperate lips by the extremity of their situation. “Will you come heal my daughter?” Jairus asks. “If I only touch his garment, will I be healed?” the woman dreams. Faith, again, is a question: what might be possible if I am open to the movement and presence of God?
Faith, I think, is being open to an unknown future. But it’s precisely the fact that it’s unknown that elicits our faithful, and sometimes fearful, questions. So maybe faith isn’t simply belief, maybe faith is even more than trust. Maybe faith is a question: voicing a question, calling what we thought we knew into question, living with the questions we have, not unafraid, but undaunted, willing to ask those questions, even to embrace them – and all of life – as a mystery not to be solved but to be experienced.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote the following in a letter to a young poet:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
So also, faith – the challenge isn’t simply to hold a settled belief, or even to trust without thinking, but to question, to ask, to struggle…and then to listen, receive, and live, not so much seeking an answer but rather drawn into the embrace of the One who planted the question into our restless breasts in the first place. And perhaps, not by dint of hard work but simply from a willingness to love the questions, we may live into the answers as come to trust the love of this mysterious God. But in the meantime, we hold these questions patiently in our hearts, and we call this faith.