I Sure Hope So

    March 22, 2021 | Stories by Linda Opp

    It was an ordinary walk on the nature trail with my two grandsons, ages four and seven. Somehow the older one acquired a cut on his finger, which bled entirely out of proportion to the seriousness of the injury. Fortunately, I produced a bandaid, and disaster was averted.

    “I don't have any blood,” the younger one announced.

    “Actually you do,” I said. “You are full of blood.”

    “And if I get a cut, will it come out?”

    “It will.”

    “What happens if it all comes out?”

    “Then you'd be dead,” the seven-year-old offered helpfully. “But not really.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked.

    He shrugged. “Well, you know. Heaven.”

    “Right,” I said, impressed with his theology. “And then someday you'll get a new body and live forever with Jesus.”

    My young theologian sighed. “I sure hope so.” He'd obviously given this serious consideration, and he so perfectly expressed what it's like to hold faith and doubt in the same space. If we're honest, we'll admit this is familiar territory. Sometimes we live in unshakeable certainty, and sometimes we live in “I sure hope so” mode. But if we've been hanging around other Christians long enough, we end up feeling guilty when we're uncertain, and unwilling to admit our half-baked condition. But here's the thing. The feelings of tenderness I have for my grandsons have given me a glimpse of God's tenderness toward his broken, doubting children. In the moment my grandson said “I sure hope so” I have never loved him more. I was happy he was going deeper than regurgitating the right answers. I wanted to gently reassure him in his not-quite-sureness. If one human feels this way about another human, how much more does God treat us with tenderness and understanding in our “I sure hope so” moments?

    The Gospel of Mark gives us a surprising, unchurchy account of this human mixture of belief and unbelief. A desperate dad asks Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son, who regularly rolls around on the ground foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth. He asks Jesus for help, but the ask is slightly insulting: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Not a stellar proclamation of faith. If you can do anything? We wait for the Lord of the universe to tell him to come back when he's more sure. Jesus answers that there's no limit to what he can do if the dad has faith. If I was the father, I might have felt in that moment that everything depended on my faith, but I was running short, and now it was hopeless. I might have given up and gone home to figure out how to live the rest of my life with my son rolling on the ground, gnashing his teeth, and foaming at the mouth. But no. The dad goes for complete honesty. “I do believe,” he tells Jesus. “Please help me overcome my unbelief.” I love that this desperate dad is brave enough to admit that he has both things going on at once. And I love that Jesus loves and welcomes him in exactly the faith condition he's in. He shows his love by acting decisively. No partial measures in response to what appears to be partial faith. Jesus blows it out of the water. Not only is there an exorcism, it comes with a lifetime guarantee. The evil spirit is ordered to leave the boy and never return again. Bless Mark for including this story, and for reassuring us that there's room for honest doubt. No matter how thin the thread of faith, God's love is unchanged. If you're looking in the right direction, and if you ask, it's enough. It turns out the suffering boy's healing was dependent on the power of God, not on how much faith his father had.

    Having faith in our faith is backwards. We need to have faith in our incredible, almighty God. Let's welcome the doubters and the questioners, even when they are us. God gives us the freedom to name the doubt and to work through it. What an amazing gift from the heart of a loving father.

    ~ Linda Opp

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