PRAYER: God of grace and mercy, in one way or another, we all have doubts about our faith. Help us to remember that these doubts are normal and that having them is not a signal of failure, but rather a clear sign of the humanity with which you have blessed us. Strengthen us to sit with our questions and doubts, knowing that they are a way to know you better and a means of grace through which we become open to you more. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
When I was 18, I had an opportunity to go with some friends to some church revival that was hosting a faith healer. This guy preached a fire and brimstone healing service and did all the hokey things you can imagine to make us believe that he was doing all sorts of miraculous healings. He proclaimed people were healed and then pushed them back into the arms of his waiting assistants… all the stereotypical things that you can imagine. I remember walking away from that revival not sure if what I saw was legit or not.
The thing is that this guy I saw all those years ago – at the time, was relatively unknown. Today, forty years later, he is a world famous televangelist who is accused quite often of scamming people out of their life savings under the guise of healing. And then, when these people that he supposedly healed die, he keeps the money that they gave him. Of course.
But you see, that so-called faith healer, and people like him, they rely on us believing that they have all the answers, that they have some sort of special connection with God. They get rich on people believing that they cannot be wrong.
Over the years, I have wrestled with a lot of elements of faith. One in particular, that we talked about this past Sunday in our small group session, has been around healing. What does it mean when we pray for healing? Why don’t we see those miraculous healings that the televangelist con artist claims he makes? Why don’t we regularly see the kinds of miracles that we read about in the Bible? Why are our hospitals in business if we can just pray disease away? When we pray for someone to be healed of a particular disease, and then they’re not, what does that say about our faith? These are things that I’ve wrestled with…
And I don’t think there’s a person alive who has not hoped for or prayed for some kind of healing, whether for themselves or for someone else. It is particularly human of us to do so. But more often than we’d like, the kind of miraculous physical healing that we seek is not what we experience.
But I’ve learned that the problem – or the challenge is not that the physical healing did not come to pass. Rather, it is in our definition of the word healing that ultimately is what we must come to grips with. When we limit ourselves to a singular – very particular understanding of what it means to be healed, chances are very good that we’re going to be disappointed. And then, that’s where our questions become toxic because we want God to define everything on our terms… not the other way around.
Unfortunately, Christians are often taught that having doubts should cause us to be ashamed. But the truth is that doubts are normal and every person of faith deals with doubts and struggles with difficult questions. Theology is a very broad subject, and it would be impossible for anyone to talk about God and get every detail right or to be able to answer every question. No one has all the answers… not even your pastor, believe it or not! Sometimes, simply asking the questions that are on our hearts allow us to better understand how to live a faithful life in a world full of doubt.
Isaiah had real doubts about if he could truly speak for God. Instead of hiding his doubt he shared it with God. God did not shame Isaiah but gave him the grace to answer his need and gave him the courage and strength to follow and live out his calling. God made the doubt-filled Isaiah into the greatest of all the prophets. A prophet whose words would give hope to a people in exile and foreshadow the coming of the Messiah.
Important figures in Scripture like Moses, David, Sarah, Peter, Paul, and Mary all struggled with doubts and questions. Those of us who doubt, those of us who question… we are in great company.
I think it’s a beautiful and affirming thing that God makes room for our doubts. One powerful example is in the book of Psalms. The book of psalms is divided into different categories. The category with the largest number of psalms are called the psalms of lament. These psalms are songs of pain and doubt. Many of the psalms of laments were most likely written during the conflicts and exile Isaiah and other prophets faced and wrote about. The Jewish and Christian tradition has always believed God wants us to be honest in sharing our hope, in sharing our joy… and in sharing our fear or doubts.
Doubts about faith and life are normal. When we stop viewing our doubts as somehow failing God, we become free. Isaiah teaches us that by bringing our doubts into the open, we allow God’s grace to fill us with peace and strength.
What doubts and questions do you have? Ash Wednesday is a time in which we are called to face our limits, weaknesses, and mortality. As mortals we will always have more questions than answers. It is not shameful to have doubts or questions. God encourages them. God understands them. In your worship folder, you have a slip of paper. Use that piece of paper and write out some of your doubts – some of the questions that you have. It’s not for me to see; it’s not for anyone to see. Let it be between you and God.
By facing our questions and doubts and bringing them to God we are freed from the power they can have over us. We are reminded that God’s love and grace is bigger than our doubts. In a little while, when you come up to receive your ashes, you’re invited to place that piece of paper that you’ve written your doubt or question on into the flame and then into the bowl at the front. Let the fire burn the paper. Let your questions and doubts be lifted up to God. And as you do that, be mindful of the burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s lips. Remember that we come from ash… let the ash you receive tonight be a reminder of your humanity, and let the ash that you make from your question remind you of the connection we all have in our humanity with one another and with God. Remember that in our baptism, we are made clean. Remember that when we, as people of faith partake in the body and blood of Christ, God’s grace cleanses us.
God loves your questions. God is not some carnival barker trying to separate you from your self. Come to God with your doubts and your questions. In this season of Lent, allow God the space to work within you and bring you to a transforming healing that may very well surprise you.
To God be the glory