Certain scripture passages challenge my faith and push my argumentative button. This weekend’s readings fall soundly into that category.
The Gospel today is Luke’s parable of the persistent widow who pesters the dishonest judge day and night until, out of fear of her possible violence towards him, he finally gives in and renders a just verdict in her favor. Jesus uses this illustration to launch into a description of God that I frankly have trouble swallowing, much less digesting.
“Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Hey Jesus – with all due respect, there were millions of Christians, clergymen, gypsies, handicapped and intellectually disabled, gays, artists, political opponents, and of course, Jews who were systematically exterminated before the “persistence” of allied forces in Europe finally brought the democratically-elected Hitler to his suicidal end.
At this very moment there are Christian minorities in Islamic countries being beheaded, raped, disemboweled, and little girls kidnapped and forced into “marriages” because of their “persistant” Christian faith.
Closer to home, in Plano, Texas, a young teen with the intellectual capacity of an eight year old due to a birth injury is receiving gruesome texts from her classmates threatening to rape and kill her, telling her that her seizures are karma for being born so imperfect.
So when You ask, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” I am tempted to answer, “How can we possibly have faith? Where the hell is this ‘speedy justice’ you preach about? This parable is one of the reasons there are atheists.”
I’m probably a heretic. But I’m also a human being. A very world-weary human being. Oh me of little faith.
I forget that faith is not about earthly outcomes.
Back in August we heard in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Last week in his letter to Timothy (written from prison, by the way), Paul said, “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
Paul was not speaking metaphorically. In his day, Christians faced the likely earthly outcome of violent death, or at the very least, crippling persecution from both the civil and religious powers of their society. I think sometimes we “first world” 21st century American Christians forget that truth – living a life of persistent faith like that of the widow in the parable does not guarantee justice from earthly judges. Sometimes God’s justice is one of those “things not seen.”
This week Paul continues his letter to Timothy: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it.” What we learned from the whisper of the Holy Spirit is truth. Worldly powers will tell us lies. Sometimes, with enough persistence, we can break them down and secure justice for ourselves like the widow in the story. But it is not God’s justice. It is only a temporary stay.
Human systems of power, no matter who controls them, do not fear God nor do they respect the natural rights, spiritual worth, and equal dignity of each human person. Earthly powers are held in check only by the grace of God and by people of good will persistently holding them accountable.
Sometimes those powers appear to have the better of the fight, like the forces of Amalek in today’s Old Testament selection. Even Moses grew weary of encouraging the Israelite forces and needed help holding his hands in blessing over the troops as they waged war. Yet it was not Moses’ drooping arms that caused them to falter in battle, but their perception that they would lose. It was an illusion – the truth is, God never ceases to be in control. God has secured our rights – this is self-evident to spiritual eyes, no matter what our earthly eyes appear to see.
Faith is remembering that this world we live in is an illusion. Our holding them in check. Our losing control to them. Even the violence and injustice so horrifying that it shakes us to the core – all illusion compared with the justice that trumps any human injustice to which we could ever fall prey.
It is human to doubt. Who wouldn’t? Faith is quietly acting “as if” we believe in God’s justice even in the face of injustice.
Faith is not “believing.” Faith is acting in the face of disbelief.
Faith is not the destination, but the journey we chose to take. Faith is not the outcome, but the effort we choose to make.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I have every faith He will.