Seven Last Words 07


"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" - Matthew 27:46.

Every so often in the middle of a period of quiet prayer, my brain asks the question I least want it to ask: "Do you really believe this or is it just a massive superstructure of comfort to give your trivial life some kind of meaning?"

Doubt is possibly the most misunderstood Christian attribute because it loses all its dynamic force when it is separated from faith. If an atheist says that she doubts the existence of God it doesn't mean all that much; but if a Christian, struggling with faith, says that he doubts, then the statement has true vibrancy, true value.

The mystery of the passion and death of our Saviour is only one of the sacred mysteries into which we have been initiated in our Christian life by virtue of our Baptism. Yesterday we witnessed the re-enactment of the mystery of the Eucharist; today we witness the working out of that mystery in the physical death of Jesus.

Ironically, looked at from a Christian perspective, the mistake we most often make is thinking that we understand God, that there really are no mysteries in connection with the Creative, salvific and sanctifying purposes of the Trinity. In a very real sense the problem for many of us is that we do not doubt enough.

Yet There are some Christians who walk in Our Saviour's Church Of Doubt with a list in their hands of the great certainties, as if there is no mystery at all, as if it is all perfectly clear. They say what is true and that anybody who disagrees with them must be wrong. They say that Scripture is as plain as plain can be; that our sin is in not seeing what is obvious.

God created us with brains so that we might think, so that we might choose, so that our love might be consciously given, so that we might leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit in a state of intense calm; and in creating us to choose, in creating us to reflect God, in creating us to explore the mystery of God's love and our creation, God created doubt. But doubt is suffocated by pride, pride that human knowledge can penetrate the sacred mystery of God. And doubt is corroded by cowardice.

I have doubted but instead of pressing on towards the core of doubt, towards the zone of acute discomfort, I have stood back, I have been prepared to forsake My Saviour and live in the comfortable world of Jesus the fairy story, the story which starts so beautifully, goes through a horrible episode, as all fairy stories will, but ends happily every after. I have left My Saviour hanging on the cross instead of getting closer; I have read my Bible and prayed my prayers and flinched when it has become too difficult to face. I have wanted to be in command of myself and of the Holy words and books; yes, I have wanted to be in command; and at the same time I have only wanted comfort from this enterprise. I often fail to flex my inner self to see where the sharp edges of commitment might be. And because I want to be in command, the prospect of being out of my depth is too daunting to live with. So I have exchanged the challenge and pain of doubt for the relative comfort of dogma.

There may be some technical problems with dogma but the Creed sounds so comforting if we don't think too carefully about it; and we have become comfortable in our Sacraments; and we feel such warmth in the fellowship of the Lord's Supper; but unless we flex our commitment, unless we examine its cost, unless we stretch to the limit for its healing, we are taking refuge in a formula, something familiar and comforting, something that is a social ritual rather than a journey towards faith.

Given the centrality of doubt in the condition of human holiness it is inevitable that Jesus should have suffered from doubt. WE must always remember that although He was fully God, Jesus was also fully human. He knew what He was doing in obedience to His Father but He did not know how this would end and for what ultimate purpose. He knew that He was dying for the forgiveness of sin, to absorb in Himself as a Sacred vessel, all the wrong choices, all the choices not to love, that had ever been made and would ever be made; but He did not know precisely how this transaction related to His Father. In taking human form He had denied Himself knowledge, He had been cast into the human condition of doubt. We might go further and argue that Jesus had temporarily lost His faith altogether, that He thought that He had been abandoned.

This is the most searing consequence of doubt, the moment of blankness, the moment when we are most human, living as we were meant to live, living as we were meant to live because one of the consequences of being created to choose is that we must confront the extremes of certainty and doubt instead of living halfway along the spectrum, managing to rub along with the Divine as if it were a rather anomalous but comfortable 'given' in the way we see the universe.

When we go to the extreme, we face the prospect that there is no God, that our lives are shapeless and meaningless, that within years of our death the memories will have faded, the photographs will have been thrown away, stories once funny will be meaningless. Nothing.

Only then can we begin to leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit, to begin to know God from a position of humble creatureliness. Only then can we see every doctrine as a question not as an answer; only then can we understand that all human enterprise is a question, not an answer; that the Church is a question not an answer but, hopefully, the right question.

There are those who tell us that we can be risk free Christians, that as long as we believe in God all will be well. But not to take risks is not to know what it might mean to believe. All our lives we must take the risk of walking towards the cross, of trying to work out what it means, of trying to understand why Jesus hangs there in front of us and why we still have the strength to walk towards Him. All our lives we must face the inevitable discomfort of not knowing, of not being in control, of being made small, of having our intellectual powers overwhelmed by the mystery of God's love. But because the only way in which we can really relate to God's love is through the incarnate Son, the only way we can really know why we are is to keep on flexing ourselves out of complacency, to keep on walking forward towards the cross, to risk the horror of that tortured face, to look into the face and see our own imperfection. For there is a paradox in the Cross which we have to confront; it is our comfort that has brought about the torture of Our Saviour which we are looking at now.

Let us come closer. Closer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as you hang upon the Cross in the loneliness of human doubt, forgive us our pride in the refuge of human doctrine: may we struggle towards the cross, abandoning comfort for commitment, so that we are alive to the mystery of Your grace. Amen.