Because of my Unbelief
I had barely touched the surface of Diana Stone's story when I found the Facebook page for her newborn son, needing prayer for his non-functioning little heart. After losing her twin sons to the trauma of premature birth, she was now forced to accept that Kaden might not survive either.
I prayed, hopefully, and I asked that God do this miracle thing. Yet, subtlely, in the depths of it, there was "Come on. Surely she has had enough, her fair share of heartache." Surely he knew that.
I followed as others prayed against all odds, and then I felt sick when I learned it was over. Baby Kaden had died and his family was left to mourn. Again.
There really aren't words to say it well. How unfair and sad it is. But there are words, oh are there words, to process in the aftermath of this kind of sadness.
The sharpest of which is this- Is my desire to trust God real if I can't seem to do it?
If, at the heart of all my prayers, there lies a feeble and shaky sense of confidence... a confused faith, a "raised eyebrow" at his ways... do I trust him? Do I really even want to if I can't seem to make it happen, completely?
I flip my Bible open to where the black ribbon hangs out, bookmarking that place in Matthew. This ribbon that has moved so slowly, page by single page, for months.
Jesus has gone home to Nazareth to teach and preach and do miracles, but this is his hometown. This is where he started out as a little baby, born into a poor and scandalous family, and spent thirty years of Probably Normal Life before his ministry began. So, the people are surprised when he walks back into town and says he is more - that he has always been more. They say, "Is this not the carpenter's son? That woman Mary's son? With brothers and sisters who still live here?" Yeah freaking right, they say. And they are offended by him.
"And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief."
It strikes me. Because of their unbelief, they did not experience many miracles.
What about my unbelief?
And meanwhile, the story goes on, there is strange drama unfolding at the palace. A young girl dances provocatively before her uncle the King and he is pleased. A promise is made and a mother sees opportunity and it is the unraveling of John's life. John the Baptist, faithful prophet, held captive in prison to struggle and doubt and wonder if he was wrong about Jesus... and then it ends this way for him.
Jesus hears the news and does not intervene or touch the corpse to life. I've heard about this before- heard sermons about how Jesus responded. But now I keep my eye on Jesus and he just seems sad. He goes away, alone, to a desolate place. He gets in a boat and floats away.
And then the crowds follow him and wait on the shore.
Jesus is grieving the death of his cousin and friend and people have followed him. Now they are in a desolate place, too.
"This is a desolate place," the disciples say. "It cannot feed us."
And this scene, this moment mingled into his grief, is the opening-scene of a miracle.
Because Jesus decides to feed them in the desolate place. Maybe because they are there for his sake... they followed him there, to the desolate place.
And then there's that- Jesus has always gone first into suffering. When we suffer, we are only going after him, walking his earthly footsteps of sorrow and sacrifice and every depth of pain. We die to ourselves, we lose our very lives. Sometimes it's even worse than that- sometimes we watch those around us lose their lives. Our husbands, wives and babies. Our friends, neighbors, pastors.
The stench of death is here, on this earth, with us. It reeks. And it sucks. It sucks so bad. Things are way too sad to make any kind of sense to us.
Oh death, where is your sting? The Bible asks. But here, here is the sting, God. In our very hearts and souls, we feel it. It hurts and stings and sucks.
God, can we trust you?
This life is sometimes so very desolate and I don't know what you are going to do about it. I don't know when you will act or if you will act. What you will make right on this earth and what you will not make right.
It's frightening to have no guarantees.
You were never saved from your suffering, Jesus. You asked for another way but there was not one. You were not healed until after you died, completely.
It this what it means to be like you?
Is this what it means to follow you? Desolate, hungry, dying places?
Because yes, you walked into the desolation, into death, and you are the only one who has ever walked through it. You are the only one who journeyed into pain, suffering and even death, and then made it through to the other side and sat down at the right hand of God the Father. For eternity.
And you promise that we can do the same.
Oh death, where is your sting? Maybe I get it a litle more.
Yea though I walk through the valleys of the shadow of death and dying, this monster Death that still towers over us and casts his horrible shadowy darkness into our lives, you are with me.
We keep walking.
You lead me to still waters. You restore my soul. We walk paths of righteousness together in this world undone - it is our own undoing - and you annoint my head with oil and I weep and overflow. It is your goodness and mercy that sustain us until we emerge on the other side and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It is so much better than walking through it without you.
I am of little faith, Jesus. I do not understand your ways. I am sometimes confused, disheartened, disappointed -- mad.
But I am not the people of Nazareth. I do not take offense at you. Do not leave me, or withhold your mighty works because of my unbelief!
I am your tired, hungry disciples- holding only five loaves and questioning your judgement, but willing to obey.
I am Peter (I am always Peter) walking towards you, but distracted again, overwhelmed, sinking... crying out, "Lord, save me!"
I am the helpless, desperate parent in the crowd. Pleading for my child. Confessing and declaring in the same cry, "I believe - help my unbelief!"
Follow Diana here. And cling to God with her, with me, with all of us. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.