Do believers have to have everything sorted out before they start talking about their faith? Author Thomas Long doesn’t think so. In his helpful little book “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian” he writes,
We talk our way toward belief, talk our way from tentative belief through doubt to firmer belief, talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, and more deeply… trying to put our faith in words is a part of discovering what we know about God, believe about God, and trust about God.
There’s an account in the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to John that provides Biblical precedent for this assertion. Jesus heals a man of his blindness. A known beggar in the community, he’s been blind since birth. You might imagine that this miracle would result in some kind of community celebration. Instead, the miracle triggers an investigation into the identity of Jesus with the now-sighted man as the primary witness. Three times he’s questioned about what has happened and each time, his story changes. We might imagine, if someone were telling us about this event, that a witness who changes his story is in big trouble, and he was. But that doesn’t make it all bad. The formerly blind man, when asked about Jesus, goes from a claim of ignorance to a posture of worship in just three questions. To Long’s point, the more he talks about Jesus, the better he gets at it. He becomes clearer and more convinced of Jesus’ identity.
There’s something here for you and me.
Faith in our culture is regarded as a private matter. It’s one of those taboo topics. Further, we frequently imagine that if we talk out loud about it, it’s to convince others to our way of thinking. What if Long is right and the experience of the blind man is typical? If that’s the case, then we need to talk as a way to take hold of what we believe for ourselves.
Frequently this involves remembering. We talk about our faith with the gift of hindsight. It’s hard to recognize the acts of God in the moment. In the rearview mirror everything becomes clearer.
Leading worship at the Chapel last Sunday I was again struck by the fact that most of of the events we remember in church didn’t happen in church. I was reading my way through the long prayer that gets us into the celebration of Holy Communion. The prayer is a laundry list of divine action: creation of the world, Noah’s salvation through the flood, Israel’s passage through the sea, the teaching and miracles of Jesus. All of this comes in the form of thanksgiving to God in preparation for receiving what we believe to be the body and blood of Jesus as a sign of life for us. Together, we frame our present experience with what’s happened in the past. We talk ourselves into it.
This is true in our personal lives as well. Frequently, we don’t recognize encounters with divine grace when they’re happening. It takes the clarity of the rearview mirror to make it plain and it takes telling the story to reveal its meaning.
The task then is to remember, and having remembered, to speak – even if imperfectly at first.
March 29, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.