Most preachers, when they reflect on their preaching, will find that they have a few themes that they come back to again and again. For me, one of those themes is the question of what it means to believe. I return to this theme repeatedly because I want to challenge the popular understanding that believing means holding a certain set of statements or claims to be true – statements, for example, about God or Jesus or the Bible or salvation. When we speak of believing in this way, Christianity becomes a matter of the head rather than of the heart.
We know that faith does not spare us from the pain of human existence. Believing does not guarantee that we will never have cancer, or suffer the loss of a loved one, or lose a job, or watch a business fail. Believing does not solve all our problems or make us rich or popular or successful. It does not exempt us from the experience of pain and suffering. It does not make everything right.
But it does make a difference in how we experience tragedy and loss, how we cope with suffering and pain, how we respond to grief and sorrow.
The psalmist knows what it is to believe and trust in God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” he proclaims, “whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”…”Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; and though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him.”
The psalmist believes in God. Even in the face of danger and trouble, he makes clear his resolve: “I will put my trust in [God].” Real believing is about knowing God and trusting God, even when trouble assails us. It is a quiet assurance that holds us and calms us and comforts us, and lets us know that it is all right, even when things don’t look or feel all right. As the psalmist notes, we need not be afraid.
Christian pastor and teacher Lewis Smedes tells of a visit he made to a friend who was dying of cancer. As their time together came to an end, his friend looked into his eyes and smiled. “It’s all right,” he said. “It’s all right.” Obviously, everything was not all right. His life was ending prematurely. His wife was soon to become a widow, and his children fatherless. His body was wracked with pain. And yet, in some deep place in his soul, faith assured him that God’s grace was sufficient for him even now, in this moment and under these circumstances, and that God’s power was being made perfect in his weakness (cf. II Cor. 12:9). Like St Paul, he was convinced that no hardship or distress or bodily pain – not even death itself – could separate him from Christ (cf. Romans 8:31-39). He was finding that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Faith gives us the power to look earthly reality in the face, to acknowledge its sad and tragic edges, to feel its cruel cuts, to join the chorus of voices that have railed against its outrageous unfairness, and still to feel in our deepest being that it is good and right and a joyful thing for us to be alive on God’s good earth. Faith gives us the power to see life very clearly, to admit that sometimes it seems all wrong and still to know that, somehow, it is all right. “All shall be well,” Dame Julian of Norwich assures us, “every manner of thing shall be well.” That is the voice and experience of one who knows God and believes.
Smedes writes, “When I feel that I am loved while everything about me says I am unlovable, then I am believing, really believing. When I feel that life in this valley of death is much worth the living, then I am believing. When I feel gratitude enough to make me glad, then I am believing. When I feel that all is right with me even when everything around me is the pits, then I am actually believing.”
This type of faith comes by discovery, not by effort. It is not a feeling we can manufacture. It comes to us rather as a gift, often unexpected – the simple assurance that God is God, and that if we can just be still and know that God is God, all will be well. We cannot manufacture such faith, but if we have experienced it we can recall it and trust it again and again.
Suffering is part of human experience, and we will not escape it. But we can believe, like the psalmist and like St Paul, in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, and discover for ourselves that even when everything seems all wrong, it can still be all right.
 Lewis B. Smedes; How Can It Be All Right When Everything is All Wrong? p.10.
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