There is a story of a man who came in from town and said to his wife, ‘That vicar of yours is a right hypocrite’. His wife said, ‘What makes you say that? He’s a very nice man.’ ‘Well,’ said the husband, ‘he’s always on about heaven and how we should all look forward to going there. I saw him in town today, and as he was crossing the street a car suddenly came round the corner at top speed. Judging by the way that vicar moved, I don’t think he’s in any hurry to get to heaven!’
Life after death is not the only aspect of faith that we have mixed feelings about. When someone is ill, we pray for them. Some people believe in miracles of healing. But we still go to the doctor. Christians believe Jesus is their authority. Jesus told us to lay up our treasures in heaven, not on earth, but most of us like to have enough money in the bank for a comfortable life and some security.
It’s a common fallacy that everybody either believes in God or they don’t. Some of the most prominent believers have their times of doubt, and atheists sometimes doubt their atheism! A vicar was once asked whether he really believed in God. His reply was: ‘I believe in God on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I don’t believe on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and on Sundays I’m too busy to think about it.’ Real faith never comes easily. It is always a reaching out for something we can never fully grasp or prove. It battles constantly with doubts and questions.
Believe it or not, this is just the kind of faith we find in the Bible. We tend to assume that the Bible lays down the law about God, but in fact those who wrote it were themselves seekers, struggling towards faith just like many of us. In the Psalms they often ask God why he isn’t listening to their prayers. The Book of Job is one long argument about whether God’s ways are fair. The Book of Ecclesiastes questions whether life has any meaning at all, or at least any meaning that we can understand.
And perhaps the ultimate paradox is that according to two of the four Gospels the only words Jesus said on the cross were, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Christians believe Jesus was God. How do we get our heads around that one?
And yet, some of the people who suffer most say ‘God is good’. Faith is challenged everywhere, but somehow it won’t go away. During the Nazi holocaust a group of Jews in Auschwitz decided to put God on trial because of what he had allowed to happen to them. They concluded that he certainly had a case to answer, but then the ‘court’ was adjourned because it was time for prayers!