10 June 2011

Hearts & Brains (Faith & Reason)

In an excerpt entitled Physician, Heal Thyself from an upcoming book, Dan Allen (zombietheology.com) shows the dangers that come from the faith healing sect of Christ-followers. I am torn as to how I respond to this. On the one hand, he's absolutely right. Many of our brothers and sisters have left the Church or faith altogether on account of the branches of our brethren who rely solely on heart/faith. On the other hand, I, like our brothers and sisters who are drawn to such teachings, wish that it was that easy.

"If only I had shown more faith" the young man in Dan's story thinks as he passes from this existence into a new "life" as a member of the zombie horde. There are many of us who have thought this way as we have watched a loved one grow weaker by the day as their battle with cancer rages on, or when we have buried one whom we thought would have been healed in this lifetime. Many of us have struggled to comprehend Jesus' challenge to have faith the size of a mustard seed. We think that this is a command to grow our own faith, and we feel the burden of our inability to fulfill such a seemingly impossible task.

Photo by Trista Wynne

Dear ones, there is hope! Jesus does not command us to have faith. He did not command the disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. It is not an imperative. Jesus is simply making the observation that His disciples - those closest to Him, who listened to His voice, who watched Him work, who breathed Him in - those disciples did not posses faith even the size of a mustard seed. If they, who were in His physical presence struggled to comprehend and to believe, then we ought not to be too hard on ourselves as we walk some two-thousand years later. Our Lord certainly isn't!

If only it were that easy, that's what I said earlier. I am captivated by the imperative that Allen's post title eludes to: "physician, heal thyself". If only we could. The fact of the matter is that we cannot heal ourselves, not of many of the physical, social, psychological or emotional traumas or disease we encounter on a daily basis. On a cosmic scale, we cannot solve all of our problems, save the world or even save ourselves from very much at all. Would God have come to earth in human flesh if we were able to save ourselves?!

In America, or more broadly, in western culture in general, we like to think that we are in control. We like to feel that we have our lives, our families, our friendships, our jobs, our religious standings, all in control. If we eat just this amount, or this type, of food, or if we exercise just that much more, our bodies will certainly be healthy. Or if we follow this program or buy that enhancement product or watch enough of these television hosts, all of our ducks will line up in a row and we will be in the money, or the power, or the greatest intimacy...

Dear ones, hope is not found in these things!  Hope is not found in human beings. Hope is found in Christ alone. And the Lord Jesus invites us to dialogue with Him and to engage our brains.

Photo by Matthew Wynne
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is one that is not easily interpreted nor shrugged off. In this story, Jesus is hiding out, escaping the needy crowds for one reason or another. That in and of itself has fueled many sermons over the centuries, to be sure. But it is not the point of my reference.

While Jesus is hiding out, a woman comes to him. She is from outside of His socio-political sphere, but she has heard about Him through the grapevine. Her daughter has some sort of ailment which she (and the author of this gospel) describes as demonic in nature. Jesus refuses her request by saying that He's not here to feed the dogs. (What a strange thing to say!) But, (and here's the kicker) she, this woman (who at this time could be stoned just for talking to a man, let alone a man outside of her own culture) stands up straight, looks him directly in the eye and challenges Him. "Lord," she says, "don't you know that even the puppies under the children's table eat their scraps?!"

This woman engages her brain and cuts the tired excuse to the quick. Now in Matthew's gospel, Jesus praises her for her great faith. But in Mark's rendering of the story, (which I linked to earlier) Jesus praises her for using her brain. "For this saying," He says, "the demon has left your daughter". The woman's daughter is made well because she uses the gift of critical thinking and quick wit that God had given her.

I like both versions of the story. For various reasons I like Mark's rendering better, but it is important to have both. Faith and brains (or reason) are not mutually exclusive. I'm glad that the Holy Spirit inspired each writer in a different way. Just as I am glad that we have a variety of denominational branches within the worldwide Church. Each branch has a different slant on their interpretation of the gospel. We need each other for balance.

In the beginning of this post I said I was torn regarding my response to Dan's story. It begs the question which is better, heart or brains? For this zombie theologian, both are equally delicious.  I wouldn't want one without the other!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great commentary on Dan's story! There is an interesting story at the beginning of Acts 12. James is imprisoned and killed, while Peter is imprisoned and God miraculously releases him. Why? Did Peter have more faith than James? I don't think so.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to interacting more.