An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Beautiful and Terrible Things.
In the months following Mack’s death I would not say that I had a crisis of faith, but I certainly felt a general malaise. I was writing about Mack’s death and my faith in his/our resurrection, and at the same time there was no doubt that I felt a pall over me. Then we decided to go to my parents’ church for Easter. The reading for the sermon was a portion from 1 Cor. 15, a passage I knew well, but when the pastor read it and began preaching, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died [are asleep] in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.1 Cor. 15:16-19
This is the heart of our faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Did I believe it or not?
Everything hangs upon the resurrection of Christ. With his resurrection, everything changed. We still live in a broken world with all the consequences of the fall, but we can now answer the Teacher’s question (Eccl. 3:21) and affirm that the human spirit will be raised. In that moment in the pew of the church I grew up in, it was all new again. I had to ask myself, why have I believed in the resurrection of Jesus? Why do I preach and teach it? If I only believed in it for the impact it made on this life, if it was just to inspire myself and others to love one another and to be gracious even to the most ungracious of people, then “we of all people are most to be pitied.” Believing in the resurrection should mean believing that this world is not all that there is. Yes, the risen Christ in our lives means that we are to love the most unlovely, but it also means that there is something more to live for than just this world. Yes, I realized all over again, I do believe. I still wept because Mack was still gone, ripped from us in such a cruel if quiet way, but I wept because it also means that I know I shall go to him.
This was not a crisis of faith, but rather the life of faith, the ebb and flow that can come at any point in one’s life. The death of a loved one, especially such an untimely death, naturally brings us back to these moments of asking ourselves, “Do I really believe?” When you find yourself in this situation, and in all likelihood we all do at some point, remember that to question God, to be angry, to be disappointed, to feel abandoned is not showing a lack of or a weak faith. It is the sign of resilience and resistance.
We are resilient in that we are questioning, recognizing that not everything is clear cut and we are willing to dive into the murky, real world of our emotions, experience, and faith. We are being resistant by not accepting simple answers, including just saying, “Well, there can be no God.” Instead, we ask again, “Do I believe? Why do I believe? What do I believe?” In that moment, I accepted God’s grace all over again. I confessed that I do believe in the resurrection; I am not to be pitied because I share with my son in God’s eternal kingdom.