The Apologetic of Not Knowing

For any lover of British humor Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic movie. The unique comedy of the film follows King Arthur and his knights as they search for the Holy Grail. As Arthur and his men draw closer to the end of their quest, they come across an old and dangerous footbridge guarded by an old man. In order to cross the bridge the brave knights have to answer three random and ridiculous questions. If they fail to answer correctly or have no answer at all, they fall into the ravine to their death.

This movie is not typically known to cause one to stop and ponder the deeper issues of life. Yet I believe the footbridge scene is a good example of how many people view apologetics and why they are afraid to share their faith. Apologetics is the word used to describe sharing the rich intellectual evidence Christians have for trusting in the historicity and truth of the claims Jesus and the Bible make.

For years I was afraid to share my faith and the hope that I had in Jesus. I was afraid that I would be asked a question I couldn’t answer correctly or wouldn’t know the answer to at all. I thought that if I didn’t have an answer to the tough questions it might mean my faith wasn’t real. Maybe I’d find out that my faith was blind and irrational. Or I thought that if I couldn’t answer a tough question I would forever hinder that person from knowing the truth. If I had no answer I’d fall into the ravine to the death of my faith and the faith of others.

Over time I have learned that there are answers to the tough questions of life. My faith is not blind. My lack of apologetic knowledge will not thwart God’s salvation purposes. Yet with all the ‘answers’ I have learned, one of the most significant lessons I have gained took me by surprise. To honestly answer a question by saying, “I don’t know,” is refreshingly liberating. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a great apologetic for the Gospel in not knowing.

To admit there are things I don’t know can create many significant opportunities to share with others what I do know. I may not know the philosophical arguments for how a good God can allow suffering. But I do know that Christ in His goodness suffered on behalf of humanity. When He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he demonstrated that he knows personally what it means to feel rejected and alone. I do know that in the Bible God has promised to correct every wrong and bring justice to the earth.

“I don’t know” creates a natural invitation to investigate questions with the one asking them. Rather than brushing the inquiry aside I can ask the questioner to search for the answer with me. Not only will this investigation hopefully help answer the seeker’s question, it will also strengthen my faith as I see the reasonableness of what I believe.

To humbly admit I don’t have the answer also demonstrates that my faith is not based solely upon my limited understanding. Though what I believe rests on sound reason, “I don’t know” shows that my faith finds its basis in the personal Triune God.  While I will never know the answer to every question life produces I can still have confidence in my faith. This is because it rests upon a relationship with the trustworthy character of God, not my limited knowledge.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[1] You don’t have to know the scientific process of the earth’s rotation to have confidence in the sun’s daily appearance.  In the same way, you don’t have to know the answer to every question to have confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the questions do come, which they inevitably will, you can face them with excitement and confidence. You can use “I don’t know” to know more than you ever thought possible.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, Harper One, 2001: p. 140

Letter to a Friend: In Loving Memory…

Hello Chris,

I’m sitting in the café where we always used to meet and share life together. How time would fly! Before I knew it we’d have been laughing, chatting, or wrestling through a hardship for a few hours.

Now I sit here by myself and I find that there are two emotions at war within me. Part of me wants to break down (and when I get home I probably will) with the sorrow of knowing in this life I’ll never sit across the table from you again. I shared everything with you. You knew my fears, joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams. We had the same odd sense of humor. I could just look at you across the room and we’d know what the other was thinking.  How I loved creating mischief and laughing at the humor of awkward situations with you.  No one can take your place, and the void that has come with your absence is immense.

Yet I also want to break down with the joy of knowing you are HOME! You are with the Savior we both love so dearly. You are spending Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus in His presence. You have looked upon His face. You have heard Him welcome you home with, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” How can I not rejoice with you?! The longings of your heart have been satisfied. The hope you were so confident in has not disappointed you.

I miss you, Chris. Yesterday I received some good advice. I was told, “It is right to grieve even when we know the separation is not permanent.” And so I grieve. And I know that my grief pales in comparison to the grief you family is experiencing. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope, yet we grieve.

Yet I just realized that as hard as grief is, it is a sign of great blessing. Our grief is intense because our love for you is so strong. You have meant so much to so many people. You’ve touched countless lives. One of my favorite songs (I probably shared it with you) has a line that says, “What is the measure of a life well lived?” This line has run through my mind a lot in the past few days. You lived, and died, so well! What was it about your life that was so significant?

You didn’t write any books or preach to thousands. You were never googled (as far as I know), never on the cover of Time Magazine, and the world largely was unaware of when you were called Home. Yet your deep love for Christ translated into EVERYTHING you did. You loved people faithfully, consistently, and were there for them in during the good and bad. To be with you was to know love and safety.

You were a mother who loved her children, seeing their different strengths and weaknesses and encouraging their individual passions. You were a wife whose husband was her best friend. As I watched the two of you together, I knew you actually LIKED each other and enjoyed spending time together. You accepted each other for who you were, embracing both your similarities and your differences. Thank you for being such a wonderful example of a godly wife and mother.

Because you loved people you were aware of legitimate needs both locally and globally and sought to partner with others to meet those needs in a way that brought dignity to the person and the hope of the Gospel. Thank you for having a heart of compassion that moved you to act. Thank you for instilling in me a deeper love for missions in its varying contexts.

Chris, to know you is to be introduced to the beauty of Christ. You had an impact that some of us only dream of having, and you never even tried. You just loved God and loved those he put on your path. This Christmas I’m thanking God for the gift of knowing you, learning from you, and being your friend.  Someday soon I’ll be seeing you. You’ll enjoy your latte and I’ll enjoy my chai while we sit chatting about the Savior we love, waiting for Him to join us.  That will be a good day.

Love,

Sarah

What’s so Merry about Christmas? The Agony of Loss, Pt. 2 of 3

This morning I found out that one of my dearest friends and mentor is in the hospital in critical condition. She, like many, has gone through the war against cancer. I have watched her struggle through chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and the painful complications that have followed in their wake. More than the physical pain, I’ve watched a family walk the path of agony that comes from seeing someone you love suffer. The fear and uncertainty of constantly wondering why things aren’t getting better is suffocating.  The most dreaded question of all constantly haunts you, what if things never get better?

Tonight it is hard for me to think about being merry at Christmas. The agony of loss seems too close at hand. Recognizing that my fearful “what ifs” have turned into reality for so many makes the thought of opening presents and going to parties seem shallow and pointless. Losing a loved one, or in my case even the thought of it, is too much to bear.

The agony of loss and the merrymaking of Christmas seem in direct opposition to one another. Joy and loss don’t seem to go hand in hand. Or are they? I tend to forget that what I celebrate during the holiday season is a story of a greater loss and agony than I am capable of comprehending.  At Christmas we talk about baby Jesus “away in a manger.” He’s cute and cuddly with a baby lamb or two nearby. We tend to forget that the baby in a feeding trough was the Creator and King of the universe. We forget he accomplished his purpose for living through his death. What suffering must he have experienced in his life and death, what pain? Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah’s description of the Child in a manger resounded with the anthem of agonizing loss; “Despised, rejected, man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, sorrow, stricken, afflicted, smitten by God, wounded, crushed, oppressed, afflicted,  anguish of  soul, death.”[1]

Jesus knows the agony of loss. He knows what it is to cry out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[2] If the story ended here Christmas would be the greatest tragedy and not a time to celebrate. If all the God-Man can do is sympathize with my suffering then what hope is there? But this is not the end of the story. There is a reason an angel brought “good news of great joy” at the birth of Jesus. There is a reason to hope. The hope and celebration of Christmas is realized on a cross years later when Jesus would die for the sins of the world; my sin, your sin. The hope and celebration of the cross is in the empty tomb three days later. Jesus suffered and conquered the agony of loss so that you and I could know comfort and joy.  Through his great suffering we can know great gain. His loss and death did not end in agony but in the victory of life. He offers us that same victory.

Tonight I sit wondering if things will get better. As I pray for my dear friend and her family, overwhelmed with the grief of “what if” and loss of so many, I hear through my tears the joyful message of Christmas; and I’m filled with hope.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people… Jesus has risen, as he said.[3]


[1] Isaiah 53

[2] Matthew 27:46

[3] Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:6

What’s so Merry about Christmas? Do I really want God with me? Pt. 1 of 3

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Jingle bells and ho, ho, ho. We are in the midst of the chaos affectionately known as the Christmas holidays. It’s a chaos that seems to start earlier every year. As much as we all affirm to each other that Christmas is not about consumerism or materialism, our actions seem to indicate this is not the case. From Black Friday brawls to the Christmas Eve rush for that last-minute stocking stuffer, we’re a culture that’s consumed with consumerism. In all honesty, what’s so merry about Christmas? It’s often full of stress from strained relationships, no relationships, or one too many swipes of the credit card. Not even Starbucks’ red cups can fully drive away the nagging sentiment that things aren’t quite right. Is there more? This mess can’t be all there is.

Into this mess the message of the Incarnation, God becoming a Man, resounds. It challenges us to consider why Christmas is merry. It speaks to us about what it means for God to be with us, where true freedom comes from, and the hope of light in the midst of darkness.

Our consumer-happy world is nothing new. Into the chaos of a broken and materialistic culture two thousand years ago, a baby was born with the name Immanuel, which means God with Us. For the follower of Jesus, this is the heart of Christmas. God Himself in Jesus took on humanity. He dwelt among us. Let’s be honest though, do we really want God with us? Is it all that comforting to think of Him living next door or down the hall? A God far away who does His own thing while we do ours is fine. Let Him worry about cosmic things while we go about our own business. We’d rather Him not walk among us, seeing how we live, gazing at us with eyes that penetrate our masquerade of living. Or maybe we long for Him to be with us, but we see the tragedy that our lives have become and wonder why He watches silently from the sidelines. If God is with us, why aren’t things better?

The wonder of Christmas is that in the Incarnation God chose to dwell among humanity with all of our fragility and brokenness. He came as a baby in poverty and became the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief. He chose to fully identify with us, showing us the chaos and futility we’ve created and the peace He freely offers. His life penetrates our living masquerade with the hope of freedom. He has not sat quietly on the sidelines and left us to drown in the filth we created. He entered the filth with us and for us. He dwelt with us to die for us and offers to rescue us from death itself. Into a chaotic world consumed with self and materialism He was born in poverty to die in scorned obscurity. In the words of John Donne, this is the God who dwelt among us, this is why He came.

“The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost a sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the cradle to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.”[1]

What’s so merry about Christmas? God is with us. Will you welcome Him to dwell with you?


[1] John Donne, “Christmas Day, 1626,” in Sermons of John Donne, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson and George R. Potter (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), 7:279.

Thoughts are but Coins

Words, words, and more words. I love them. I love to read them, write them, and contemplate the depth of meaning they communicate. The thoughts words convey have the power to fill us with joy or sorrow and move us to laughter or tears. The ideas and ideals words promote have been the making of empires. They’ve brought revolutions, reformations, and changed the lives of countless millions throughout the centuries.

We now live in a time when the thoughts words convey are more easily accessible than ever. Social networking, instant access to current events, and blogging have made it easier than ever for humanity to have a voice. Individuals are able to share what is on their mind with whoever is willing to listen. If I’m honest with myself, I’m hesitant to add to the myriad of voices. As much as I love words and the thoughts they communicate, I wonder what I have to add that isn’t already being said by someone else in a better way. Why add one more blog to the mix? Who am I to think I have anything to communicate that’s worth listening to? I’ve found that I have to write. I’m moved to share my thoughts, not because I think they are worth more of your time than the thoughts of others. I’m moved because there is One I love who has put these thoughts on my heart. And not to share them would be to disregard the hold He has upon me.

The name of this blog is Penny of a Thought: contemplating life, freedom, and the pursuit of something more. The name is the result of a poem written by C.S. Lewis entitled “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer:

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
at which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

My thoughts are but coins. My words are the writing of a broken human searching for true life and freedom. I have a longing for something more that I can’t see with my eyes. Into this longing and search I have heard the Word speak. He is the way, He is the truth, and He has set me free. He is setting me free. I invite you to journey with me as I share my penny of a thought.