If I can be vulnerable and honest among friends, I panicked a little when I read the subject matter of this week’s sermon that my devotional writing would be based on. It felt a little over my head, and I honestly did not feel qualified to write on it.
Then I heard David’s sermon. It was so good and so timely. Yet afterward, I still felt unqualified to write on it. All I could think about was how I just can’t comprehend how someone could be in faith and then choose to leave it. I know it is a real thing, and I know there are those who have been hurt by the church and it affects their faith. I know some of them personally, and my heart grieves for them. But deep down inside, I just do not comprehend it.
As I thought of writing this devotional, I began to examine why, deconstruction of my faith, even when I doubt and even when I question, never crosses my mind.
And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it said, “This man is calling Elijah.” One of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
— Matthew 27:46–54
A few days before hearing this sermon, I read this passage in Matthew. We were teaching the preschoolers about the veil being torn in the Holy of Holies on the day of Jesus’ death. We were teaching them the significance of things that separate us from God (sin), and that the veil was a visual of that. I wanted to back up and read a little more of the context of this, so I looked it up. When I read the passage above, I was moved by the significance of this moment. I think it is overshadowed at times in the story of the death of Jesus. I love anything visual, so we actually used white butcher paper and ripped it in half with someone standing behind it to show the preschoolers what that meant. What I did not know is that on that very same Sunday, reading this would be significant to me as I listened to David’s sermon.
Jesus came to us in human form to be relatable. He built relationships and shared tables with both friends and foes. He had the most personal relationship with his Father. But he also had temptations. He had moments of weakness as a human that would cause him to ask the same questions we do. In verse 46 above, we hear his desperate question as he cried out to God,” Why have you forsaken me?” And God revealed himself. The veil was torn at that desperate moment, and there was no more separation from God. God’s promise was fulfilled. But it wasn’t the destruction of the veil that gave me eternal life, it was the death and impending resurrection of his Son. The veil was just a symbol, an experience for those who witnessed it. But the verse doesn’t stop there. It describes the experience of the centurions and other bystanders at that moment. They were in awe, and they believed.
As I listened to David, I realized that, when doubts creep in, when my faith is challenged, when the world makes me weary and wonder, what makes me hold fast to my faith? The answer is that I have experienced God. I experienced him at the birth of my children and grandchildren. I have experienced him through the love of my husband. I have experienced him through the sobriety of someone I love, the death of my father, and the unexplained healing of a friend. I have experienced him in the unwavering love of my mother. I have experienced him in a church in Ghana and in the pure joy on the faces of the children I met there. I have experienced him in times of fear and times of panic. I have experienced him at the edge of an ocean and at the top of a mountain. I have experienced him through the death of the child of a dear friend. I experienced him at Worship Night. Thousands of times, I have experienced God. Not read about him. Not analyzed him. Not voted for him or picked my party because of him. I have experienced him at the center of my life. It is something I cannot erase and cannot deny. I am in awe of this, and it stays at the center of my faith.
In July, David made a statement during a sermon that stuck with me. He said, “My faith determines my politics, my patriotism, my belief system, etc. Not the other way around.” For me, this is the truth I hold to. My faith is grounded in the fact that I have experienced the living God. I cannot deny this. I cannot forget this. For me, the grace and mercy he has poured on me in personally experiencing him is enough to cover any doubt or question I may have. I have learned it is OK to ask questions and explore the answers. God can handle it. But the questions raised in this world cannot erase the personal experiences I have had. God has been good to me in all things. When he tore the veil, he opened the door for me to experience the freedom of living in him. When times get tough, hold fast to what he has done for you. Ask the questions. Seek the answers. Heal the hurts and find forgiveness. Right the wrongs. Remember the grace afforded to you and offer it to others as you journey. But don’t forget the relationship and the personal experiences you have had and the God that walks beside you every step of your journey.