Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
My daughter, Quinn, is at that age where she has a million questions. At the top of her list of things to understand at the moment is heaven. Many bedtimes these days are accompanied by 20 minutes of questions and conversation around what happens to us when we die, and most of them end with the same question. With a bit of worry in her voice Quinn asks, “Am I going to be old in heaven forever?!”
Now, I’ve got a Masters degree in Divinity. I’ve been working with the faith formation of young people since I was a young person. You’d think if anyone could answer a child’s questions about heaven and hell, and let them sleep peacefully at night it would be me. But do you know how I generally answer? Quinn asks if she is going to be old forever, and I respond, “Who knows. Maybe.” And then I kiss her good night and turn off the light.
Too often we treat passing on the faith like passing on a correct set of answers. Faith is something you know. Faith is knowledge. Faith is understanding. But the problem with understanding faith like that is it leaves little room for questions and even less room for doubts. So we equate faith with certainty and we feel guilty about our doubts.
But is that really what faith is about? Having the answers? 100% certainty?
While I’m certain some people will still say so, that is not the picture of faith I read about in the scriptures. We are in the Easter season. For a month now we have been hearing stories about Jesus showing up after his death and resurrection. Each story has been a little bit different, but they have all had one thing in common. In EVERY case, when disciples encountered empty tombs, reports of Jesus’ resurrection, even when they encountered the risen Lord himself, they immediately met the resurrection with more doubts than belief. Every. Single. Time.
Take this story from Luke for example. After the resurrection Jesus made an appearance to his disciples and “they were startled and terrified.” Jesus asked them why they were frightened and doubts were rising in their hearts. He showed them his hands and feet. Told them to touch him. And they started to believe. And one line in this story sums up faithfulness to me. Luke writes, “…in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering (Luke 24:41).
Faith doesn’t close the door on wonder and question. Faith opens it up. And faith itself then isn’t the right set of answers, but the right set of questions. And that means that communities of faith don’t exclude us when we doubt and wonder, but are precisely where we belong. Because doubt and wonder aren’t the enemy of faith. They are a part of it.
Quinn has a million questions about heaven, and just a few weeks ago I got to see them take shape in a conversation I overheard her having with her 93 year old great grandmother. Her GG was introducing her to her great grandfather by way of a photograph. GG was telling Quinn how his name was Raymond, and how he like to play drums. They never got to meet, GG said, because Raymond died just a month or two before Quinn was born. Quinn looked at her GG and said, “We haven’t met yet. I know I’ll see him in heaven.”
That for me is a picture of what faith looks like. Quinn has a million questions and a little bit of fear about heaven. But those questions don’t disqualify what she believes about heaven. They inform it. And what she’s left with is this hope and assurance in the midst of things we cannot understand that God’s love and promises are true.