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There is a story in the Gospels about a man with a sick child, believing that Jesus can heal his child, comes to Jesus and says the most amazing thing, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.” It is not the most read story in the Gospels, and is often overlooked. But I love this story of Jesus, of the man, of the need for healing, of the fragile beauty of being human when the father says to Jesus, “Lord…help my unbelief.”
If that verse of Scripture were translated exactly as it was in the Aramaic, it would be more truthfully written, “Lord, I believe but help me where my faith falls short.”
In truth, I have found my faith and my freedom in this little translation. This verse is what sustains me when I pray amidst my doubt. When faith is called upon to carry me and I am weak. When I am called to stand with and for others and I shrink back and tremble. And when I have nothing left, and I cry out to God in anguish and anger, empty over the state of my life, hating every part of my existence, when THAT is all I have left, the man in this story taught me to pray: Lord, I believe, but help me where my faith falls short.
In those eleven words comes the freedom to be raw and real with my God; to bare my arid soul before my Creator all but begging for mere scraps of Divine Love and Presence. In those words, I am reminded that even my faith is a gift from God; even the lack of my faith is a gift from God. It is as if I am stranded on a cliff and my rope is a few inches too short to reach the top to pull myself up, and God is the extra few inches of rope, God is the ledge; God is the very space between the end of my rope and the hope of my rescue.
In these moments of life, when I cannot see salvation, when I cannot find love in my heart, when bitterness and rage strangle my spirit…it is then that I cry out in a voice raw and raspy from screams and sickness: Lord, I believe…but help me where my faith falls short.
And it is enough.
“God invites us, perhaps even challenges us, to become co-creators and co-collaborators in birthing fledgling dreams and in encouraging fragile seeds that have lain dormant within us. When I finally acknowledged, honored and acted upon this truth that I perceived within, I experienced God’s presence as never before! With this acknowledgement I began to recover a greater acceptance of myself and also deeper relationships with God and the rest of God’s world – relationships which are all interconnected.
As I became more aware of the presence of God in my life, I also became more attentive to the deeper promptings and leadings within my own being and began to look more honestly and objectively at my own gifts and resources.” (Introduction, p. i)
“To step out in faith is to experience risk and uncertainty, but it is also to experience God’s loving embrace and continued steadfastness.” (p. iii)
By Ruth Halvorson, founder of ARC Retreat Center and quoted in Action Reflection Celebration: the ARC story
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
When asked what the greatest law was, the Law of laws, Jesus replied that it is to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors the same way, and ourselves as well.
This commandment is not the only one, but as the first and greatest commandment all other ‘laws’ and requirements must be filtered and interpreted through this one. When I ask is it ‘lawful’ to do hate, to protest, to seek revenge, to discriminate, it must first be viewed through the standard of the Greatest Law: to love God, neighbor and self with our entire beings.
All other laws are judged by this one.
So sexual laws, dietary laws, racists laws, cultural laws, and the like are judged – or should be scene, interpreted and lived out – through the lens of this great commandment.
So whenever I want to interpret other sayings in the Bible, like the writings of Paul or any of the Jewish laws, or even the laws that govern this land – as a follower of Jesus – I am compelled to interpret ALL of them through this Great Law Of Love.
I could say that when in doubt (about something) err on the side of Love.
When I hear or read any doctrine, dogma, or theology of any faith, I view it through the Great Law of love, and if it is found wanting, I must set aside for the greater good of loving. When I read about Christians or people of other or no faith saying “hate this” or “hate that” I must ask, what would God’s love do? How would God’s love respond?
As I peruse the news, the overwhelming saturation of hate and hateful deeds sickens me. We have lost out way. We have succumbed to our lesser demons and left out better angels out to die.
Love. Love. Love.
We must return again and again to this Great Law – the Law of love – and live our lives from that ‘legal system’. If we do not we may be doomed to our darkness and misery.
The emphasis on God’s saving power is very orthodox, but is it serving love or efficiency? God is only a power source for grace, like a cosmic outlet we must plug ourselves into to achieve the ends we want. This is the God of foxholes, of despair, the God whose only purpose is to rescue us. There is certainly nothing wrong with seeing God as savior; it is just that God is and wants to be so much more than that. Many of us come to an awareness of our desire for love through our need for some kind of healing or recovery….
But this can only be the beginning of authentic spiritual life. As we grow in love, the source of love becomes more important than anything. Although the holy One continues to be deliverer and sustainer, love calls us beyond using God to satisfy our needs, to heal us, to get us out of trouble, or to enhance our efficiency.
Love calls us to gratitude, relinquishment, celebration, service, play, praise, companionship, intimacy, communion, and always to deeper yearning. In other words, love calls us to love.