“Love of Obedience to God”: Faith in the Midst of Doubts
It was night. Jesus was waiting in a convenient spot, maybe beside a fire. Nicodemus came in secret to speak with Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the group trying to trap Jesus. He was risking a lot by bringing his questions to Jesus: being discovered, losing his place in his community, losing all respect from his peers. And Nicodemus wasn’t even sure about this Jesus.
We can be a lot like Nicodemus when it comes to God and to faith. We want to know how things work before we dive in. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, in secret. And he left without being convinced. Sometimes it might be the same with us. We come to Jesus expecting answers, and instead we leave unconvinced. As we go about our day, the world keeps us busy and preoccupied. But when the darkness settles in, the questions come. At night, we have the time to sit and wonder. Question ring through our minds as we lie in bed, or when the television can’t hold our attention. We begin to wonder. Can we really build our church building? People are backing out from their faith, do we have enough funds? Should I continue attending church? Following the leadership? We start out unsure, but we can become uncertain. Uncertainty leads to doubt, and we become shaken, afraid, alone.
Nicodemus left the conversation unconvinced that day, but farther along in John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again. This time he half-heartedly defended Jesus to his Pharisee buddies. As the story of Jesus unfolds, Nicodemus hung in there, even if only at the fringes. Jesus did not condemn Nicodemus. He didn’t expect Nicodemus to demonstrate his faith. There was no expectation of Nicodemus signing up and becoming an open disciple. Jesus didn’t treat this man like He did the fishermen, calling them from their boats. He didn’t heal Nicodemus with an exhortation to faith. Jesus simply gave Nicodemus time and space. Jesus welcomed Nicodemus, allowed him the room to ask questions, and gave him the chance to think. Jesus allowed Nicodemus to watch the story unfold.
Like Nicodemus we can hesitate, we can be unsure about Jesus. We can wonder about God. We might prefer to keep our faith in the dark, in secret, and we might leave feeling unconvinced for many days. Like Nicodemus we have our questions, and we wish Jesus would just answer them, because we want to know. But that is not always how Jesus is with us. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t come to give us answers. Jesus comes to meet us in our doubts, in our questions. Jesus meets us in the darkness, in our fears and isolation. Jesus meets us and gives us space; the space to ask our questions, and the space to watch the story unfold. And Jesus tells us the good news again and again: that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son to die on a cross for us. God gave His son so that whoever questions, whoever wonders, whoever hears the story from beginning to end, from manger to cross to empty tomb might be transformed to eternal life. That is how Jesus is, saying what we need to hear, not saying what we don’t need to hear, and giving us the space to discover that we have been caught up by and changed by God’s great love.