In life’s most important things, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you’ve already plunged in. Or, as Rumi says more poetically, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”
Take parenting, for instance. You may know a great deal about child development, family dynamics, and effective parenting techniques. But parenting isn’t a test you can pass or fail. Neither is it a set of skills you might master.
Parenting is love. A commitment to and a bond with another unique person. A person who will make their own choices, take risks, suffer disappointment, endure heartbreak, and face danger. Life will bang them up and bruise them in ways you can’t control and never saw coming.
When our firstborn arrived, Joy and I never imagined that, twenty or so years down the road, we would be sitting at home trying every day not imagine what it was like for him on the front line of the war in Afghanistan.
Love takes you to places that you cannot foresee. The same can be said for faith, because at its core, faith rests upon love. Faith is going wherever your beloved goes. That’s one of the lessons of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ call to the first disciples.
Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus comes upon Peter and Andrew casting nets. He invites them to follow. They drop their nets and hit the road. Next he calls out to James and John. They leap from their father’s boat and scramble after him. (Matthew 4:12-23)
Since I do not hear Jesus issuing a command to these men, their response doesn’t strike me as an act of obedience to an authority figure. Instead, they seem to be drawn to Jesus. There’s just something about this guy. They don’t realize it yet, but Jesus is love incarnate. And love attracts love. They love him because he loves them. That is the beginning of faith.
Christians frequently equate faith with belief. No wonder then that the wider, non-Christian culture thinks that to be a person of faith means that you must hold tenaciously to ideas that cannot be substantiated by science or by logical proof.
And there is no question that Christians do believe things about who Jesus is and what God is up to in the life of the world and in our personal lives. Some of us pray creeds in worship. Others sign confessional statements. We have beliefs all right. Our communities have kept working together over the centuries to articulate the meaning of what we all share at a deeper level: the love that we have for the one who loves us.
On the day that Andrew and Peter, James and John started tramping along with Jesus, they probably never imagined where their love for him would take them. Even though Jesus tried to tell them—at least three separate times—Golgotha and the cross probably became a real possibility for them only near the very end.
And the empty tomb? A new life emerging from and forever transcending the very depths of sorrow and suffering and death? They didn’t see that coming, no matter what Jesus had told them.
Jesus—love incarnate—takes you to places that you cannot foresee:
• Compassion replaces judgment.
• Cooperation replaces competition.
• You feel the world’s suffering and loneliness and poverty in your own heart and soul and gut.
• You’re free from resentments and grudges and fear.
• You’ve got eyes wide open to how this world really is, but worry doesn’t rent space in your head anymore.
In other words, faith is the way of love. But the way appears only once you’ve started walking it.