Yesterday I received an email from a friend who told me they were not sure that they believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. I was surprised because this person has a strong Christian faith. And I know that if I scratched the surface of many of my friends I would find the same doubts and struggles. In fact I struggle with this myself sometimes.
Why then do I (at least most of the time) believe that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and that because of that I want to commit my life and future to him? As a young Christian my belief in the resurrection was a purely intellectual belief. I believed because I read it in the bible and because theologians I respected told me it was true. I knew in my head that Jesus had risen from the dead, believing it in my heart was another matter.
There came a point in my life when this intellectual faith was not enough. As I struggled to make sense of my experiences in refugee camps and in communities of poverty where kids died every day from malnutrition and easily treatable diseases, I needed a dimension to my faith that intellectual knowledge just did not provide. That was when I cam across the writings of Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Richard Foster and others whose deep heart centred faith inspired and enriched mine.
Part of what they helped me see was that heart knowledge is far more profound than head knowledge. Heart knowledge comes not in the place of discourse and reason but in the place of silence and contemplation. I started to see that unless I intentionally took time to draw aside and immerse myself in the presence of God, my doubts and uncertainties would grow and my faith would eventually crumble. My confidence in the resurrection of Christ has grown over the years, not because I have immersed myself in theology but because I have learned to immerse myself in God an allowed the resurrected to Christ to take up residence in a bigger and bigger part of my heart and my life.
Something else that has rooted my faith in the resurrection of Christ in recent years is my growing connection to the story of God as it lived out in the garden. At my seminars on spirituality and gardening I always tell participants We read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but experience it every time we plant a seed and watch it burst into life. I think that one of the reasons that God entrusted the stewardship of creation to us is because it is in tending what God has made that we most intimately connect not just to the creator but to the creator’s story.
More than that God’s story of life, death and resurrection is lived out in the very fabric of our being. Our bodies are constantly living and dying and rising again. When astronauts first went into space, one of the problems they faced was the sloughing of their skin cells as the epidermal layer of their bodies rapidly died and replaced itself.
It is good for us to doubt the foundations of our faith. These doubts however should not move us away from God but encourage us to explore those deep and inner places in which we are assured once more of God’s faithfulness and love. Trust in the story of God, though founded on intellectual knowledge will never survive on that alone – the wisdom propounded by the people of this world is totally inadequate to understand the holy creator of our universe and the story that is being lived out in our midst through the power of the risen Christ.
So my question today is: How do we move from head knowledge to heart certainty? How do we encourage each other to move our understanding of God from intellectual assent to indwelling presence?