"Faith is a coat against this nakedness.” I read that sentence recently at the start of a book I’m reading. “This nakedness” refers to what the author calls the “abyss of mystery.” You know when you first start reading a book and you are undecided as to whether you will like it or not and in the first few pages you read a sentence that grabs your attention? That happened for sure. If something does not pierce my mind with either a provocative thought or a profound statement then, eh…why go on? Right?
It seems to me that if you live long enough you either come to some forks in the road of life or you find yourself on a freeway to your final destination without any off ramps to take which might get you lost. I’m the guy who has come upon forks in the road of faith while living in a world surrounded by many of those who are on the fast track of certainty. Last week I sat with a mother and father at two am in the morning who had discovered their precious little four-year-old daughter passed away sometime after putting her to bed. She had a seizure disorder during her short life but it had been managed well by her doctor and parents but on that day an episode in her sleep took her life.
The mother made it politely clear to me in her anguish that they “were not religious.” I hear that quite often only to discover that people actually long to know the Unknown. That might be my next book, “Used to Be Religious.” Asleep in another bedroom where the two- and six-year-old sisters of this little girl who was now laying in front of us on the living room couch looking peacefully asleep as any adorable four-year-old wrapped in her blanket would. Except she was not asleep. The mother was deeply concerned about how to talk to her other two daughters about the death of their sister. “What do I say to them,” she asked me with tremendous sadness? “We are not religious. How do I explain this?”
What I heard her really asking or stating is, “We are not religious. We have no explanation for what happens when you die. How do I give my other two daughters any hope that their sister might be in another realm….a very good realm (heaven)?" This mother had no “coat against this nakedness” and was falling into an “abyss of mystery” that was very dark. My own abyss of mystery in that moment was centered on the question of how our supposed great and mighty God couldn’t, in that moment, reveal Himself to this family in no uncertain terms, without me having to witness to her what I know of God?
Over the years as I’ve sat with hundreds and hundreds of people following a tragic or sudden loss, there has hardly been single time where I too was not standing at the abyss of mystery wondering about life after death. Sometimes my coat against this nakedness felt more like a light windbreaker, a thick polar jacket. Though I "gave my life to Christ" as a young man; served in ministry; went to seminary and educated myself in theology and doctrine; preached hundreds of sermons as a pastor....still I find myself engulfed in a mystery.
In this book I started to read, the author states, "But we all at certain times call upon faith to provide nerve to stand in the presence of the abyss--naked, stripped of life supports, trusting only in the being, the mercy and the power of the Other in the darkness." I know it may not make sense to some of you but I actually have come to appreciate the risky business of standing at the abyss of mystery, not having all the answers, pondering how God actually does exist and where He exists while entertaining my doubts and at times, my unbelief. Crazy right? Am I Ok? Am I Ok with God? I thinks so. Do you?
I tell the mother I don't understand why her little girl died or why God allows this. But I did tell her that I believe in a God who, though mysterious, loves us and her daughter... even now. I tried to hand her a coat as she stood at the abyss.