Like Oreos and Yo Gabba-Gabba, Sally Lloyd-Jones is beloved by children and their parents alike. If it’s possible for an evangelical children’s writer to be a cult figure, she’s it. Sally is the British-born author of a number of children’s books, including Being a Pig Is Nice, Time to Say Goodnight, and the acclaimed Jesus Storybook Bible.
It’s the Jesus Storybook Bible that has cemented Sally’s status among parents of young children. I’ve been in several different situations with moms and dads when someone would mention the JSB, and it’s usually followed by sighs and/or squeals and/or a version of this exchange:
Parent A: “Oh! I loooooove The Jesus Storybook Bible.”
Parent B: “I know, right? It’s beautiful. My kids won’t let me ready anything else.”
Parent A: “It’s just so good.”
It really is a fantastic book. I would wager to guess a member of my family uses his or her JSB with our own children or with the kids to whom we minister on a weekly basis. I’m privileged to call her a friend and am thrilled that Sally has agreed to write something here for adults.
When I was about 14 and at boarding school in Dorset, we saw one of those big Hollywood Jesus films. It left us all sobbing and moved and ready to sign up to become nuns. Almost. As the credits rolled, a friend said, “If only it was true. If only something would happen to prove beyond doubt that God was real, and Jesus was alive, so we could believe.”
I remember thinking yes why didn’t God just do something in front of us all right there in the sitting room to prove it and be done with it. (This probably had more to do with making my life easier so I wouldn’t have to be the Odd Christian Out, slinking secretly off to the deeply un-cool Christian union.)
But really, I wondered, why didn’t God do something to prove beyond doubt that he was real? It would be so much simpler, wouldn’t it?
Proving beyond doubt. Hmm. What would that need to be?
Fredrick Buechner in his brilliant essay, “Message in the Stars” (from The Magnificent Defeat) argues that even if God wrote a big message in the stars once a year saying: “YES! I EXIST! I’M REAL!” even then we wouldn’t believe. Of course, Jesus himself said, even if someone was raised from the dead, even then people wouldn’t believe (Luke 16:31).
So what is it about believing? And doubt?
What is there that you can prove beyond doubt?
Not many things it turns out. And certainly not the things that matter most, that make life worth living. Like joy. Or forgiveness. Or love. How do you prove those beyond doubt?
Faith is everywhere around us in our lives. We have faith in gravity–as we walk merrily along on the sidewalk of the big city in the big country on the tiny globe spinning round and round, hurtling wildly through outer space. We have faith that when we turn the switch, electricity will come even though we can’t see it. We have faith in the wind when we sail, even though we can’t see it.
So faith isn’t the problem. We all have it. Plenty of it. And we use it all the time.
We put faith in all manner of things we can’t see–whether it’s electricity, wind, love. And we put faith in our doubts too.
Tim Keller says we need to doubt our doubts. Doubt those things we’re just so sure of, that we’re adamant about, that we are absolutely certain about–that God doesn’t exist, or that miracles don’t happen, or that you’re a hopeless case, or that it’s too late–or whatever your particular brand of doubts are.
When you put it like that–whether it’s believing or doubting–it’s all a question of where you’re putting your faith. It might be in what you doubt. It might be in what you believe. But it’s still faith.
Even faith it turns out can be a work of the self.
Is my focus on my faith? On how much or how little I have? On my doubts on how big or small they are?
Or is it fixed on the object of my faith?
Strong faith in a weak plank will end you up in the river; weak faith in a strong plank will get you across.
Faith as small as a mustard seed…
It’s not about the strength of my faith or the absence of my doubt. It’s about what I’m putting that faith in.
When people get that glassy-eyed look and say, “Oh I wish I had your faith!” I’ve always wanted to throw up. Reminds me of being that Odd Christian Out at boarding school. But now I know. It’s utter nonsense–everyone has faith.
It’s not whether you have faith that’s the question. It’s where you’ve put it.
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• Chad Gibbs: When It Doesn’t Seem Fair
• Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
• Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
• Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
• Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
• Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage