In preaching last Sunday on the Doubting Thomas passage, where Jesus memorably observes how blessed it is for those who can believe without seeing, I found myself going off in a direction that wiser writers might have recognized as tangential if not full-out going down a rabbit hole. Was it the Holy Spirit or some sort of non-digital clickbait? I am not sure, but I know that it is still on my mind.
No doubt a result of my vocation, people fairly regularly will say to me, “do you really believe in prayer or do you really think it works.” Though I am always inclined to say, “could you rephrase the question” or even on occasion, “my goodness, look at the time. I have to see a man about a dog.” But, of course, I don’t say that, assuring them that I do—as I understand prayer. Internally, though, there is a wiggle. What I really mean is that I “hope in prayer.” The emphasis upon belief can mess us up by focusing our entire prayer on a particular outcome, creating an inherently transactional process between us in need and God in control. Perhaps, my solution—a more precise word that I find palatable about prayer—is to phrase my conversation with God as an expression of hope. Believing in prayer vs hoping in prayer riddles us with the need to know, to analyze, or measure; and it sets up our prayer life to be concerned with whether the prayer “worked.” To hope in prayer has no such limitations; and in the privacy of my own devotion, I hear myself most often now saying, “O Lord, how I hope this or that.” And for me, that does not feel faithless; it seems to be a way of walking or hoping by faith and not by sight. A couple of examples of what I am trying to say:
Hoping without seeing is to continue to pray for peace in Ukraine no matter how dismal the chances of peace look just now. Surely, God hopes for peace as we do; and for us to express that hope with full and broken hearts in unison with God somehow both comforts me and seems to nudge the balance in this torn world at least in the imaginings of my heart toward the good. Not just for Ukraine, we hope for peace around the world and in the violent divisions within our own country, hoping that those caught in such desperate straits may somehow find a path toward peace. Hoping allows us the luxury of imagining without seeing.
Hoping without seeing is to continue to have confidence in the goodness of the human spirit—even when so many stories argue against it. Accounts coming out of Mariupol and Bucha make it hard to believe that the spirit of God exists in every human being, no matter how fervently we claim that to be true. And, yet, hoping for peace, praying for peace, reminds us that such egregious acts of inhumanity are aberrations, tragic perversions of what is fundamentally true about each of us as children of God—never the norm, never acceptable as human behavior, always the result of tragic separation from God. Somehow in that horror, our hoping reminds us that the risen Christ’s redemptive power is alive and well even in the darkest places. When we cannot see something, we can still hope for it.