Believing the unbelievable
A good story will draw you in, hold you inside it, and keep you hooked until the end. The story doesn’t even have to be believable; it just has to make sense within the story. But some stories you hear, and you shake your head at them. You think, Yeah, right. Sure. Not happening. I imagine Joseph fell into the latter category when the young girl he was betrothed to came and told him, By the way darling, I need to let you know that I’m pregnant and the baby is a product of the Holy Spirit of God and could I get you another glass of water you look a little pale.
We usually tell this story in a way that dehumanizes Mary and Joseph to stage props while we spend all our time on focused on Jesus. As it usually is, everyone wants to hold the baby, make a fuss over the baby, and the parents are relegated to bath/bottle/diaper duty. But if we give these two people their humanity back, we get a different sense of things like,
- God tells a girl (teenager) that she is pregnant with a child who is part human-part God ala Greco-Roman/Mesopotamian legends and she has to find a way to accept/live with that.
- God tells Joseph his wife to be is pregnant and the baby isn’t his, but a divine child and he has to decide whether or not it was a divine experience or a bit of undigested mutton.
- Joseph has to decide whether to try to find a way in a small town to divorce her quietly so as not to disgrace her publicly or embarrass himself too terribly.
- Joseph has to decide whether or not to trust these strange dreams/visions about angels.
- Does Joseph to take Mary as a wife and that her child was the Emmanuel, God with Us?
- Does Joseph believe the angel about Herod’s intent to kill the toddler Jesus and run to Egypt with his family?
Are you sure?
I can’t really imagine what it might have been like to have to decide in Joseph’s situation. I can, however, think of a few moments of trust in my own life, like sliding off a perfectly good tower on a skinny metal rope. I ended up on the tower when I volunteered to be a counselor for my son’s school field trip to Camp Thunderbird this past year. We spent three days at the camp and each day there were different activities for the kids to do: hiking, fishing, and on one day we went to the climbing tower and zip-line. You had to pick one or the other and my son and I ended up on the zip-line. Fifty foot of giant wooden ties swayed back and forth as the staff and the participants stood on the platform above. The word rickety came to mind for some reason but it seemed to hold okay – more or less.
All the participants had to put on a special harness, get a cable rig to attach to the main cable, and a helmet. We got our gear and climbed to the top. My son made it most of the way up and stopped which, given his fear of heights, I was proud of him for making it that far. I climb to the top and was told to sit on the edge of the platform with my feet hanging off. Above and behind me, the staff member on that side of the tower hooked my harness cable to the main cable and told me I was cleared to jump off the tower.
At this point, it dawns on me that I am trusting in a lot of things. I am trusting in a harness rig that has seen hundreds, maybe thousands of trips down this zip-line. I am trusting that it was put on correctly. I am trusting in the harness cable and the staff’s ability to attach that and the main cable and the people that built the tower and installed the cable and, you get the picture. I apparently decided it was okay because after a few seconds, I pushed off the platform and slid across the little valley toward the tower on the other end of the cable.
The thing of it is, you don’t really trust the gear until it’s in use. I didn’t really trust in the harness, the cables, the towers, the staff, any of it, until I moved off the edge put it into use. Hanging from the main cable, sliding above the ground, with nothing between me and a lot of hurt but a bunch of metal and nylon woven and wound together, that was when I trusted.
Trust requires Action
Life is full of moments where we step out in trust with other people. We do it in relationships with our spouses and significant others when make a commitment to them and believe they are making the same commitment to us. We do it when we agree to go to work for a company or organization, believing they will honor their commitments of pay and benefits. We do it when we choose to buy certain long-term items like houses, cars, and other things we buy trusting that we can pay for it.
Notice, like the zip-line tower, it isn’t really trust until you do it. Trust isn’t intellectual ascent to an idea. Trust requires action. You don’t really trust until you are doing it. Trusting God is kind of like that. At a certain point, all the theology, ideas, arguments over what means what, questions, doubts, all of it comes down to whether or not you are willing to jump where God is concerned.
But what does trust look like? Trusting God is having complete confidence in God. It is practiced by actively relying on the Way of Jesus as our guide to being in communion with God. It is knowing that no matter the circumstances, we are not alone, God will be with us. Trusting in God is committing to God with the idea God will never do anything to undermine that commitment.
We talk about the idea of trust, but how many of us act on it? How many of us try new ministries and new ideas? How many of us are willing to trust that God will walk with us if we walk toward the work God has inspired us to do. If we believe God is who God is, why don’t we trust him?
 (Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, & Bauer, 2000, p. 817)