We live in a skeptical age. We want to know that something adds up before we swallow it down. In many instances it serves us well. But in others, particularly those cases not especially open to empirical validation, we continue in disbelief far too beyond reason. The default setting seems to be stuck on the side skepticism.
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Sometimes I wonder what it might take for people today to believe that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. That propostion—the divinity of Jesus—seems to be the content of what the official and his household came to believe. This fellow witnessed the miraculous healing of his own son; what more evidence would be needed, given that no one else had been able to rescue the boy, and that the healing coincided precisely with the time Jesus spoke the word that the boy would live. Rather convincing.
But we do not have opportunities like that today. Yes, divine healing does take place in the name of Jesus, but not with his physical presence. It seems instructive that Jesus lamented that such “signs and wonders” were necessary to engender belief. Is he, perhaps, suggesting that our minds themselves should be able to put the words he spoke together with the way life in the world actually presents itself to us to draw the conclusion? Does faith really come by hearing and considering, rather than by seeing something flashy, like water turned into wine, sick people raised?
Our age does not do well in reasoning; the world at large long ago decided, without sufficient objection or counter-argument, that faith and reason are separate domains, and that the latter should always trump the former. What we are left with, however, is not a more rational way, but a more gullible one. We fail to ask the same demonstration of proof for the claims of the secularists as they demand of believers; and at the same time we acquiesce to declarations based on bald assertions about what we believe.
What has this to do with Lent? Perhaps very little. But on the other hand, it is possible that it is time to repent of our unwillingness to believe without seeing something unusual, something spectacular, about which we would likely argue over alternative explanations anyway. Faith is, indeed, the substance–the stuff, the solid foundation—of what is hoped for, not the defiance of all sense. May we engage it well, particularly as we think about what the suffering of the incarnate Son, voluntarily, for us, might mean.