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Can I Believe? Can I Belong?

by Daryl E. Witmer, AIIA Executive Director

Years ago a man told me that although he didn’t share my faith in Jesus Christ, he admired it.” It’s always good to see someone sincere in their conviction,” he said.

Another man who sat in my congregation Sunday after Sunday for an extended period of time told me essentially the same thing. “I really enjoy hearing you preach, Daryl,” he said. “And I have high regard for your faith. But that’s as far as it goes for me. I don’t think that Christianity was ever meant for me – nor me for it.”

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986), a renowned German theologian, was once describing the vibrant faith of a small group of dedicated Christian believers when he said:

“[Someone] may say to himself, ‘How happy is the man to whom such faith is given, but such is not given to me. I don’t belong…and I can’t belong. It all depends whether a person can believe or not. Either you have this faith or you don’t have it. Either you have something like a religious gift or it is denied to you. I simply cannot believe. I do not have this gift. And I am excluded from it. Happy is he who has it.'”

Thielicke went on to recall some of his comrades in the war as having said: “I do not belong.” When talking about Jesus of Nazareth, he said it was as if they were looking into a country from far away, a country that they longed for but which they thought was lost to them. “You know,” they would say, “I just don’t have it. Something is lacking in me. I want to believe what you believe. I feel that it is the right road to go which you are going. But you must leave me behind. I am cut from another block. I don’t belong.”

Once I shared my faith with an old man in the last days of his life. I asked him if he would like to put his trust in Christ before he died. Sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, he shook his head and said, “I can’t do that, Daryl.” “Why not?” I asked. He told me that it was not possible for him to believe because he was a ‘Son of Martha’ – referring to the words of a poem penned in 1907 by Rudyard Kipling. A few lines are excerpted below:

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part; But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart. To these from birth is Belief forbidden, from these till death is Relief afar. They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are… And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed – they know the angels are on their side. They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multi plied. They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs: They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

Matthew 15:21-28 says this: “And Jesus…withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and {began} to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon possessed.’ But He did not answer her a word…. But she came and {began} to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.”

Helmut Thielicke offered this commentary on that text: “The Canaanite woman’s faith did not consist
of her having a special religious or metaphysical gift. She [simply] maintained with trust that [Jesus] could help her. She admitted her hunger. And she came to Jesus. Did not Jesus pronounce the hungry blessed? Those who have a hungering heart and a defeated spirit are the beloved of God.”

Thielicke continues: “There are two things we can do with this hunger which we have all experienced. We can suppress this search, this hunger for peace [with God], rather than give it full reign. We can cross it out of our consciousness, strain it with the daily business of work, worry, and little joys. We can block it with the television screen… Or we can move out on a dare. We can simply go to Jesus as this woman did.”

“Here is the crux of the matter. We should make this dare just once. For one thing is certain. We would not be able to search for God if He had not already found us. This woman did not let go because the Lord did not let go, even as He remained silent….”

Today if you are asking the question, “Can I believe?” you had better assume that the answer is “yes.” If you have a hunger to come to Christ, indulge it. Write me today for materials about how to approach Jesus. It’s not a complicated process. It is a critical one.