There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:1-17
A week from Thursday, I’ll be speaking to the inaugural Alpha class at Washington National Cathedral. The evening’s question: How can I have faith?
I wonder if that isn’t what Nicodemus, at heart, was asking Jesus. Jesus tells him that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. But how, exactly, does that happen? Inquiring minds want to know.
At a recent celebration of the Bishop Walker School, John S. Wilson, president of Morehouse College, spoke of the two most important dates in our lives: the day we were born and the day we find out why. Without the first, we wouldn’t be here; without the second, we’d miss experiencing our lives’ deeper meaning and purpose. On the second day, we’re given eyes of faith, and with them we are born again.
Rather than hearing Jesus’ words as a litmus test for Christians (you must be born again), consider them an invitation to receive the eyes of faith, eyes that allow yourself and others to see as God sees, so that you might live as God would have you live.
It’s a big deal–this leap of faith. It’s like the difference between reading a love story and falling in love yourself; between hearing someone describe the experience of rock climbing and your being on the edge of a cliff, trusting that the rope will hold. In relationship to God, there’s a world of difference between learning things about God and knowing God; between hearing someone else talk about Jesus and having an experience of his presence for yourself. Do you know what that’s like? If so, how do you know? If not, would you like to?
In preparation for Alpha, I’ve been reading Adam Hamilton’s most recent book, Creed: What Christians Believe and Why. In it he describes the Holy Spirit as “God’s way of working in our lives; God’s way of leading us, guiding us, forming and shaping us; God’s power and presence to comfort and encourage us.” But he goes on: “I believe that many Christians live Spirit-deficient lives, a bit like someone who is sleep-deprived, nutrient-deprived, or oxygen-deprived….As a result, our spiritual lives are a bit anemic as we try living the Christian life by our own wisdom and power.”
My sense is that we often live deprived of spiritual experience that enables us to see ourselves as God sees us, feel ourselves loved as Jesus loves us, as we’re encouraged and led by God’s Holy Spirit. These experiences are real; they are what allow us to know God and have faith.
Maybe the question is better stated, How can I receive faith? Faith has always felt like a gift to me, but one that I must choose to receive. And the gift is one of experience–something happening that changes the way I see and experience the world.
Between now and Easter, I’ll write each week about some of the ways we can open ourselves to receiving faith, to the experience of God revealed to us in Jesus. For now, I simply ask you to consider where you go to experience grace and holiness, however you define them for yourself. Then make a date to go to those places, either within yourself and externally, in this season of Lent. Allow yourself to be changed, to be born again, to see yourself and your place in the world with the eyes of faith.