One of the most emotionally difficult parts of the life of faith is when those you love don’t seem to have faith.
For some, it could be a suspicion that the faith they claim to have isn’t authentic (Can someone who does ‘x’ really be a believer?). For others, it could be a lack of certain specifics about God that we fear may not cut the mustard (Is a vague openness to “something greater” enough?). For still others, it could be based on a clear position they have openly taken.
I don’t believe it is ever possible to know with God-like knowledge what was going on in someone’s heart of hearts.
That language of God-like knowledge was deliberate. Some things God only knows. In Roman Catholic Mass, during the Intercessions, one form of the Eucharistic liturgy includes a plea for God to “Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.”
There’s no convenient proof text in the Bible for this inclusive view, but there’s something very biblical about it. It recognises the need for faith – an essential ingredient in any real and effective relationship. That’s biblical. It also, however, doesn’t try to take the place of God and insist who is in and who is out. It hopes and trusts that only God sees into the hearts of all people. That’s biblical.
I became good friends with an inspiring musician who is known and loved by many. He was humorously open about their atheism, yet they loved to sing old gospel folk songs. We shared a room on a tour, and one night as we drifted off to sleep he asked a question about God… My answer was either very boring or very comforting (possibly both!) because his reply was the deep breathing of a now-sleeping roommate. Days after our trip he tragically and unexpectedly took his life. Processing the grief via Facebook messenger, a mutual friend described him as “a believer who couldn’t believe”. I don’t know if there was faith in there or not. But if there was, God knows.
Faith, and the fruits of it, are often visible. But God sees what we cannot. God is always ahead of our efforts. Creating before we get creative. Forming our tongues before we speak. Working where we cannot see. Going where we cannot go.
Toward the end of John’s gospel, there’s a scene with the disciples of Jesus. Their hearts had been broken and confused by the loss of their leader. Their bruised hope had been tormented by a report from a woman that he was alive. They were “together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”. In the following chapter John will portray Jesus at a breakfast Eucharist of sorts – both visible and touchable; but here he shows us that Jesus is not limited by visible and touchable barriers like those locked doors. He “came and stood among them” giving them Peace.
Just as Jesus can pass through those locked doors and speak peace to the fearful hearts and fragile faith of those early believers, Jesus can see into a heart with doors as locked as those doors and see a faith as fragile as theirs.