“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” – John 21: 29a (NRSV).
A few year ago I met a lovely faith-full, prayer-full woman who was feeling very low. She was on retreat at a place I had also gone to spend a few quiet days. In conversation with her I discovered the reason for her predicament - she felt as though she was an ‘inadequate’ Christian.
Florence (let’s call her that) had moved house and found a church in her new neighbourhood where she had been made to feel very welcome. She worshipped there Sunday by Sunday, joined a house group and a prayer group, as she had done within churches she’d previously become involved
She had been a life-long Christian, baptised as an infant, growing up in years and in faith in a church-life which had encouraged, nourished and strengthened her faith and brought to life a belief in Christ Jesus that was beyond any doubt to me.
However, she’d been hurt by some people in this ‘new’ church who had called her faith into question, causing her to doubt its ‘validity’.
You see, she hadn’t had a ‘conversion’ experience.
Because of that she was made to feel that her faith could not be true. Because she’d had no first-hand ‘experience’ of Jesus, they believed – and made her believe - that she could not properly witness to God through Jesus Christ, as Jesus had not entered and been accepted in her life through conversion. She wasn’t therefore considered to be a Christian, in these people’s interpretation of the word.
How sad that such an evidently faith-full and prayer-full woman could be made to feel this way.
She told me about how her faith was as essential and life-giving as breathing to her, how she felt Jesus accompanying her at all times, how she had known Jesus present and active in her life. Now, she was desperately searching for a way to explain the faith she experienced to her critics.
Of course, like all of us, she’d had times of doubt, but Florence was a woman fashioned in faithful ways and following a faithful journey, knowing and experiencing Jesus as ever-present, especially aware of this in particular moments in her life. But these were continual ‘revelations’ of the Jesus she had always known, not ‘conversion’ experiences in which she’d been changed, as it were, from ‘empty’ to ‘full’ of faith in Jesus.
I wondered whether she could tell people that she was one whom Jesus called “blessed”, one of us “who have not ‘seen’” (if ‘seeing’ is something only possible 2,000 years ago, or through ‘conversion’ encounters with Jesus) “and yet have come to believe”. “Yes”, at last she could see a way to speak to her critics and positively claim Christ in her life. She could tell them that, in Jesus own words, she is blessed because she has not ‘seen’ (in their understanding of the word) and yet believes.
In the days after Jesus’ death on the cross, doubting Thomas (as we call him) needed proof that Jesus had been seen alive and active.
In these days, after Jesus’ death on the cross, we can know Jesus and be blessed, whether we have ‘seen’ him in a blinding flash, or without ‘seeing’ him. Believing in him, because we know Jesus to be in our lives through the nurture of church or family, in the less dramatic, but equally present revelations of Jesus who has actively accompanied us for many years, and for some, a lifetime.
Jesus says we are all blessed to know him, however we have come to believe in him, however he has become known to us.
I wish you all every blessing through Christ’s multi-evident presence and love.