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Living confidence: how faith alone helps us care for those in need.

The balloons and streamers were blowing in the summer breeze on the front lawn when we pulled into the driveway. Friends and family were gathered, helping themselves to the treats laid out on the picnic table. All eyes turned to us as we got out of the car. We were not part of the family, we were not friends, we were not invited to this welcome-home party. Yet we were there. Myself and a police sergeant. We shut the doors of the police car and asked to speak to the owners of the house--the mom and dad. There are no words, no platitudes, nothing that can be said in the seconds which follow telling parents that their child, who had been away on a summer vacation, whom they were waiting to welcome home, was not coming home. The car accident an hour earlier had claimed their child's life. No words can encompass the grief; all that can be offered is faith. By faith alone such situations are faced.

I was asked last year to be a part of the panel for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation--the Sola Fide or "By Faith Alone" panel. As I began to think about what that means to us today, 500-plus years later, I kept coming back to my ministry as a congregational minister as well as a police chaplain. Moments of great wonder and awe filled my mind as I reflected on how many times there was only faith to see me or others through a situation. What does "by faith alone" mean to me, to us, from a pastoral perspective?

Scripture tells us that we are justified by faith. We are "justified" or made right with God through faith, not works. This speaks of relationship--relationship with God and by God's virtue, relationship with one another. Our faith, right from the get-go, binds us together in our relationship with God and care for others. So how does doctrine, this belief of faith alone help in our pastoral care of one another? Of God's people?

In my years as a congregational minister and as a volunteer chaplain with the police department, there are experiences where a person questions the presence of God in the midst of a personal tragedy. "Why would God let this happen?" "There is no God if this can happen!" Remember the Vietnam War slogan--"God has gone AWOL." Other times a person, in grief, tries to bargain with God--one of the stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: "If you do this, God, I'll do that." In a sense attempting to do something to warrant the Creator's mercy and compassion. Yet, we believe, it is only by faith that our relationship with God will be healed and we will be made whole.

We must remember, however, how Reformer Martin Luther described this kind of faith: it is a "living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man (sic) would stake his life on it a thousand times." This faith by which a person is justified, made right with God, is not merely intellectual or creedal acceptance. It is an active seeking out of God in our midst, a confidence in God's presence and grace.

In pastoral crisis I find that it is that "living confidence" and "daring" in the face of tremendous adversity which helps in care of those in need. This is not a faith that gives pat answers of "it is God's will" but a faith that allows, that dares to allow, space for the unknown, for mystery and questions. In the "see through a glass dimly" times, as Paul describes times of unknowing to the Corinthians, it is by this faith alone we are allowed to say "I don't know" to a suffering person when they ask "why did God do this?" or "why did God let this happen?" and have the daring confidence that in the honesty of faith, God's presence and mercy will be known, God's grace will be poured out.

Faith alone is sometimes all that is left in a pastoral situation, meaning we have nothing left but faith. Loss of all else that matters leaves only the bare bones of what it means to be alive, a child of God. Sometimes we are stripped bare and it is that daring confidence that somehow, beyond our comprehension, we will get through it with faith in God--we will be put right, justified, by that faith.

Romans 8:28 says "all things work together for good for those who love God." Again, it is the willingness to allow ourselves to place faith in the love and mercy of a God we do not always understand, in a circumstance we do not understand. Faith will tell us all things will be in the hands of God and God can create out of our chaos. It is not easy but it is, often, all we've got. It is also important to remember the faith of others. Sola fide speaks of the faith alone which puts us right with God. However, it is not a couch-potato faith.

If we know and believe in God's mercy and grace through Jesus Christ, that will motivate, encourage--insist--that we live such faith for others to see. It also may be that our faith in God's mercy and grace will help another through the crisis they are facing.

During the early days after Swiss Air flight 111 crashed off the shores of Halifax in 1998, we police chaplains were tasked with care of many, including family members of those 229 killed in the crash.

On one occasion a chaplain, Father Bill Burke, escorted a young woman down the rocks at Peggy's Cove to the water's edge. She tossed flowers into the sea in memory of her fiance.

Bill asked if she wished him to say a prayer. Her response was she didn't have much faith left in God. Bill gently said "that is okay. Let me have enough faith for both of us." That was September. Three months later in December, Bill received a Christmas card saying, "Do you still have enough faith for both of us?"

It is times such as these in pastoral care, when what we have to offer is our faith--our faith alone--for all else is gone and it is in those times, when we hold fast to our faith in God, that we will be comforted and comforting, not giving pat answers or platitudes that are at best disrespectful of a person's pain and at worse insulting to a person's struggle in grief, but offering a ministry of faithful presence, of strength in faith to say, "I don't know why this has happened, but I do know, with certainty, God is with us."

This type of faith in God's saving power is repeatedly shown in scripture when it is not the one who is ill but a friend or a family member who brings them to Jesus. Whether it is a mother asking for Jesus' healing for her daughter, the centurion for his slave or friends lowering another through the roof, it is that faith alone which motivates us to help others when their faith is fragile. It is such faith that allows us to be ministered to as well, when we are broken, confused and in need of care.

We have no answers most of the time; yet it is by our faith, our faith alone, in a merciful, righteous, always-present God that we will be put in right relationship with God and with one another.

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Chenard is minister at Iona, Dartmouth, N.S.

By Cynthia Chenard
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Title Annotation:PASTORAL CARE
Author:Chenard, Cynthia
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
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