He drops the bomb at dinner, over meatloaf and baked potato: “I think I might be in a not-believing-in-God stage.” My heart sinks. “Really?” I ask, peering at Rowan around the vase in the middle of the table. “What makes you think that?” I try to sound casual, nonplussed.
“I just can’t get over the idea of being dead,” Rowan explains. “It seems so weird to think that once you’re dead, you’re just gone, like, not existing at all.” Now he’s trying to sound casual. But his eyes are wide, unblinking. He stares at me hard across the dining room table, holds my gaze. I can tell he is afraid.
“It’s okay,” I tell him, spooning sour cream onto my potato. “Everyone doubts sometimes, everyone wonders about God and death and everything. It’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah!” Noah pipes up. “I had my not-believing-in-God stage all the way until the start of fourth grade. Then after that I was fine.” I’m not sure I knew this, but I nod vigorously anyway, like Noah’s example is proof that everything will indeed be okay.
I’m still thinking about that dinnertime conversation a few days later, though, when I read the story of the road to Emmaus. I’m having trouble with verse 16:
But God kept them from recognizing him.
Two of Jesus’ followers were walking together, three days after his crucifixion. Jesus appeared alongside and began to walk with them, but they didn’t know who he was. Not just that they didn’t recognize him, but that God kept them from recognizing him, the text reads.
I don’t like this verse. I search Bible Gateway for other translations, hoping for a different interpretation. Nearly all of them translate the verse the same way or very similarly.
Why? Why does God keep the men from recognizing Jesus? I wonder. Why would God intentionally keep us from seeing him?
I wrestle with the text for days, reading and re-reading the story. And while I’m not sure I get an answer to the why?, I finally realize something important. It’s true, Jesus is exasperated by his followers’ disbelief. But instead of throwing up his hands and walking away, he begins to teach them. Again. From the beginning. He starts way back with Moses and the prophets, and he points out each and every instance in which the Bible paves the way toward his resurrection.
When his own disciples doubt him, when they waver in their faith, Jesus brings them back to the Bible.
He brings them back to him through the Bible.
It’s only later, after Jesus has been revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, that the two disciples realize this. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32), they say, astounded. The Scriptures had stirred their hearts to God’s presence; their brains simply needed time to catch up.
There’s a lesson in here for all of us.
When we are lost, when we begin to doubt God, when we can’t see him, even when he stands right in front of us, we need to return to his story.
Open the book, Jesus says. The proof is right there.
And so, even though Rowan’s declaration of doubt takes my breath away, and even though I’m terrified he’ll suffer a lifetime of questions and uncertainty, much like me, I do what Jesus does with his own wanderers. I bring Rowan back to the Bible.
And we begin again.
And a quick note: Kim from Kim’s Country Line won the free copy of Matt Appling’s book Life After Art. Kim, Rowan picked your name from the bowl this morning — congratulations! I sent you an email – please email me your mailing address so Matt can mail you your copy of his book!
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