Faith is a right-brain function, requiring the ability to imagine and hope.
Every time I read or hear the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus, it reminds me of a time years ago when I went to an opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. This opera was special. It was called "I Am The Way," and it was about the life of Christ. It was part of a trilogy: "I Am The Way," "I Am The Truth," "I Am The Life." The composer was the great basso profundo of the Metropolitan Opera, Jerome Hines, and he also starred in the performance, playing the role of Jesus. Hines had to be at least 6'8", an imposing man with a voice that could drill through concrete. When it came to the part about the raising of Lazarus, Hines was at stage right-front. The elevated tomb was in the opposite rear corner. After Hines sang to Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, there was a drumroll effect and, all of a sudden, the music stopped. Hines cried out, "Lazarus, come out!".... And he did! Jerome Hines had a voice that could wake the dead!
Nothing tests faith like the untimely death of someone we love. When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He needed to find out if Martha and Mary had lost faith because of the death of their brother. He said, I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? Do you believe that I have power to raise to life what has already died? Martha's answer was, "Yes, Lord. I do believe."
Despite differences in denomination, Christians share faith. There are at least three things that most Christians would agree upon, and they are: first, that there is a God; second, that Jesus is Lord; and third, that there is life after death.
What does it mean to say, "I believe in God?" What does it mean to say, "I believe that Jesus is Lord?" and, "I believe in life after death?" The best definition of faith is in the Letter to the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, Chapter 11, verse 1. It says, "Faith is confident assurance about what we hope for, conviction about things we do not see."
Let's examine that definition through Martha's act of faith. To understand her "Yes, Lord, I do believe," we must add a few more words. What Martha was saying was, "Lord, I have enough imagination to hope that what you are saying is true ."
Imagination...hope. These are right-brain functions. Faith resides in that part of our brain where the mystical operates, where we are open to things that we can't explain...the artistic, aesthetical part of ourselves.
When Martha said, "Yes, Lord. I believe," she did not mean, "I believe because I have scientific proof that You have the power to take a living spirit and put it back into a corpse." Proof is a left-brain function. Science, math, logic, all of these reside in the part of our brains where we demand to see something before we will believe it. Faith is not logical. In fact, sometimes it is easier and more logical not to believe than to believe.
The image that comes to mind is that of a trapeze artist. She stands on a platform, holding the swing, getting ready to fly out into space. On the other side, there is another trapeze artist who, just at the right instant, will let that swing go. So, off the aerialist flies with her grip on the swing. Then she lets go, does a triple somersault. During that time she can't see the other swing coming but she "believes," meaning she has the imagination to hope, that at the very moment she is ready to reach out, the other bar will be there.
During that time between letting go of one swing and before catching the other--that's where faith is. We have let go of what we know and can prove (that I am holding onto the swing), even though there is no proof that the other swing will be there. There is hope, however--and that's all we have.
Anglican spiritual writer Morton Kelsey wrote a wonderful book called "The Other Side of Silence" in which he tells this story.
A man came to the edge of an abyss which he could not cross. As he stood there wondering, "How am I going to get from this side to that side?" he looked down and noticed a tightrope stretched from the other cliff to where he was standing. Then, in the distance, he saw a tightrope-walker with a wheelbarrow and someone sitting in the wheelbarrow. Little by little, the tightrope-walker pushed the wheelbarrow and its passenger along that rope until they arrived at the side where the traveler stood. The acrobat smiled when he saw the astonishment on the face of the man who was wondering how he was going to get across. The acrobat said, "I see that you are amazed. Do you think that I can do that again?" The traveler said, "Oh, I am sure you can." The acrobat said, "OK. Hop in." Kelsey finishes the story with a question, "What did the traveler do?"
We live our whole lives between birth and death in that space between the two swings. We go through life doing our triple somersaults, or whatever else it is that we do. But that's where we are, right at this moment. That's where we've been. And that's where we'll be for the rest of our lives. We have let go of that swing, but we are not quite able yet to reach out and grab the other one.
We live our entire lives from birth to death standing on the edge of a precipice, looking across, wondering if there's a "there" over there, yet seeing this tightrope that is our only passage from here to the other side. We live our whole lives at the edge of the abyss.
Do we have the imagination to hope that what Jesus tells us is really true ? That He IS the Resurrection and the Life and that there is a way to get from here to there, even though we can't see it yet? Do we have the confidence to trust that there is another swing coming this way for us to grab onto, just at the right moment? Are we convinced that we do not have to see in order to believe?
That's what faith is all about.