Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
(from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)
Right now, it seems impossible to believe that things will ever be “normal” again. That civil discourse will be possible. That politics won’t forever dominate our lives. That we won’t always feel completely out of control. It seems impossible to believe that fear will vanish, that violence will go away, that the world will feel safe once more.
But here’s the odd thing: that’s exactly what we are called to do. To believe in the impossible.
Christians believe many impossible things: that water can be turned into wine, that the blind will see, that the dead will be resurrected. Like the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s book, we also often believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
The difference is, of course, that what we believe isn’t nonsensical and arbitrary. Our beliefs have their roots deep in an abiding promise that God made to us, a promise that is renewed every single day of our lives: no matter what happens, God has promised, I’ll be there. No matter what happens, God is in control and can bring good out of any situation.
We look around ourselves and feel despair. Hospitals in Syria are bombed. Children die of preventable diseases—or because they don’t have enough to eat. Earthquakes decimate communities. An election process tests the limits of our forgiveness and faith.
And giving in to despair sometimes feels like the only rational response. But, again, we are called to something different. In Mexico earlier this year, Pope Francis called despair “the devil’s tool,” and while despair seems to be our go-to emotion when we’re afraid, we are called to do better, to be better.
Fear engenders doubt, and there’s nothing new about doubt. Jesus told his followers that he was the savior. He performed miracle after miracle, and yet those closest to him were constantly giving in to fear, doubt, and despair. When Lazarus died, it seems clear that Mary and Martha both felt that Jesus had let them down by not arriving in time. His response is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” He wasn’t weeping for Lazarus; he wept because the sisters had given in to despair.
Saint Paul has the most useful response. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires,” he wrote to the church at Rome, “but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
We have the choice: life and peace, or despair and darkness. Despair says to God, “You're not big enough. This storm is too much for you to handle.” Is that what you want to believe? Is there anything on earth that’s too much for God to handle? Of course not. Judas’ great sin wasn’t that he betrayed Jesus; Peter betrayed Jesus, too, and he became the first pope! The difference was that Peter confessed and took responsibility for what he’d done, and so received mercy and forgiveness. Judas, on the other hand, allowed his despair to destroy him.
Pope Francis writes, “A Christian without joy is not Christian. Joy is like the seal of a Christian. Even in pain, tribulations, even in persecutions.”
So let’s do it. Let’s believe the impossible. Let’s rise above the chatter and the doubt and the despair, in the sure faith and knowledge that we’re not alone. That God is with us. That no matter what happens, despair is never the answer: God is in control, and can bring good out of any situation.
No matter what happens.
Pauline Books and Media