"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold." - 2 Corinthians 3:12
One of my all-time favorite cinematic scenes comes toward the end of Finding Nemo. Marlin and the lovably daffy, amnesiac Dory, his happenstance companion, are desperately clinging to the ridges of a whale’s massive tongue as it rears backward, tilting Marlin and Dory nearly vertical, and perilously close to dropping into the whale’s digestive system. Dory had earlier claimed to speak whale, yet another of her dubious but authoritatively stated claims to knowledge. And now, as they dangle just above imminent death, Dory makes yet another outrageous claim after harkening her ear to the lilting, sea-muted melody of the whale’s latest communique: the whale is telling them to let go. This is simply too much for practical, skittish, eminently reasonable Marlin. “He wants me to let go?” he asks, balking at the request. Dory insists and Marlin balks still at this wildly irrational command, which directly opposes exactly every single last facet of his current seen reality. “But how do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” he yells, anguish twisting his features. Dory stares back, wide-eyed. Her answer? “I don’t!”
I don’t. I don’t know. For years, this has been my place of wrestling. And if I’m being honest, “I don’t know” are the words I am most loathe to utter, and “let go” the command I least want to obey. Yet often our fullest surrender precedes the miraculous. When Marlin and Dory let go, instead of tumbling into the oblivion of digestive acids, they’re borne aloft on the whale’s spray and catapulted back into the ocean, where they can finally breathe again. Faith is by nature unreasonable. Often it seems more than unreasonable – it looks like madness, like dropping into the abyss. Forgiveness, at first, can feel that way – like tossing our standards of justice into the black unknown. It can feel like tossing a lot of standards into the black unknown. It can feel reckless. I admit there have been seasons in the past few years where I’ve been able to muster faith only on the basis that the alternative – not believing in a transcendent God who holds it all – is just too horrifyingly bleak.
But I feel God calling me, calling us all, to a different kind of faith, one that emboldens and enlivens and reorients our whole reality. A faith that is based not on tepid, tentative hope and cliched platitudes, but a deep confidence, an unassailable knowledge, of the radical goodness of God. It is a goodness so pure and radiant and powerful that the grave can never suppress it, a goodness so suffused with light and life that it is somehow both itself, yet it’s never needed the darkness for its definition. It is knowing that kind of goodness that makes us brazenly, joyously, unreasonably brave. We can be bold because God is that good. And when we finally believe that, when we obey the whispered refrain of ‘let go’, we are buoyed against all odds on a refreshing spray of freedom and surrender and blessed bewilderment.
We can be bold because, when God is for us, there is seriously nothing to lose. Just think about that! Can you believe it?! We can be gutsy because our guts are not at stake – instead, our gutsiness is staked in his eternal goodness. We are free indeed.
One of my favorite scenes in the Bible is when God tells a man named Ananias to go lay hands on Saul of Tarsus and restore his sight after Saul has been struck with blindness. Saul was basically a homicidal maniac single-mindedly bent on eliminating the Jesus movement, and now God was planning on him becoming the most famous evangelist in all history. (Talk about bold! Would you hire that guy?!) I imagine Ananias balked a bit, because he proceeds to give God a summary of exactly who Saul of Tarsus is and what he’s been up to, you know, just in case God was unawares or a little confused (God is never either of these things). And, of course, God says yes, that’s the one. Now go. And Ananias goes. He goes because although it seems absolutely nutty from his perspective at first, he knows his God – the one who is eternal and unchanging yet always moving in new and fresh and delightfully surprising ways, forging life in dead places and springs in the desert – is good. Immutably, unwaveringly, inescapably good. Can we believe that? Imagine what we could accomplish if we did, all the time!
What could possibly go wrong? Oh, a million and one things, from our earthly perspective. We will hurt, yes. We will suffer and know sorrow. One of my most ingrained mental hobbies is straining to concoct the worst possible scenario in a given circumstance. But God’s purposes will never fail, and, with surrender and faith and perseverance, nothing will ever be pointless. It is safe to trust, safe to let go of our white-knuckle hold on the gritty whale tongue or the illusion of control or fear or whatever it is for you. It is safe to crack open in Jesus Christ.
I’ve been thinking lately of the maxim ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ and how I don’t really care for it. I think we should dance like everybody is watching, but we’re going to freestyle and move like a lunatic anyway, because our freedom can inspire others to bust out of their buttoned-down, arms-at-the-side subdued sway. I think we should live out our faith that way, too, because people will know God by how we move in the world, spilling over with joy in spite of it all, safe in the promise of his redemption and able to love with abandon as he has loved us. Be bold and dance in his embrace. It doesn’t depend on you – it depends on him.