One of the last guys I spent a long time interviewing when I still was a newspaper baseball writer was a major league pitcher named Billy Wagner. He was a unique ballplayer, a country boy from West Virginia who was able to throw a baseball as fast as 100 miles an hour with his powerful left arm.
Wagner was a pitcher for the Houston Astros when I sat down with him for about an hour late in the 2001 season. The Astros media guide listed him as being 5 feet, 10 inches tall. But I remember standing next to him right before we sat down in the visitor’s dugout at Busch Stadium, and we were looking at each other eye to eye and were at the same level. I’m 5-8, though I lied and said I was 5-9 on my driver’s license. So he was pretty close to my height.
A 5-foot-8 dude throwing a ball 100 mph. Crazy. That simply doesn’t happen.
“To look at me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Wagner once said.
There are a lot of things in the world that seem like nonsense. Huge airplanes flying in the sky. Talking into a small electronic device and having a person thousands of miles away able to hear you. The Kardashians becoming national celebrities.
That might include clinical depression. Even after living with it for 13 years, I often feel like it doesn’t make sense to struggle with it.
And that can include some of our faith beliefs.
Consider this selection from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, verses 9-12. (I put the bold words in bold.)
Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.
Peter was amazed but not necessarily convinced the story made sense. Honestly, how could it? He and his friends all had seen Jesus whipped and tortured, had watched him carry that heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem, had seen him nailed to the cross and die upon it. They knew where he had been buried.
But when they visited the tomb … nothing. No body. Only a story from the women that they had encountered two men dressed in dazzling white who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. The two men – angels? – reminded the women that Jesus had predicted just such a thing when he was alive.
Raised from the dead? Nonsense.
That’s what many people the last 2,000 years have thought and still think today. They can’t believe the stories that are at the very core of our Christian beliefs. Jesus healed cripples, cast demons out of the possessed, made blind men see and deaf men hear. He forgave sins. He endured 40 days of fasting in the desert. He turned water into wine.
He turned bread into his body and wine into his blood.
He rose from the dead.
Nonsense? Sure, I have to confess that there are moments when I wonder myself. My human mind was born with an inclination to question, to doubt. Did he really do all of those things? Is that really his body and blood? Did he really say all of those things, die that horrible death for me and rise from the tomb?
Without faith it almost sounds silly.
But I have been blessed with that gift of faith. Things have happened in my life to create that and build that and strengthen that. When the questions creep in, the power of faith and hope takes hold and overwhelms the doubt. And I take heart that this belief comes without me ever putting my fingers into the nail marks in Christ’s hands or my hand into his side. “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe,” Jesus told Thomas.
Frustration comes when others in my life can’t overcome the “nonsense” in their hearts and minds. I can share my faith with them. But I can’t make them believe in things that are difficult to believe, to trust in something that doesn’t make sense on the surface.
I’ve kind of taken that attitude about my depression, too. I know there are people who simply don’t understand the disease. There are no broken bones, no bacteria or virus, nothing that would show up on an X-ray or ultrasound or CAT scan. Doctors don’t really know what causes it or what can cure it. Some medicine works, some doesn’t. Some people get better, some don’t.
And I know that a segment of people quietly think, “Just get over it.” Heck, I think that myself some days. I wonder what has happened to me and think it all nonsense.
When it’s difficult to believe, that’s when it is necessary to rely on faith and on hope.
I don’t understand the science about how an airplane can fly or how a cell phone works or how a 5-foot-8 guy can throw a baseball 100 mph. And I never will get the Kardashians.
I don’t understand depression, even though I live with it every day. I can’t necessarily explain in scientific terms all of the things Jesus said and did.
But I have faith and hope. Honestly, if you consider some things to be nothing but nonsense, faith and hope are the best place to start.