Living witness

How do our lives reflect God? How do we give witness to God? How do our lives show that we are “sanctified in the truth”, as Jesus prayed for us?[1]

On my phone I have at least three different map apps. When I am in a place for the first time – a new city, a new trail – and trying to get from point A to point B I make sure to consult all three different digital maps in my hand. I take these maps to be fairly reliable because all three use location services to show me where I am in relation to the map that I’m looking at. 

However, not only are there slight discrepancies between the maps themselves. More troubling is a frequent inconsistency between the displayed configuration of streets, trails, roadways on the map, and the actual reality in front of me. There isn’t a roadway where the map says there is, for example. There are discrepancies all over the place, literally. And if I depend only on the maps to guide my way, I will often spend a lot of time on a street corner trying to make sense of it all before going anywhere.

Jesus, in his final prayer for his disciples, acknowledged the discrepencies we experience living in this world. He prayed that, like him, his disciples “do not belong to this world”.[2] I take this to mean that often our world will challenge a life of faith. The pandemic is such an experience. When the way we have practiced our faith is no longer possible and we have to find other ways, we can feel lost and disoriented. And our impulse is to consult our ‘maps’. And even escape into the ‘map world’.

When Adam Shoalts made his famous canoe trek across the Canadian Arctic a few years ago, he memorized his route, based on the maps he studied beforehand. Blessed with a photographic memory and spatial cognition, he could visualize in his mind all the lakes, rivers, bays and portage routes even before he entered each stage of his planned route. And with success. Shoalts rarely got lost.

He memorized the way primarily to save time, despite having these maps on hand. If he had taken the time needed to consult his maps and satellite tracking each time he entered every lake, river or portage route on the four thousand kilometre journey, he could have jeopardized getting to his destination in time before winter.[3]

When we experience significant challenges in our lives in this world, it’s important not to stick our heads in the sand. It’s important that we don’t stick our heads in the pages of books alone to escape our experience of reality now. We can’t afford to lose time doing that. I think our faith is less than it can be when we see the movement of our finger on a map as making the journey itself.[4]

We may not have memorized all the pages of the bible. We may feel, consequently, not strong enough in our faith to make the journey. But the pages of the bible are not where we live our faith. Our witness is strongest when we do not hide our vulnerability but takes risks in faith. Our testimony is strongest when we are authentic, when we are honest with who and where we are – lost, making mistakes, or still finding our way. 

The good news is that God’s greatness speaks in word and deed, through imperfect individuals and efforts.

Jesus Christ, the Gospel shows, lived our human weakness. Jesus shows the “greater witness”[5] in the lowliness and humiliation of the cross.[6] Jesus lived and died our human weakness. And from the reality of our very humanity he prayed for us.

What does this mean? It means our lives participate in the truth of Jesus’ life today, and for all time and in every place. We make God “a liar”[7] – in the words of the scripture writer—when we don’t believe in God’s very life in and through us, when we don’t believe that Jesus Christ lives and breathes through and in our very own experiences, our very own human lives.

In a few weeks we will have the confirmation of three young people who will affirm their baptism and their trust in God for life. The service will not look like any other confirmation service of the past. Believe me.

But confirmation services are not just about repeating back the ‘beliefs’ of the church. Confirmation services are not just about packing the church building to spectate young people confess some doctrine in robotic fashion. 

Rather, to affirm one’s faith is to bring something of your own heart into it. It is to express, in some simple, unique way, the connection you and your life are making with God in this time and place. And whenever that happens in the experience of living, it is the work of the Spirit of the living God, bringing it all together into the shared humanity—and therefore, unity—we have in Christ Jesus.


[1] John 17:19

[2] John 17:14

[3] Adam Shoalts, Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic (Allen Lane, 2019).

[4] The metaphor of the map I adapt from Han F. De Wit, The Great Within: The Transformative Power and Psychology of the Spiritual Path (Boulder: Shambala Press, 2019), p.146,191.

[5] 1 John 5:9

[6] Willie James Jennings, “Theological Perspective 1 John 5:9-13” in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville: WJK Press, 2008)    p.538-542.

[7] 1 John 5:10

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