An answer ready

Published on 14 May 2020

How are we to defend our faith?  What shall we say?  Always have your answer ready for the people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have [1].  Questions come from inquirers for whom, by the grace of God, we can be conduits of his answer and of his welcome to them. Who is wondering about the reason of our hope?   Are there some very close to us, who do not share our faith, who venture a question from time to time?  Does another generation sometimes quiz us?  Are there strangers who wonder about our hope in God?

It could seem too combative to try to have a complete answer ready for a question not yet put?   We may prefer to avoid disagreements.  Our trust in the promises of Christ explains itself, we may think. So much good comes of our attachment to the Lord, does it not?  If you love me you will keep my commandments [2].    With God’s help, we are living mostly as we ought.   Our virtues, too few as they are for the moment, are not without their eloquence.  The humility which comes in the train of our contrition, we modestly reckon, speaks volumes about our discipleship.  Deeds speak louder than words.  Let the justification of our faith be principally in the quality of our love of neighbour.  Inquirers can deduce our love of God and the reasons for our hope in him from the way we live.  

The impact on our small circle of our faith is surely positive?  To allege that unclean spirits came shrieking out of many who were possessed [3] might be overstating the matter a little in our case.  On the other hand, what man or woman, in the service of Christ in a doubting world would not be happy if it were said: the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs [4].  The spread of goodness by modest lives is not however in competition with the sharing of faith.  The hidden life is sustained by words which, communicated to others, are likely to be compelling.

Come and hear, all who fear God. I will tell what he did for my soul [5].  The requirement to tell is sometimes inescapable.   The challenge to give the reason for the hope that is in us can become irresistible. It is addressed first of all to ourselves.  Do we have such hope and can we describe it?   Have we been attentive to God’s action in our soul and could we express it?  Has our life been transformed under the impact of the promises of Christ? Can that life be summarised? If an onlooker could deduce, from our good deeds. the importance to us of what the Lord has told us, how would we deal with any follow-up questions?  It turns out that it is not eloquence that is being elicited from us but cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you [6].

Sometimes our hope and its associated goodness do indeed speak for themselves.  At other times they need more spelling out.  For chapter and verse we call on the help of the Spirit of God.  Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit [7].  The receiving of the Spirit was the follow-up to preaching and the follow-up to baptism.  Such a continuing accompaniment by the Holy Spirit is a mark of our own sacramental life.  In every-day life is the divine ‘after-care’ to baptism, holy communion, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and to the sacrament of the sick. That what we re-live in remembrance we may always hold to in what we do [8].  The Spirit does not necessarily ‘follow-up’ with long explanations or detailed commentary but he provides a reason for hope.  This reason once again shows itself in good deeds.  Our hope looks forward and out of this world towards eternal life with God.  Jesus died to lead us to God [9].   The sacraments are mysteries of the Lord’s mighty love [10].  Christ meets us lovingly in them and strengthens us to demonstrate love in all that life or death might be about to call out of us. Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer or withhold his love from me [11]. 

The Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive [12] working in us may go on provoking the curiosity of others.  The gratefully acknowledged presence in our life of God’s grace may also provoke the scorn of those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ [13].  There will also be some who, openly or covertly, will admire the faith.  We are to be ready to meet that the reaction of others, whatever it is, with an explanation, with an answer ready.  This answer is not unconnected to the quality of our Christian life. Our good example explains some things and is the focus of some further and fuller explanation.

I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever [14].  The Holy Spirit, the Advocate speaks to us truly and shows us how to share the truth.  However some of our brothers and sisters have become resistant to the truth. Indeed our own difficulties in allowing the Spirit to speak through us might be because of some similar in-built resistance in us.  The answer ready for those who ask is not some glib, recited response behind which we hide.  It is not a set speech.  The Holy Spirit teaches us both the answer and the way of life from which that answer might authentically emerge.  Our answer ready, will speak out of our struggle and our frailty.  The reason for our hope derives its logic from the truth of the promises of Christ and from our crying need for him and for the strength that he confers.  In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life [15]. He teaches us to flinch neither from the teaching of the true God nor from confessing our own weakness.  

The promises of Christ concern a new life lived forever with God thanks to the death and resurrection of the Son.  A life worthy of the promises of Jesus speaks effectively to this world not on its own merits but on his.   Jesus himself is an answer ready and he lives in us through the Spirit    Divine life shared with us communicates about the kingdom of God in a way that is intelligible to this world.  Among our most earnest hopes is the trust that all will grasp what they need to know. On that day you will understand [16].  Our personal answer ready may be mumbled shyly or swiftly dismissed.   It plays its modest part in the apostolic response to the needs of the world.   What we are being prepared to express is the good news.  The truth about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is being conveyed.  The answer that is our life is Christ’s transformation of us and his loving service of others through, astonishingly, us.

[1]        1 Peter 3.15

[2]        John 14.15

[3]        Acts 8.7

[4]        George Eliot 1819-1880  Middlemarch 1872  part 8, chapter 87 on Dorothea

[5]        Psalm (66) 65.16

[6]        Matthew 10.19

[7]        Acts 8.15

[8]        Roman Missal, collect, the Sixth Sunday of Easter

[9]        1 Peter 3.17

[10]       Roman Missal, prayer over the offerings, the Sixth Sunday of Easter

[11]        Psalm (66) 65.20

[12]        John 14.17

[13]        1 Peter 3.16

[14]        John 14.16

[15]        1 Peter 3.18

[16]        John 14.20