This weekend, I received this wonderful note from a good friend, inviting me and others to her Re-Baptism in one of the rivers of Philadelphia. With her permission, I’m posting her letter and my reply to it below. No matter your precise theological views on second baptisms, I hope you find this exchange to be encouraging to your soul.
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Hello dear friends,
As many of you know, I grew up in a church for much of my childhood and adolescence, and was even baptized around age ten into the covenant family of the Presbyterian church I attended. While I respect this baptism as a symbol of the faith tradition I was born into and grew up with, at ten, I had never struggled with any doubts or questions that have been such a part of my adult faith journey.
In my life, I have found it so easy to get hung up on theology and technicalities (What does it mean if I don’t believe in penal substitution? What exactly does the divinity of Jesus mean?) and my despair at the state of our world (Why does God let horrible evil things happen?). I’ve spent a long ten years questioning and doubting and not knowing. To be honest, not much has changed. I still despair over the evil I see and I still haven’t figured out how how everything works. But I’ve come to believe that that’s just what it is to be human–to be me. It doesn’t somehow cancel out my faith.
I was reading the book of Mark recently, and these two things stuck out time and time again. Jesus told people to “repent” (which means to turn around or think differently afterward) and believe that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus upset religious legalism; he taught abundance and a life and worldview very different from cultural norms.
At the end of the day, in spite of all my doubts, I believe in Jesus. I choose to follow Him. I am going to express this belief and choice today through the very tangible and very traditional symbol of baptism, as an adult, with all my questions and with all my moments of despair.
A friend handed me a quote last night, which I think applies well to my story: “The Spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already learned.” –Henri Nouwen
I’m so excited for you. This is the most ancient of the Christian practices, and I absolutely believe that so many of those that have done it have had those same doubts and questions as they have gone into the water. You’re in the best of company in the family of God in Baptism. If it’s any encouragement, in the past month or so, I have noticed a big difference in you. You have seemed happier, lighter, and just more at peace.
Like you said, the doubts and questions won’t go away but, in Baptism, we’re baptized into Christ’s death. And that death was the same death where Jesus cried out to God “Why have your forsaken me”?
In a very literal way, you are being joined today into the event where the greatest moment of doubt and forsakenness has ever occurred. And so you’re not gaining the privilege of those things being taken away, but the honor of being plunged all the more deeply into those things and for them to now be things that bring you closer to Jesus and the Cross rather than further away. As Martin Luther said:
“No one should be terrified if she feels evil lust or love, nor should she despair even if she falls. Rather she should remember her Baptism and comfort herself joyfully with the fact that God has there pledged Himself to slay her sin for her, and not to count it a cause for condemnation….Therefore there is no greater comfort on earth than Baptism. For it is through Baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy…”
And lastly, he also said this:
“Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works before the Lord at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again…. Therefore, be gone. If I have committed some sin, go eat [crap]; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it…. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. And for a sign of all this I have his dear Baptism, his gospel, his Word and Sacraments”
Go in peace and joy. I’m so excited for you.