The following snippet comes from Exit 36: A Fictional Chronicle, by Robert Farrar Capon. Detailing a tumultuous month in the life of a parish priest, this mystical novel disentangles the most crucial of themes: death, romance, mystery, and redemption. Here, our narrator Father William Jansson reflects on ‘faith’, following the passing of his dear friend, Peter.

Peter had one of the few good, dry funerals I’ve ever seen. Not that he wouldn’t be missed. On a purely practical level, I’ve missed him for a year… It was a tearless funeral because nobody could be anything but pleased with Peter. Everyone knew he lived well, and most of them knew he died well, too. I never gave eulogies at funerals, and I didn’t give one at Peter’s; but I was tempted. Instead, I put him on the back burner for a sermon soon on what faith really means.

Peter was a crystal-clear example of the way Christians are supposed to believe, and a rebuke to the way most of us do. He didn’t believe that…, or believe because…, or believe in order to…; he just trusted Jesus. Which is the whole story, even if you’re a smart-ass theologian. Most of us are so busy with philosophy that we never get around to faith. We say we believe; but when we try to say what we believe, we start handing ourselves a lot of metaphysical scaffolding instead of Jesus. We say we believe in the order of the universe, or in the goodness of God, or in God’s plan for our lives. But then a bad day comes along: The universe has no more order than a dump, and God is beating the tar out of us, and his plan looks as if he forgot to make it. So we have a giant crise de foi and tell everybody we’ve lost our faith.

But we didn’t lose our faith. All we lost was some jury-rigged philosophy that couldn’t stand up to the weather. The point is that all that kind of thing, by necessity, is purely of our devising. No matter how good it is, it’s got no more strength than we have; and most of the time, it’s got a lot less. Still, we go right on trying to use it for armor. We build ourselves little philosophical Sherman tanks and drive around in them, pleased as punch at our invulnerability. But then the engine breaks down, or the treads fall off or the gas runs out, and there we sit, “one vast important stretch the nearer Nowhere, that still, smashed terminus” at which we are always, in due course, deposited, seedy and by ourselves.

There is only one thing for that aloneness and that is Jesus alone. Not faith in God, because you don’t know beans about God for sure. And not faith in what Jesus means, because all you’ve got to filter his meaning through is an old used teabag of a mind that unclarifies everything. Not even faith in what Jesus said, because, even if he actually said it all word for word, it still gets to you only through your myopic eyes and tin ears. All that kind of “faith,” unless you’re unlucky and it doesn’t fall apart on you, is about as much support as a rotten floor. The only real support is Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Period. Period. Period.

Ah! You want to know what I mean by that. And, obviously, as a theologian, I shall open my big mouth and try to tell you, at probably nauseating length. But not here. Here you get only the one thing Peter needed to know: Jesus. The one unfiltered reality—unfiltered because you don’t run it through your mind; you just say Yes to it. Not Yes, because…; just Yes, period. Or No, period. As you like. The vocabulary of faith has only two words, and both of them are addressed only to a man on a cross.

Where that all takes you, of course, is matter for endless discussion. And you land right back in the theological tank-building business the minute you start. It’s inevitable, and quite harmless; but only as long as you remember that nothing you say is any better than you are, and you’re not so hot. So just Jesus. Yes, Jesus. Jesus, yes.

(While my alter ego isn’t looking, however, let me slip you one really good theological tidbit under the table. The smallest, strongest Sherman tank in the world: If Jesus, everything. If not Jesus, nothing.)

Arthur! Why is it that you always hit the nail once too often? Now you’ve put a hammer mark on a perfectly good piece of work.

Exit 36 is the latest addition in Mockingbird’s Robert Farrar Capon series. Other publications include a never-before-seen collection of essays, More Theology & Less Heavy Cream; a 90s-era novelization of the gospel, The Man Who Met God in a Bar; and Robert’s seminal reflections on marriage and family life, Bed & Board. You can find these — and all other Mockingbird publications — at our newly redesigned bookstore and on Amazon.