Posts Tagged Belief
Last Thanksgiving was one to remember. Somewhere in-between the compliments on my mashed potatoes and questions about whether dessert should be both pumpkin and pecan pie, I was told by a fellow Christ follower that I was accursed and going to hell. The conversation had turned from culinary choices to Christian responsibility in discussion of things like same sex marriage, security at church, and evolution versus creation. I felt comfortable around my fellow believers to speak openly about the bible and how it is used in our modern churches. I think that may have been my mistake. Honestly it probably was one of the better thanksgiving meals I have had. It was enlightening.
The specifics of the conversation are less important but the overall context speaks volumes to how we understand God and how the world actually sees us. The modern church seems to have adopted a unique view of biblical understanding. We mash verses like James 1:5 explaining where we should seek wisdom together with Colossians 2:8 about reliance on Christ and not human acumen and we end up with the ability to blame the Holy Spirit for our willingness to argue with the world about what we don’t like. Do we really think that is honoring God?
It seems like our desire for expedience and frankly our fears that we might agree with something we shouldn’t causes us to jump to conclusions about things we probably should chew on and struggle with more. Paul preached in a town called Berea and their response in Acts 17 was to examine the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. The word used (anakrino) is one of active and diligent searching. We seem to have sacrificed that today with a rote memorization of lists of things we are suppose to oppose. One offers the ability to swim in the words of the Creator himself and see how they change us to be more like him. The other affords us the ability to regurgitate on command. How can this truly honor God?
This is not a dark plot to squelch the words of the Spirit or a plan to usurp the throne of God with a conservative agenda of monotone “churchspeak”, it is more realistically a direction adopted from society itself to ease the burden of actually performing anakrino. With the information superhighway linked to everyone’s phones and the focus of modern communication, we are inundated with so many factoids that the only possibility to absorb them is to respond with “like” or “dislike”. We have exchanged the idea of a well-rounded and thorough education with a strong web presence. This does not honor God.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is not to blame, it is just a tool. Our use of it though will determine our efficacy in preaching the true gospel. I met a young man who was pursuing an online theology degree through a major Christian University. He explained it was faster and would get him into ministry sooner with the same educational value. He had been studying for a while so I asked who his favorite theologians were and his answer was that he couldn’t remember the names but he was willing to let me review his textbooks. If the quality of theological education being pursued by ministers today reduces the need to understand the history that brought us where we are and replaces that need with the requirement to offer an opinion in a class discussion post then we are breeding future ministers that will have no real ability to speak for the God they serve. Frankly this dishonors God.
If the some total of biblical examination that we are fostering in our church bodies is to look at an abridged online commentary or for that matter listen to a person who has done that and accept their version of truth, than how are we actually pursuing the call that was given? We are no longer preaching the gospel. We are preaching modern “churchspeak”. One of the clearest directives given in the text is from the prophet Micah. He tells us to pursue justice and mercy and walk humbly before our God. Humility starts with recognizing that our words about God are steeped in the tension of the fact we are speaking about something we have no possibility of understanding fully. If we present it as if it is simple and can be verified through a checklist, if we address the world’s concerns as if they are either on that list or not and therefore some type of abomination, if we stop examining the scripture and just read it to find agreement with our preconceived notions, than our ability to honor God has left the building. I have a large concern that God will follow shortly.
The message of the modern church is being obscured by our own voice. We are reaching some people, but I have to wonder if we are doing justice to them or the ones we are not reaching if we are encouraging compliance instead of diligent scripture searching. This does open up doors for possible misunderstanding and even not addressing sins in peoples lives. I am just not certain that is a bad thing. If we are truly seeking to honor God, then the most important thing to remember is we cannot bind his power to work in people’s lives by the insecurities of our own beliefs. The alternative is simply not working and I fear is an offense to the one we serve.
Somewhere between loss and recovery is a four letter word that both screams into the darkness and relishes in the light. It lays down beside our broken bodies at the worst points of our lives and comforts us. It reaches deep into our souls and pushes us toward rehabilitation and restoration and yet seems to cling to us when we think we no longer need it. It is a universal need and true universal constant that connects all living beings in a way that breaks the bonds of even death itself. It heals like no medicine can and without it no medicine can truly work. It provides the ability to stand against the worst of the world with resolve. It gives us the ability to lay our heads down and find true rest when needed. It’s echo lingers long after the word is spoken and it’s effect has changed the course of history. That word is hope.
Everyone needs it and yet you can so easily see when someone no longer has it. I saw a man in local parking lot recently. His beard was rough, untrimmed, and dirty. His clothes were similar in condition and somehow expressed his outlook but not his character. He struggled in the corner of a parking lot to cover his cart with a tarp to protect it from the rain. Moments earlier the tarp was his blanket but as the day began and people came around he needed to move so he would not draw too much attention to himself. He needed to protect his things. In his mind, that was all that mattered. In his mind, that was all he had. He was broken, whether by the world around him or by his own choice is a philosophical discussion he really didn’t care about. How he got there was academic in relation to where he was was. Each moment hung in the balance between fear and loss. They were his constant companions but offered no solace in their company. He was a man clinging to a rope over a deep pit whose life expectancy was measured in how long he could hold on. He had lost hope and he was merely waiting for his fingers to give way.
Christianity is supposed to be the embodiment of hope. In the first century the biblical writers cultivated the idea and focus around a term that in and of itself was rather mundane and simple. The word was gospel. It simply meant good news. It was the kind of thing that was said about a birth announcement or a wedding. You would send a message of good news to people to let them know there was a reason to celebrate. The early writers captured this term and used it to describe the message of Christ because it was the ultimate reason to celebrate. It was the pivotal point in time where all that was evil collided with all that was good and was obliterated. This meant the chains that held us to death, destruction, and separation from God were now gone. The idea was that we who were lost were now found in such a powerful and overwhelming way that the very core of existence has changed and our souls are now free to be with God forever. This is the truest possible good news. So I have to ask if we have made it something that is less than good?
Today’s message from the global church seems one saturated with political and social opinion. It is one of recognizing so called true strength by becoming enlightened through knowing the way. This “way” includes a structured method of achieving ones goals and desires through naming and claiming. It includes the power to devastate the opponents arguments through use of scripture (whether or not that use is contextual, synchronous with the rest of the church’s teachings, or even aptly applied to the circumstance). It involves social gatherings around music and light shows. Lastly (though I am sure not completely) it involves totems and spiritual symbols that are carried around and venerated at yearly festivals. In other words, it looks a great deal like paganism, idol worship, and gnosticism rolled together and tied in a bow made of new ageism.
Churches even within denominational structures are becoming brands and franchises seeking to be the center rather than reflect the center. They argue within themselves who is better, more accurate, more scripturally relevant, or more seeker sensitive. Or they go the other direction and work so hard to stay out of the arguments they miss the need to unite as one movement. This is truly a harsh message but one that if not heeded will cause us to not only close our doors but to close our hearts as well.
Please understand I know how cynical this sounds. I am not saying it lightly. I am however saying it because it needs to be heard. If our goal is to communicate the good news and have others join us in our relationship with the Creator, we are focusing on all the wrong things. We need to stop focusing on trying to get something out of the gospel message for us and start explaining why it is good news to others. We have built structured self-ology for far too long and need to get back to our theology that God is the reason we are here. We need to stop trying to build castles and monuments to him and start building his kingdom.
The message being heard today is one of control. We need to make it one of sacrifice. It is one of self. We need to make it one of others. It is one of piety, we need to make it one of righteousness. It is one of security, we need to make it one of justice. Simply put, we need to make it one of hope.
At one time the world was flat or at least that is what people believed. There was plenty of evidence for them to believe it as the scientists of their time told them so. But then more evidence was found to suggest and later prove it wasn’t flat. It was argued against, disbelieved, mistrusted, and then accepted. A simple shift caused the most prominent and intelligent to become the most ignorant.
So when is evidence understood enough evidence to believe? Where is the point we reach that moves items from the gentle musing stage to part of our own dogma. What is the event that we come to that tells us that we now accept and believe an item as fact. Is it more or less determined by the information or how we perceive the information?
Evidence comes with many definitions. Scientific evidence follows the pattern of the scientific method whereby a hypothesis is turned into theory and then tested and repeated to establish a pattern that is then fact. Legal evidence follows a standard set by the court to present findings that all parties agree follows those standards and thereby becomes evidence or facts in a case. There is also anecdotal evidence whereby people see a small set of realities and extrapolate them into the larger realm. This on a larger scale becomes statistical evidence where the numbers or incidences increase to be judged against the number of non incidents. But where does evidence develop to the point it should be seen as fact?
We use facts to do everything from develop technology, create medicine, determine justice, and fuel religion. Each of the areas however use a different understanding of acceptable error within those facts. But does an acceptable error ratio create fact? If I am taking medicine that cures 99.99% of the people who take it and the option to not take it means I will remain sick, then the error ratio is worth the risk. If it is fatal in the .01% that becomes less worth the risk. If there is other ways to cure with less risk, then I might choose those methods. But in reality, acceptable error ratios in facts or evidence do not give assurances. There is always a risk of being wrong so why would we accept evidence to believe in something like God?
Religion is based upon a choice to follow a god. Christianity is based upon the choice to follow the God YHWH through his son Jesus Christ. He is the supreme almighty God who created all things. I have no evidence for this. I was not there and can not attest in court. I do not have an experiment that can be repeated and confirm. I can not point to instances of God’s interaction in this world and claim that as enough evidence to support my belief. If there was, then we would have verifiable proof and nothing to believe in. If there is videotape of me running a mud run or skydiving, or something extreme, then there is no need for someone to believe I did them. They can verify it themselves and have no need to accept the responsibility of belief.
We wish to find evidence to prove because we are afraid of the responsibility of belief. We do not want to be wrong, and if we are, we want to point that blame at something or someone else. That misses the whole point of belief. If we need evidence, we don’t believe, we affirm. Affirmation is provided by an equal or third party judge. God is not interested in us affirming him, he wants us to believe and take actions based upon that. That is faith. I have chosen to direct my life with full knowledge of sacrifices I am making because of my belief in God. If I only make sacrifices that I know will work to benefit me because I have seen it happen before, how is that true belief? The Israelites understood God brought them out of Egypt and showed them evidence of his power regularly yet they still chose to not believe and because of that went against his laws. I think we follow that far to often.
In reality, all of our actions are based upon our beliefs. Either we believe we have acquired enough evidence to support our actions or we believe in something outside of our understanding. If we believe in evidence, we are looking to blame the evidence if we wrong. If we believe in something outside of ourselves, we take the responsibility for those actions but also the freedom that comes with it. I choose belief.
A man stood on a street corner and waived a bible in the air as if a mug at Octoberfest proclaiming the “eternal truths” of that bible as he saw them. He was wearing the same clothes he had slept in and worn the last several days. He had a story that was full of sorrow about drugs and loss, pain and regret, and sin and consequence. He had given up a home, a wife, a family, and his health for moments of pleasure centered on small crystals and a small tube. He had changed all that but unfortunately it was a little too late for many of those broken things to be fixed. His name was Roger. I felt for him and offered him some food and water; he gratefully accepted and rewarded my kindness with a healthy dose of his beliefs. He said the world had taken so much away from him but couldn’t take away his beliefs.
Humans have an innate ability to hold onto their beliefs regardless of circumstances. They may be strong, they may be weak, they may be caustic or fluid, they may be centered on a god or an anti-god or a god in absentia or even no god at all, but they are held on to like they are the last breath in our lungs. Even when they are crushed, they are soon replaced with more beliefs. They serve as almost a personal accomplishment or validation of a job well done. Once we have secured them, they comfort us by their existence, whether right or wrong. We act as if the belief itself makes us knowledgeable whether or not we have ever studied the subject we believe something about. We present and defend our beliefs attempting to provide them as fact we have proven and at the same time reduce opposing beliefs to rubble offering the superiority of our own. It becomes almost a game. Walt Disney was a master at this. He caused a world of children to “believe” so Tinkerbelle would come back to life when the film already contained the conclusion whether children believed or not.
I used to take my mother to the doctor who was treating her for Parkinson’s and it was almost funny how he would relate to me. I have a 10,000 foot understanding of the neurochemistry involved in that disease so when he would describe how the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Dopamine are inhibited when neurons die or are impaired, I would understand. But it was almost like he was asking my opinion on his diagnosis and treatment. I am positive that was just his way of making patients and family members comfortable but it illustrates the point well. Just because I have a small amount of knowledge about that disease my beliefs about treatment and diagnosis are worthless.
Our understanding of belief redefines the word to agreement. We hear something, see something, or experience something that we cannot explain or rationalize in our current belief system and we either agree with it and import it into our system or we dismiss as not being valid enough to be agreed upon. Somehow we gain internal approval by filtering items through our belief system and filing them where appropriate. We do this with God most of all.
But does God really care what we believe?
God is not something we should believe in, he is something we should follow whether or not our experiences, systems, or beliefs tell us we are right. God is really not concerned whether or not we agree with his practice. An assessment of his instruction whether concluding for or against is similar to me telling my mother’s doctor I concurred with his diagnosis and treatment protocols. I could have gone to school, learned everything about medicine I needed, evaluated here test results myself and then offered my sign off but if I had done that, she would have passed away sooner and long before I completed medical school. With God, all lifetimes combined would not be enough time to draw in the education needed to offer a valid opinion.
God does not care if we believe in him; he cares if we follow him. I think I get that. If I am starving and in need of food, a person believing that God will take care of me is far less valuable at the moment than a person doing what God requires and offering food. Tangible action outweighs philosophical belief any and every day. Character is not affected by belief, it is defined by action. I for one prefer a strong character over a strong opinion.