Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stop believing in God

I have been noticing more and more this week that my friends are talking about "believing in God." Usually I think this discussion is a great thing, but lately I have been wondering if it is actually good at all.

Somewhere, in the mix of all the science and philosophy, enlightenment and post-modernism, "faith" has been merged with "belief." And, to be fair, I am sure belief is a part of faith somehow. But where the sacred scriptures talk about "faith in God" they rarely mean "belief in God." My sense is that the Bible spends little to no time at all talking about belief in God. And since we have a desire to talk about religion in dichotomies, theists vs. atheists, I feel that we are missing some key aspects about faith.

The simplest possible meaning for faith is trust.

Let that sink in.... .... .... ... can you already feel it? "I believe in God" is radically different than "I trust God." Isn't it? 

But this is where the rubber meets the road. Trust is where love happens. It is where relationship is. This is where our hopes, needs, desires, joys are met. We do God and our selves a disservice if we reduce the whole matter to a truth or opinion to be affirmed or "believed in." The God I know, the God who took on the flesh of humanity in the form of Christ and now dwells within our hearts as the Holy Spirit, does not need nor want us to "believe" but to have "faith." In fact, belief alone may actually hurt us more than help.

Look at it this way: do you believe in your mom or do you have faith in her? Of course she exists. You exist because she exists. But her faithfulness is another question entirely. Does she come through for you? Is she good to you? Does she love you? Is she reliable? Is she worthy of trust? These are the questions of faithfulness.

More so, belief does not require me to know you or even your mom. I can deduce the truth of her existence by the fact of your existence. But faith in your mom requires something altogether different - it requires a relationship and action. It is in knowing her and relying on her that I can come to trust her. So it with the Kingdom of God.

The greatest problem with believing in God is that belief alone allows us to objectify God. Belief allows us to make God into whatever we want whenever we want it. Scripture calls this idolatry. What is belief but a system of power and authority? When we decide to believe or not believe we are ultimately giving ourselves the power to recognize or not. But when we have faith/trust, we put ourselves in a position of vulnerability and weakness. It is in being vulnerable that we have genuine community and are nearest to the heart of God in Christ.

So let's reframe the conversation. No more "believing in" Jesus. That has got a lot of people going nowhere fast. Faith moves us. It shapes us. It defines us. It isn't just a characteristic we add on to our lives, but it transforms us. Faith makes waves in our lives. It causes us to act.

In teaching Christians about the deficiencies of belief alone, the apostle James says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2).

Here are the questions I am wrestling with as I think through what this all means:
  • What does "Jesus is Lord" mean through the lens of belief? Through the lens of faith?
  • What do positions of violence look like through faith? Why are we violent or support violence? Is it a lack of belief or trust?
  • What does charity look like through faith?
  • What does sacrifice look like?
  • What is happening in my life when I get unjustly angry, frustrated, or upset?
  • What would my daily life look like if I trusted rather than believed?
    • Beliefs need defending, but trusted relationships don't.
    • Would trusting allow me to operate from a more God-centered position or not? 
    • Would my eyes be more open to the Kingdom's abundance or to the world's perceived scarcity?
Blessings!


P.S.  In researching the etymology of "faith" and "belief" I came across a respected biblical scholar's thoughts on the same topic. It may be of some help: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/03/why-i-dont-believe-in-god-anymore

2 comments:

  1. In my Phil of Rel class in college, we learned all this stuff from Kierkegaard in terms of relational existence vs ontology. I'm probably mixing my ideas (its been so long, after all :) ), but we also picked up the example of "Do I believe in my Mom?" It seems so silly when we bring it to a relationship that's so obvious to us- not obvious it its ontological proof, but obvious in our experience of it. Actually, what I learned in thinking through all this, is that if at the end of my life some god or beast tells me that despite everything that has happened to me, I was wrong and my Mom wasn't actually real, my response will be something like, "That's interesting, but I don't really care." I am much more concerned that she's there on the other end of my cell phone, and that she's a major cheerleader/support in my life, and that she visits, held Julian hours after he was born, etc...

    I think these ideas are complex and I therefore your ideas in terms of 'faith' and 'belief' are really helpful and make an important distinction. Thanks for your thoughts!

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