The Problem of ‘Belief’

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September 26, 2014 by Worship, Community, Formation

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Chances are you’ve heard someone say, ‘I’d love to have your faith, but I just don’t believe in God.’

Next time you hear someone say that, send them to the ‘B’ section of a decent dictionary.    Because while the phrase ‘believe in can mean ‘think something’s there even though I can’t see it’, there is more to it than that.   In fact people used the phrase for centuries before it came to mean that in the early 1700s.   They used it in what most dictionaries still list as the first meaning: to cherish, trust, or hold fast to.

Not only does the older meaning still exist, it’s still in every day usage.   If I say I believe in my wife, I don’t mean that I think she’s still there even though she’s gone  out for a while and I can’t currently see her.   And if I say I believe in human progress, I mean that I value and trust human progress to deliver a future better than the past.

Yet what christians, agnostics and atheists alike have lost, is that it is precisely this meaning that belongs to the creed and to our daily languge we say, ‘I believe in one God…’.   Bobbing along in the flow of post-enlightenment philosophy, we have come to assume it is an assertion, a propositional statement, even though in English it cannot possibly have orginally had that intention.

In one form of the creed, we respond to the question ‘Do you believe and trust in God?’.   The answer we are asked to give is, ‘I believe and trust in Him.’   You might think this suggests belief and trust to be two different things.   But the tradition is as English as it once was Hebrew to say the same thing twice for dramatic emphasis.  ‘Safe and sound’.   ‘Kith and kin’.   ‘Hale and hearty’.  Belief and trust.

To ‘believe in’ God means to trust in God’s version of events.    To an outsider that may not at first seem any more accessible, but at least in being invited to believe, we’re not asking our brains to think something they do not think: to be untruthful.  The true meaning of the word has as much room for doubt as is ever needed.

So, for the person who says ‘I’d love to have your faith’ the answer is, apparently you have.   This is a call to join the 2000 year old line of saints who have heard Jesus say that there is a way to a better earth that starts by trusting the direction of God.  The rest is action and adventure much more than thought and argument.

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