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Week of February 19, 2017
We’ve arrived at our final ‘B’—believe. The flow that we have been exploring is one that starts us at the grounding place of belonging, touching one of our deepest needs and desires. We then floated downstream to see the impact of behavior—most often learned through a mentor and then mirroring. Quite often, it isn’t until we have had enough time to reflect that we can say what we believe.
When you hear the word believe, what images or thoughts erupt in your mind’s eye? Are there examples of people, groups or stories that you connect with? If the flow holds true, then most likely there are exemplars of belief who have shaped your actual believing! This week, we’ll dive into the scriptures to gain a greater image of what this simple word ‘believe’ really means.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the Hebrew word for believe is Aman. According to Precept, this term can: “convey the basic idea of providing stability and confidence. To be steady, firm and thus trustworthy. Aman speaks of certainty and thus can mean to confirm or to affirm.” Strong’s Concordance simplifies this definition to say, “to confirm, support.” To believe is to stand on the stability of rock rather than the shiftiness of sand. To believe is the imagery of building on the strength of a foundation that is sure. Too often, we reduce believe to merely cognitive assertion that can hardly carry the weight of life! It must be built on experience and soulful response!
Do you know that feeling of firsts? Just think…the first kiss; the first wave; the first dance of marriage; the first child. The list is endless, but each first sets into motion an expectation or ideal. In our scriptures, whenever a word is debuted, it sets the tone for how the word will most likely be used in other situations.
The first time believe is used is 15 chapters into Genesis!! Read Genesis 15:1-6. Did you catch what happened? Abram looks at the brilliance of the twinkling stars and hears God proclaim a covenant with him—that’s how many descendants you will have! And he believed…he accepted the covenant that God would do this in his future. It wasn’t an assertion that in this moment this would transpire; rather, further down the line this will come to pass. For him, to believe was to enter into covenant with God with the hope of the promise being fulfilled. In essence, Abram built his future on a visionary belief of what would be rather than what was then.
Did he never doubt from this point on? Of course! Belief doesn’t completely eliminate doubt. The promised son was slow in coming so he decided that he needed to ‘help’ God get this vision moving (Gen 16). Then, in Genesis 17, God repeats the covenant to Abraham and reiterates that God has not forgotten even in the face of impossibilities (he was 99 with a barren wife!). These three chapters grant us insight into believing—we can accept the belief, but over time all of us will struggle with it. Yet, God always shows up and reassures us that the foundations of our lives are sure! No wonder one of the metaphors of God is ‘rock!’
A profound statement can grant our minds fodder to ruminate for days on end. As Bob the Mentor and I sat one day talking, he asked me a profound question about belief. I share it with you in order that it may work its way through you!
“Which is more important—that you believe in God or God believes in you?”
Today, instead of reading, I invite you to sit with this. Try to carve ten minutes to allow this question to ruminate as the Spirit works in you. Most likely, your mind will wander which is normal…simply repeat the question to yourself. You may awaken to the answer in these ten minutes (doubtful), or when you are driving through town, or in a dream one night, or when watching a movie. The act of attentiveness, or contemplation, is to create space for the heady idea to work into the heart and orient us to God’s heart. So, have fun with this…and don’t rush to an answer!
The faith I was taught was simple—I had to first believe in certain doctrinal ideals like virgin birth, son of God, resurrection, etc and then God would believe in me. It really is a bit of a quagmire when you spend some time with it. At its core, this way of believing is ‘me oriented’ and based on my works, not grace. Grace is only given once you believe it would seem to imply. But, if we believe grace is the unmerited favor of God, isn’t grace at work long before we even awaken to it?! We can never earn it!
And so I went on a journey to move from cognitive beliefs about doctrinal points to something deeper. Sure, there is a purpose to these doctrinal points, but too often they masquerade as belief without working their way into the deepest parts of our souls. They are the foundations of life and living.
The Apostle Paul makes a statement that shook me to my core—
“If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.” Romans 5:10-11
What does this mean? Simply, God has believed in us even when we were running away from God! Ironic that Hosea is a metaphor of God’s faithfulness of, or belief in, Israel even while she was prostituting herself to others! God, in the person of Jesus, demonstrates God’s immensity to believe in us even when we seemingly should be discarded or forgotten! What a powerful statement of God to humanity—nothing you do will reduce my faithfulness and belief in you!
Here’s where we are—God believes in you! Due to this reality, we now situate ourselves in a responsive way. We respond to God’s belief by mirroring what we now know! This is the nature of the covenantal relationship with God. God reaches out to us, we reach back. We, in essence, interlock our arms in a mutuality of relationship.
John’s Gospel is by far the gospel that uses the word ‘believe’ the most—in fact, about five times as many as the other Gospels! An interesting part of John’s Gospel is his double meaning and symbolism. When the word believe is used, it is most often a response of the people to what they have experienced themselves or witnessed. For example, the first miracle/sign of Jesus is John 2:1-12. How is the idea of belief used here? What impact does it have?
Our faith is ultimately experiential—it is realized in our actual experience of doing life. Our experiences confirm what’s in our head. If it is mere logic and cognitive, then it never works its way into the heart and soul. Perhaps that is why the spiritual giants often remind us that we must go through tragedy and crisis in order to grow and have our faith cemented. When we walk through the valleys, it is there that we truly believe that God first believes in us. Then, we are inclined to believe (trust in) in God’s faithfulness.
Acts is a book about beginnings. The church is birthed, and preaching (the proclaiming of the Good News) seems to be happening all over the place! From Peter to Philip to Paul, they share the story of God coming to us, our response to this gift, and the miracle of an empty tomb. It is quite easy to get swept away in this thought that they just spoke and people suddenly believed...it can get a bit heady.
This is partly true yet we need the whole picture. For example, Peter’s preaching was precipitated with a healing. It was the evidence of something more powerful that draws people into the story. Clearly, to believe also meant to be a part of. The early church, though dodging waves of persecution, was known for the way they welcomed others, cared for each person and rejoiced even in the face of great difficulty.
When we, the believers, live authentically to the call of Christ, it moves people to respond. We are the story tellers of the Good News. You may not know every doctrinal thought, or memorized a bunch of scripture, or have a degree. But the one thing that you have is your story. Your story is incredibly powerful of why you believe! What difference has God made in your life? How is your life different, better, soulful, etc? You are the Good News embodied!
- Central Union Church -