The message at church tonight was interesting. It was about what belief means. Or at least, what it means in the words of Jesus Christ as we have them today, and for the people in the first century AD who adopted the name of Christians.
Normally when I describe something as “interesting”, I usually mean “it was worth paying some attention to because it stood out as different from the normal but I don’t have a higher compliment to pay it”. This time I mean I found genuine interest in the message.
Wikipedia has a very mechanical description of belief: it is a psychological state that holds a premise to be true. It seems to be a relatively modern idea that a person can ascribe to that position, yet there are no overt actions that flow from such a stance. Or at least, that was a fairly recent teaching in our church. It was used to contrast how Jewish people depicted in the Old Testament had a more “active” belief as the idea was that believing for them was synonymous with acting upon it.
Tonight’s message had a rather different take. And a rather better one. It revolved around the idea that belief in first-century Palestine really applied to a person and your relationship with them. The speaker tonight gave the example of a strange off the street telling you about an entrant in a national, TV-based talent show doing some bizarre and improbable things. Whether you believe them or not is hard to make a call about. However, if they were to tell you that one of your best friends was doing the same thing, you would find it difficult to believe them because you know your friend better than you know this stranger off the street. In other words, you have a relationship that you would use to cite the declaration as literally unbelievable.
This would be where I, many Christians and many in the Western world get “belief” wrong. It is a typical statement to say “I believe Jesus is the Son of God” – but that subverts the definition of belief. This statement really means “I believe Jesus when He says He is the Son of God” and is what we probably should be saying. It’s a little convoluted, but Jesus himself lampshaded it (!) when undergoing questioning before his crucifixion. When asked for proof He was who He said He was, Jesus actually said “There is nothing I can say that would make you believe”. This was clearly because they would not, could not accept His words at face value: they had no relationship with Jesus where they could trust what He said and therefore they had no belief in Him.
Now this blog is about an exploration into belief, so this is realization is very timely. It means my big question isn’t “what do I believe in?”, but “who do I believe it?”
Is Yahweh the one, the only God? He says He is. Do I believe that? Or is He merely the one amongst many who found a way to survive several millenia?
But what about the Pagan Goddess, for instance? Such a being does not have a body of scripture ascribed to her, as far as I know. This means applying the same measure of “belief” to her words is not possible. But it is possible to do it at one-remove, so to speak, by hearing and believing the words of other pagans. And then there are undoubtedly rituals that can carry the weight of belief. Or is this more of a syncretism of the moden “psychological state” and some wishful thinking?
I cannot say.
But I can ask questions.