As some of you probably already know, this last week I sent out a survey to my Facebook friends, asking some questions. The results from the question, "What makes it harder for you to believe in God,” are formatted above in what is called a word cloud. Basically, the words that are larger as the most frequently used words in responses.
What does the bible say about belief? That’s like asking what the bible has to say about Jesus or love or sin. It’s ubiquitous. Jesus alone references belief, or pisteuo, over 80 times, and that doesn’t include his references to the very similar word, “faith”. For me, Abraham especially helps me understand something very crucial about belief. He helps me understand what it means to believe when it makes no sense at all to believe.
Here we have a man who, at the age of 75, left his home and everything he knew, in response to the call of God. He heard a voice, or had a dream, or had a vision, or maybe just had a really, really strong gut feeling - however it is that God does these things - but the point is that Abraham uprooted his whole life, at 75 years old, because he believed that this God he was communicating with was real. What I find so fascinating about this story, and so many other stories in the bible, is what little is said about Abraham’s righteous behavior. On the contrary, Abraham did some pretty messed up stuff. But what did God think about Abraham? Paul quotes Genesis 15:
“Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Does belief equals righteousness? I think putting it this simply risks minimizing something very important. You see, I can't imagine Abraham simply sitting down one day, weighing out all the reasons he should believe against the reasons that he should, constructing a cost/benefit analysis against believing versus not believing, and then concluding, “Yes, the risks of belief in this stage of my life are outweighed by the potential benefit of becoming the Father of many Nations, and as such, I will from this point on believe.” No, this story, just like so many other stories in the bible, is about the exact opposite thing happening.
Abraham, God says, do the thing that makes no sense. Follow this voice because, well, because you believe. Because you believe I am real. That I exist. That I’m not a hallucination or a delusion or a childhood fairy tale. Believe in me because when you’re up late at night, sitting by the fire, staring up at the stars, you know that I am right there with you. Because denying my existence would be like denying your existence. Because life exists. Because when you hold a newborn baby in your arms you know that I created all of it. Because when you’re holding your wife in your arms you understand that love flows from me.
One writer describes the absurdity of faith as follows,
"To have faith is precisely to lose one’s mind so as to win God.”
- Soren Kierkegaard.
I think Paul sums it up nicely in 1 Corinthians 1, starting in verse 27.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things
and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before him.
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is,
Our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”
God asks us to do a ridiculous thing. He asks us to believe in the absurd, to believe in the lowly things, the despised things, the things that are not. He asks us to forget about the thing as we see it, and replace it with the thing that could not possibly be.
He asks us to believe that the thing that isn't can replace the thing that is.
Yet somehow, we still believe. Why? I know that we all have different reasons to believe. Some of us see evidence in the natural world around us. Others believe because we’ve always found it easy to believe for as long as we can remember. Maybe we believe because God has reached out to us in a miraculous, tangible way. I can’t answer this question for you, but I can answer it for me. I believe for maybe the same reason Abraham did. I believe because I can’t not believe. Because I can’t look around my world and believe that we are not in need of a savior. Because when I’m alone, staring up at those same stars, and I feel alone, even despair, he comforts me. Because my heart calls out, and he answers.