Friday, September 25, 2015

"Believing," "Believing That," and "Believing In"

  • Matthew 24:23 - Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!'-- do not believe it.
  • James 2:19 -  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder.
  • John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Those are three often quoted Bible verses, the first giving an example of “believing” something heard or read, the second an example of “believing that” something is true, and the third an example of “believing in” some thing or some person. The little three letter Greek word translated “in” is important in John 3:16 and can also be translated “into.” Trying to understand the Greek is complicated by the fact that the word translated “believe” can also be translated as “believe in” or “have faith.” So, putting those two Greek words together can be translated as "have faith in," or “believe in in” for double emphasis implying a serious, life-changing, kind of belief.

The reason I thought of commenting on the subject of belief is the frequency with which people are accused of not “believing in” global warming or of not “believing in” evolution. Use of that language supports speculation that those two topics, global warming and evolution, have become twenty first century matters of faith, or perhaps even religions. Well, let me make it clear that I do not "believe in" global warming, nor do I "believe in" evolution.

Before you get too excited and start calling me names, let me hasten to add that I do “believe that” our climate changes with time and “that” there has been a significant warming trend over the past few thousand years, maybe even a degree or so in the last few decades, and “that” it is at least partly due to human activity. Just the presence of 7 billion bodies at 98.6 degrees F should have a warming effect, with or without any atmospheric CO2 influence. And certainly our cutting of so much forest in recent centuries would have tended to result in warming. I just don’t “believe in” global warming to the extent that I organize my life or even my day around the concept. (I do recycle and moved into the city at least partly to cut down on driving, but I still take hot showers, keep the house at comfortable temperatures throughout the year, and drive a gasoline powered automobile.)

I also want to affirm that I “believe that” evolutionary processes are an important part of God’s creation even though they really have not been proven conclusively to result in new species and offer no explanation for why there is anything to evolve. I see no reasonable way to refute the evidence of their existence, nor do I see any good reason to try to do so. I just don’t “believe in” evolution to the extent that I let it guide my daily living and set my priorities or even suggest atheism. There is really nothing I can do about it anyway. I understand that evolution is a very slow process, and I have not been trained in any genetic modification techniques.

Turning to religion, with respect to personal faith in something around which I can try to organize my life, I can use “believe” in all three ways.

I “believe” the Catholic Catechism statement on Sacred Scripture: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, ‘because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.’” Well, of course such believing is a matter of Christian faith, and we really can’t expect people of other faith traditions or of no faith to buy it.

I “believe that” Jesus was the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, con-substantial with the Father, that through Him all things were made, that for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, that by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, that for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; that he suffered, died, and was buried. That on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. That He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and that his kingdom will have no end. (That is all from the Nicene Creed.) And, here again it is a matter of faith which Christians tend to view as a gift and not a personal accomplishment. It is not something to generate pride, but rather something to motivate thanksgiving and action.

But neither “believing” nor “believing that” approaches what Jesus really asks of us. It is only “believing in” Him, as in John 3:16 quoted above, that approaches the ideal. And that means having a desire, even if we fail, to organize our lives based on what we have been told and what we have learned about Him and what we have come to believe about Him. It might be like a "believer in" global warming adopting a cold shower, open window, bicycle only approach to life, which wouldn't be all bad. It might be like a "believer in" evolution dedicating his or her life to trying to persuade others of the truth of it and the absence of any creator, which would be all bad.

Objectively, “believing in” Jesus, means, at the very least, being baptized and a part of His Body, the Church, which He founded and left to do his work, obey his commandments, and follow his example. It is through His Church that we achieve unity with Him. Subjectively, however, the interesting and often confusing thing is that understandings and expressions of that unity by the millions of Christians around the globe vary as much as the differences in their personalities, dispositions, educations, understandings, cultures, environments, spiritual maturities, and personal histories. And that is a lot of variability, and a very good thing, creating many opportunities for us to help each other along.

So, don’t be looking for “cookie cutter” Christians as you travel the globe, or even as you look around the community in which you reside.

1 Corinthians 12:27 - Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

Colossians 1:15-19 - He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.