What do you believe?

Maybe it’s just me and the circles of interest I have, but it seems like a lot of people are talking and writing about what they believe these days. That seems good, overall, but it also makes for some frustrating reading. In the social media culture it would seem that beliefs can change with moods or as responses to the random “new” thoughts of others. I regularly read phrases like, “I used to believe…” or “sometimes I believe…”

There is also a strong desire among some people to categorize the beliefs of others in comparison to their own. They seem to especially like to dissect statements from dead teachers like C. S. Lewis or the early church fathers. They leap on an idea to use it as support or as an opportunity to challenge. They say, “See this is what so-and-so believed.”

But I suspect that our culture is using the idea of “belief” wrongly. To believe something is to place your faith in it or build your faith upon it. There is something important in our beliefs, something we cling to for strength and hope. To say, “I believe,” used to be a statement of faith equivalent to Luther’s “Here I stand.”

It seems wrong to take the thoughts of an ancient writer, even a theologian, and categorize them as his beliefs. We all go through times of life where we question the truths we hold or where we toy with ideas contrary to what we have been taught. The traditional method of communication was to put these things in writing for others to consider. If you had a close friend in whom you confided your inner thoughts and struggles and were limited to communication by letter, you would not have hesitated to write what we might consider the more hidden thoughts of your heart. But today, if someone found the letters, you could be branded a heretic or welcomed as a progressive on the basis of your expressed beliefs.

When my father died I was the one who organized both business and home details. I would often wonder where he put certain things or what he was thinking when he made certain choices. During those times, I would occasionally ask him what he had done and why. If you overheard me, you might think I was praying to him. If I wrote such a thing in a letter (or on a blog) you might think I worshiped my ancestors. You would wonder about my beliefs. But I knew what I was doing. It was an expression of my heart. I missed him, both in fellowship and in practice.

Some of our thoughts are just thoughts, even if we write them down. The same is true for any church father or any special teacher. There is a difference between that which is stated as doctrine and that which is expressed as desire or pondering. To miss the point of that difference is irresponsible and usually incorrect.

Perhaps part of the evangelical struggle is the idea that any thoughts put in writing must be “beliefs” we would die (or kill) for. We expect that aberrant thoughts, ideas outside those considered acceptable, will be hidden or, perhaps, shared only with intimate friends. But previous generations understood that putting thoughts out to the public promoted dialog and understanding. Talking things through, even in writing, is part of the process rightly used to discover truth.

As I have aged, I have developed many “suspicions.” These are not things I would defend to the death or even to the point of heated argument. I would not judge anyone for disagreeing with me on my suspicions. Nor would I call them beliefs—even if they were strong enough for me to act on them. I understand that they are a little outside of orthodoxy, but I also understand that my experience of faith grows and adapts as life changes. I have even found that some of those things I formerly held as beliefs may not have the firm foundation that I once thought. I don’t have to abandon them because of that, but I do have to categorize them differently. They are now theories, suspicions, or just thoughts.

I have learned that I “know” less as I grow older. The things I know, the things I believe, are more foundational than they used to be. Simpler. You can hold me to those. I will die with those beliefs. But they have little to do with the end-times, the order of salvation, the hierarchy of Heaven, or other dissection of the mysteries of the faith. No, they center on the love of God in Jesus.

The great theologian Karl Barth was often attacked for his musings. He wrote thousands of pages for the sake of dialog and expression. But when someone asked him what he knew to be true, he simply said, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

I’m with him.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “What do you believe?

  1. Kathy

    What do I believe? I remember when my husband was dying and I was asking myself if I really believed there is a God, a heaven, salvation, or did I simply “believe” it all because that’s what I was taught. I was desperate to know that my husband would be where he would be happy. I was desperate to know that he would go on somewhere.
    I believe God was very patient and loving and compassionate as He recognized my pain and recognized my “need to know,” although He certainly was under no obligation to clue me in on anything.
    And I believe He answered me. I believe He is in the Great I Am.
    So many things I don’t understand, even as I search scripture. So many scriptures are adverse to my own upbringing and culture — or so it seems. I know I don’t understand them. I know I’ll fail.
    But I know the Solid Rock never fails — and never ever turns His back on me when I fail, when under me is nothing but shifting sand. I believe the Solid Rock understands I’m made of dust.
    And when I just don’t get it, I believe that He is still in control.
    And I believe He loves me. I’m the daughter of the Most High King — and sometimes I don’t believe that’s “enough” — but He always brings me back to where I can accept that it is indeed more than enough.

  2. Still Reforming

    This is a most excellent post. I think – if you’ll excuse the expression – the general “dumbing down” of the culture and the intense interest in entertainment (coupled with a widespread disinterest in critical thinking) lends itself to a misuse of language. . I find this also when words like “love” are bandied about. Easily said. Less easily defined and understood. I appreciate that “love” can be expressed more specifically in the Greek language – “agapeo,” “phileo,” “eros,” etc, with more narrowly defined meanings. That lends itself to greater understanding in communication, methinks.

    I’d like to put in this comment something I read over at another blog that relates to this topic, if you don’t mind. The blogger’s name is Daniel and his blog is doulogos (a search on that term will bring up the blog, I imagine). Here’s what he wrote years ago, and I kept the words, but I can’t link to that particular post because I don’t have the exact date. I just want to give him credit since I didn’t write this, but, like your post above, it’s a very worthwhile read:

    “The trouble with English is that the New Testament wasn’t written in it. John 3:16 says, “ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πασ ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον”

    “Note especially the phrase πιστευων εις αυτον – which is typically translated “believe in him” we see the preposition εις being used to modify the pronoun “him” (giving “him” the accusative case). What is interesting about that translation is it sort of massages the normal meaning of that preposition so that the translation flows better in the English. Had John wanted to actually say “Believe in him” he would have wrote “πιστευων εν αυτου” – where the pronoun “him” would have picked up an upsilon for the ending rather than a nu – (εν requires the genitive ending to mean “in”).

    “But the preposition used in the text is not εν but εις – the meaning of which carries the notion of movement – “believing into Him” – is a more literal translation of the text – and if instead of trying to harmonize the Greek with modern day English idiom, we instead translate it literally and let the cards fall where they may – we may well come away with a more complete meaning of the underlaying text.

    “Believing into Jesus is not quite as thin an idea as simply believing “in” Jesus. Those who would distill faith to some single item, beginning with a thin understanding of this text – may well conclude that all faith is, is some intellectual decision about what is true. Perhaps more than a realization or an acknowledgment, but certainly whatever it is, it is entirely founded upon their own decision and determination – they believe with all their mind, for that is all that is brought into the process. They accept the truth of Christ with all the same vigor and depth that they accept that the sky is blue. Because to them faith is not something that puts you in someone, it is something you have in a vacuum.

    “But the same conclusions cannot be found of those who understand what it means to be believing “into” a person. When the text is understood as meaning as many as are believing into Christ as saved – that is, as many have entered into union with Christ through the only means given to man – trust – then the question is not so much about what belief is – for the answer is plain – belief is the means by which we enter into Christ. The argument then is not taking place in the shallow “if you believe you will do such and such” but rather belongs one step deeper – if the belief that you have puts you into Christ, you shall do such and such.

    “James makes it plain that there is an empty, impotent faith – a dead faith – a dead faith btw is a faith that has not entered into life – a faith that did not result in a union with Christ. It is not a faith that lacked intellectual assent – but it is a faith that lacked union with Christ.

    “Only those who are in Christ will be saved, only those are Christians. Believers who have have only an intellectual assent who continue to say in their heart – I will not have this man [Jesus] to rule over me – these are not Christians – they may think they are, they may form churches, read the bible, and pray – and do all the religious things that spiritually deceived hypocrites are inclined to sincerely do – but even though they be virgins, there is no oil in their lamp – and *that* is the problem.

    “Talking about what belief produces is pointless. Talk about what Christ produces. If Christ isn’t producing anything in a person, that person ought to really examine himself and ask this question – do I serve the king, or not? If the answer is “not” then it may be time to rethink Christianity – if Christ can’t produce a change in the life of a sinner when scripture teaches that Christ came to save us from our sin (as opposed to save us in our sin, or simply save us from sin’s penalty) – that is, if Christ hasn’t saved a person from sin – good gravy – why do they think they are a Christian??”

    • Honest Abe

      Wow! Deep! I prefer David’s simpler approach and leave you to the more dedicated bloggers. Thanks anyway…….

      • Still Reforming

        I think that with the attention of David’s post given to the word “believe,” this blogger’s post builds upon the idea. The explanation of “believing into” Christ as opposed to the ordinarily heard “I believe in…” statement may help elucidate or clarify that which is quite often overheard in our culture, ie, “believe in yourself” – meaning to have confidence, “I believe in Santa Claus” – meaning I believe he exists, and so forth… Many in our society would admit to “believing in God,” although their lives wouldn’t align with their words – because the belief isn’t really there, and therefore the word “believe” is watered down to mean – in essence – not much, if anything at all.

    • Penny

      Thank you Dave & Still Reforming: both of you spoke deep truth into my soul….both simple & profound.

  3. Amy

    I noticed that young people are using the phrase”I feel” to participate in this conversation instead of the traditional “I think,” or “I believe.” I feel that this type of language allows for non-threatening dialogue and change of perspective while maintaining legitimacy.

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