It’s a basic truism of blogging that controversial titles get more readers…so there you go. Now I request that you read on.
This morning was hard. I sat in the shower, steamy hot water beating on the back of my head. It was one of those moments that you realize that as soon as the water goes off, the day starts. I contemplated my general dissatisfaction with life. There are joys, as I have said before, but the sound of her absence screams just as loud as ever and it makes every day routine. I feel like Job…enduring…but little more.
Of course, even Job had a breaking point. Mine wasn’t so sudden though. It’s been growing, evolving. The doubt has always been there and I’ve never denied it–I am a natural skeptic and belief doesn’t come easy to me. But the doubt has become more lucid, more honest. It hit me this morning in a way that it hasn’t in a couple months. I stood there with streams of water running down my face, prolonging the start of the day, when one question set itself into my mind: Do I really believe?
My answer: sometimes
What do I mean (I should probably explain before I get a call from some family members)? I mean that we rarely look at another person and say ‘I believe in you.’ When we do, of course, we’re not saying that we believe they exist or we believe certain attributes about them. We mean that we trust them, that we have faith in them and it is always a term used relationally, never abstractly. Even here, though, we don’t really use the term this way most of the time. It is an exception, when we want to encourage somebody who seems daunted by a feat (in this sense, maybe God should be using it of us!).
But, of course, in Christianity we use the term ‘believe’ to be in reference to God. For many Christians, I think, belief in God is about believing certain things about God. That is one of the mistaken points in modern apologetics: that if we can get somebody to accept certain facts about God then we can get them to believe in God. In reality, though, the most we’ve done is get them to accept certain metaphysical ideas which may be just as far away from the living Jesus as a complete disbelief in any metaphysical notion!
Most of the time, too, our language reflects this fact-based use of the term. I believe in evolution (that is, I accept the facts of evolution and think it occurred in biological history); I believe that health is important (that is, healthy living is critical too a long life); I believe that Lincoln was shot in a theater (that is, based upon what I know of history, I think I am correct). What all of these uses of our term lack is anything relational. They exist abstractly, as to give mental assent to a particular idea. This is one of the downsides to suggesting that Christianity is about orthodoxy (i.e. believing the right things!)
There are many days where I do believe in many of the metaphysical concepts about God. I read books, writer papers, argue philosophical points, etc. I say ‘I believe’ such and such is true about God. And I do. Often. There are other days, however, where I find it difficult to believe in these concepts. I might have woke up feeling a little bit more skeptical that day. Or I might have an unanswered question that is obstructing a truth. And sometimes life has a way of dismantling your beliefs or, at the very least, confusing them. I say, for example, that I believe in the Trinity…but if I’m fully honest with myself, I believe in a very vague and jaded concept of the trinity. I cannot believe in it because I do not understand it. What then? Well, I was taught growing up that doubt or not believing the right things was a bad thing and that to doubt was to not have faith. I cannot express how unfortunate this equation was, not just because it caused me to “get saved” at least twelve times! And it makes sense why, in the shadow of darkness, so many people give up Christianity. They no longer believe certain ideas about God: that he is sovereign, that he is good, that he cares for us. All the evidence in the world turns against it.
This is where I think our language needs to drastically shift. Belief is a term we use primarily for ideas about God, and beliefs change drastically based upon circumstances. This, I think, is fine. I’ve done it. I have had many beliefs that have changed over the course of the past seven months (much less my life). But what do we do with God? He is a Person, correct? And if He is a person, the strength of our relationship grows not by what I believe about Him but whether I trust Him. I would have rarely said to B, “I believe in you.” I would say, “I trust you.” It is trust, not belief, that gets us through the moments of darkness and doubt and where, in the end, we really get to know the person. That is, after all, why it is called trust: because it does require a leap into what we do not know or do not understand or do not…believe.
Here’s the Disclaimer: Of course, belief about God must, in some way, precede or at least exist beside that trust. I cannot tell someone that I trust them without at least assenting to some facts about them, namely that they exist and that they are who they say they are. This is where good theology and right doctrine are important. But at that point, trust takes over as what can pull us through those moments where illusions and circumstances question our beliefs. And, of course, the more we trust that person–especially in the dark–the more we are bound to know about them.
Do I believe that God is good? Sometimes I do. Do I trust that God is good? Absolutely–for this trust is what allows me to walk through darkness, even when I have no belief that there will ever be light.