Thursday, February 11, 2010

Choosing to Believe?

I have a question that gnaws at me sometimes, and I thought I'd write about it here and see what you think.

(This is taken almost verbatim from the comments on a previous post, so if you read that it may feel like déjà vu.)

I often hear Christians encouraging others to "just believe" or talking about how people need to believe the right things. I know that our beliefs are important. In fact it is often our beliefs about God that will drive the way we live our lives.

The problem is, I don't know how much choice we have as to what we believe. I suppose this may get into free will/election theories and conversations, but can one really choose to believe anything?

I believe what I believe because I believe it. I don't think that's circular reasoning. I just think it's true.

I believe that the sky is blue. If it was somehow revealed to me that it was red, I don't know that I could believe it. I might try, I might act like I believe it, but I don't think deep down I could believe it.

Back when I was in high school, I remember listening to a bible teacher who was teaching about predestination and, by default (although he didn't call it this), double predestination, the Calvinist belief that God creates some people for salvation and some for destruction. And by destruction, he meant eternal, conscious torment.

I couldn't believe it. I still can't. I've read plausible defenses of this theory, I've had wonderful, godly people show me how it all works and how the bible teaches it. I have tried desperately to believe it, and even pretended at times to believe it. I can't do it.

I guess that's what I mean by not being able to choose what we believe.

On the other hand, I acted like I believed in egalitarianism (women are equal to men in all roles in the home and church) and wanted to believe in egalitarianism before I actually did. When I finally DID believe, it wasn't a choice. It was an "aha" moment, an awakening. A moment in time when my desires and teachings finally matched my true beliefs. My convictions.

So, that's a lot to think about. I have always wondered why people seems to think beliefs are so easy to come by. "Just believe in Jesus" they say. If it were only that easy.

Atheists use this reasoning all the time, and frankly I understand and appreciate it! In much the same way that I cannot believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they say they simply cannot believe in God.

I get it. I'm grateful that I have a deep down belief in/conviction that God is real and that I am in a relationship with Him through Jesus. But I don't think it's anything I did... I believe in Jesus like breathing. I just do. Thanks be to God, and may it be for everyone.

Maybe I just proved predestination?


Curt said...

A belief is something you base action on. So what you say you believe, even what you think you believe, you may not actually believe. But I think you can choose to act as if something were true even if you don't understand it or completely accept it as true. The results of our actions weaken or reinforce the beliefs on which they were based.

I'm rambling. Santa Claus never made sense to me as a child, but I chose to believe simply because every adult I knew insisted he was real. I wrote letters, sat on his lap, placed real hope in him, etc., even though there were aspects of the legend that I couldn't reconcile with reality. So did I really believe? I guess it comes down to how you define it.

Matt Nightingale said...

Yeah, I was thinking last night, after I wrote this, about the difference between belief and faith. I think I'm making a distinction, and I would define faith as what you're talking about.

I have had several instances in my life (some small and some very, very big) where I've taken a "step of faith," trusting that God would take care of it, but honestly not KNOWING that He would.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

I suppose that would be the "acting as if" we're talking about. I acted "as if" God would catch me if I leapt into what felt like a very deep abyss. And He did, in rather remarkable ways, definitely strengthening my faith.

I don't know... I truly, deeply BELIEVE in God, but is that a result of anything I've done? And choices I've made? I think it's very complex.

Maybe I'm getting at this: There are things about God and life that I've been told I should believe. But I can't believe those things, because I don't believe them. So does that make me disobedient, honest, or both?

Matt Nightingale said...

PS - EXACTLY why Luanne and I have never done the Santa thing with our kids. We pretend he's real, but the kids know we're pretending, and they always have...

victoria said...

I just started reading a book that I'm sure I'll disagree with but Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith says this:

" It is true that for many people 'faith' and 'belief' are just two words for the same thing. But they are not the same.... We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live. ...It will be hard to comprehend the tectonic shift in Christianity today unless we understand the distinction between the two."

The book jacket goes in to address the 3 ages:

1-3rd century= age of faith. Following Christ's teachings rather than what to believe about Jesus.

2. 4-20th century- age of belief.... church focused on correct doctrine and orthodoxy.

3. The age of Spirit= began about 50 years ago and increasing. A trend where Christians are ignoring dogma and the barriers between different religions and spirituality is replacing formal religion.

On the book jacket he also mentions how fundamentalism is dying, and I really thought of your recent posts on the subject. I think this will be an interesting book to read. (I borrowed from the local library here)

Me? I think theology IS important and our knowledge of God will shape what we believe and every aspect of our life. I'm scared of church where stuff like that doesn't matter and it's all based on personal experience.

I see both sides; but I can't abandon that correct belief is important..... could it really be as simple as "love Jesus, love others?"

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