For a number of years now I have been rethinking the idea of “faith,” or “belief.” (I mentioned this last week as part of my reflections on the privilege of teaching scripture.)
An important part of faith has to be believing certain things. At the heart of Christianity, for instance, is the idea that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is an event that calls for our assent, hard as it might be to believe.
This is the “believe that” part of faith. As in, “I believe that…”
This part of faith is crucial. And, it can be insidious. Insidious because of the way that it can choke out the other dynamic, raising itself up as the heart and soul of what it means to be Christian.
There’s another, arguably more important, dynamic of faith.
This is the “believe in…” part.
Only, I’m wary of putting it that way, because in the weekly liturgies that many of us participate in, we use the words “believe in” before enumerating “believe that” sorts of things. (“Jesus Christ, conceived by the holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.” These are “thats” that we believe.)
What gets muted here?
Faith as trust. Faith as entrusting ourselves into the hands of God.
Faith that works in synergy with the story we believe: if God raised Jesus from the dead, then the worst that the world has to throw at us cannot be ultimate reality.
If God raised Jesus from the dead, then the powers of empires or multinational corporations to determine the fate of people cannot be ultimate reality.
We can start hear a different sort of call, when we entrust ourselves to that kind of God.
We can start to hear a summons to judge differently.
We can start to hear a voice beckoning is us to stop trying to use and manipulate the nodes of power that the world beckons us to plug into without our even knowing it.
We might hear the Beatitudes as blessing rather than curse.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom comes as a gift. It cannot be bought with goods spiritual or material.
It is for those who have entrusted themselves to God the giver.
And the way of grace gently pushes us off the drivetrain for spiritual attainment.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The blessing comes into the space of lack, into the space of sorrow.
It is for those who have had what was theirs taken away from them, who have nothing left but to entrust themselves to the God of all comfort.
As the story of Good Friday is ours, we are gently beckoned to put our hope in the God of Easter.
“Blessed are the gentle, because they will inherit the earth.” The earth cannot be won by wars. It is the gift of God for the people of God.
It is for those who would never exercise the power to expunge their enemies from its face. For those who would never manipulate the system at the expense of their enemy, simply to have the power, the voice, even the purity they long for.
It calls us to entrust ourselves to the story in which self-giving for the enemy’s sake, rather than enemy-killing for one’s own sake, brings light and life.
“Believing that” is not enough.
“Believing that” can be our own worst enemy.
“Believing that” can be the way to riches that squelch the impoverished spirit waiting for the Kingdom. (When we’re right, when our system affirms how right we are, when we have already taken hold of our kingdoms, what will we do with that power?)
“Believing that” can be the way of joy that strives to disinherit the poor. (When we’re right, when we take great joy in reciting the points of our theological or moral correctness, when we control the gates of our bounded-set communities, determining who is in and who is out, what need have we for godly comfort, as we profit from our riches?)
Entrusting ourselves to the God of the Jesus story is, has always been, and always will be the most difficult, daring possibility opened up by the Christian faith.
Its greatest enemy is not the denial of the Christian faith in words of assent, but denial of the Christian faith as those words of assent simply serve to create Christian versions of the very games of power, wealth, and prestige that Jesus came to subvert.
Because, if we’re honest, being a peacemaker is much too high a price for most of us to be willing to pay in order to be called children of God.
Featured image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net