Monday Morning Musings [03/01/10]

My step-daughter has a new boyfriend, a good kid, for a change.  He's polite to my wife and me, and, as much as a teenage boy can be, he is kind to my step-daughter.  A couple weeks ago he invited me to be his friend on Facebook, and as I did befriend him, I read his profile page.  Under "religion", he put "atheist".  Last week he came to our house, and I got around to asking him about this posting of "atheist."  "Well, Scott,' he said, "I'm not really an atheist.  I'm more like an agnostic."  Wondering if he knew what that word meant, I asked him about it.  "It's just that I can't believe in some of the stuff that is in the Bible."  To which both my wife and I chimed in that we don't either.  We left that topic at that.I thought of my step-daughter's boyfriend as I read the text for this past Sunday, from Genesis 15.  Abram questions God about God's lack of fulfilling his previous promise to Abram, that God would make of Abram a great nation.  It'd been a while since God first made this promise to Abram, but there was still no offspring, no descendent who would become the first of this great nation promised by God.  Abram questions God on this, and then assumes that the child slave in his household would become his heir.  No, says God, it's not going to be the child slave, it's going to be Abram's own offspring.  Even though when Abram first heard all this from God, he was 75, his wife wasn't much younger, and there were no kids in their lives.  Even though it's been several years since that first promise, and well, Sarai and he weren't getting any younger, and certainly not more fertile... But then God calls Abram outside, tells him to look in the sky and try to count the stars, if he can.  "So shall your descendents be," says God.   Reaffirming his promise to Abram.  And for whatever reason, despite the foolishness of it and the impossibility of it, Abram believes God.  Abram trusts that God will do what God has said God would do. Notice:  The text says that Abram "believed the LORD."  It doesn't say that Abram "believed in the LORD."  It's one thing to say that you believe in someone or something, it's a whole other to believe that someone or something.  "Believing in" speaks to an intellectual assent, or affirming with our head.  "Believing" speaks to the whole self, of being in relationship with that someone.  And that's when I thought of my step-daughter's boyfriend, who doesn't believe in some of what he has read in the Bible. It's telling that the church has led people to see faith as "belief in":  As in, "I believe in Jesus."  And maybe if pushed farther, "I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died and rose on the third day..."  Now, there might not be anything wrong with such belief, but what does such belief mean in actually living life? Here is one of my favorite example of such thinking:  We think of the book of Jonah, and what do we say about it?  "Do you believe that Jonah was really swallowed by a whale and lived in it for 3 days?"  Which then moves our discussion to some affirmation of fact or fiction, and nothing at all about life itself.  I might say, I believe that the whale story is true (or false)," but really, who cares?  By keeping us at a safe distance from the story, through our intellectual bantering, we lose the meaning of this story, a story of a God who acts foolishly (by pardoning those awful Ninevites) and calls foolish people to be God's spokespersons (as in Jonah).  A God who calls us as well, not to believe in God but to believe God.  To believe that God will do what God promises to do, foolish as it might sound. I wonder what my step-daughter's boyfriend will say about that?  And I wonder what in the world I'll say to whatever he will say?  I would be so much easier to stick with "believing in", it's much less messy.

by Scott Rollins