30 April 2011


What does it mean to believe in something and how does belief differ from faith? Well, I don't know exactly. People seem to make this dichotomy over and over but I'm increasingly coming to the opinion that belief is lived out in our actions. If we say that we "believe" something but we live our life in a way that is inconsistent with our purported belief, then we don't really believe it.

I often think of "those daring young (wo)men on the flying trapeze" when I think of belief. If you believe in your ability to make safe contact with your partner, you don't need guide-wires. If you want to believe in your ability to make safe contact with your partner but don't dare go without the guide-wires, then you don't believe. Although you may want to believe. As a side comment, this photo on the left of one trapeze artist catching another in mid-flight without guide-wires was in the minority on my first search page. If you do an image search for "trapeze artist", you get a lot more options like the one on the right: people using guide wires.

I think we all use guide wires at some point in our faith lives. As a culture, for instance, we say "In God we Trust" but what what we really trust in is the stuff on which that slogan is written: The almighty dollar. We say that we believe that Jesus is our Savior but we live our lives as if our accomplishments are our Savior or our children are our Saviors or our lifestyle is our Savior. Most of us are practical atheists although many of us want to believe.

Of course, owning up to our unbelief is difficult. Particularly if you're a Christian. And even moreso if you're a Christian minister.

I write all this by way of asking questions and in the hope that there is something valuable in being transparent and truthful and open. I hope that God is gracious enough to deal with my own unbelief and I have an intuition that this is where the heart of God's grace lies.

But I think we Christians need to own up to the fact that our deeds don't match what we say we believe and that is why we are wide open to the accusation of hypocrisy from those outside the Church. And we are even more hypocritical when we declare that we believe in Jesus but we just can't live as if we believe. That's the dissembling that most folk but us see through in a heartbeat.

Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.


John Meunier said...

If we say that we "believe" something but we live our life in a way that is inconsistent with our purported belief, then we don't really believe it.

I agree. Great post. I need help as well.

Petroc said...

We must confess to our unbelief, but at the same time acknowledge that faith can only exist where there is the possibility of doubt.

The Lord knows that we have to live in the world with all its confusions and anomalies. We are not angels but frail human beings and have to live in the world as it is.

The father of the boy with the deaf and dumb spirit recognized this - "I do believe; help me in my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

Having confessed to our unbelief we are encouraged to ask for God's help.

PamBG said...

Welcome, Fr. Petroc and, Amen.

stf said...

Most of us are practical atheists

I think that's true ...

Joel Betow said...

In many part of the U.S. there has been such a radical attempt in promoting "saved by faith alone" that faith is related only to bad actions whereby bad actions cast doubt on the genuineness of faith. But if bad actions cast suspicions on how real and true a faith is or how living it is, why wouldn't good actions reflect on how real or true a faith is? In my part of the woods, many are almost "proud" to proclaim that "we aren't saved by our deeds" which at its extreme can translate to "let's not get too caught up in doing good, lest someone view us as works-righteous." I'm not able to understand "faith" apart from a theology where there is the "essential unity of faith and works."

PamBG said...

Joel, I grew up in that sort of pietist mindset in a denomination that confidently declares that Methodists are heretics who believe in salvation by works.

Probably the biggest lesson I've learned in CPE is that what we do is what we believe.