“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .”
Yes, I do. With all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I do.
Some of you will quickly recognize those words and phrases as coming from what is traditionally known as “The Apostles’ Creed.” The actual words were not written by the apostles, but it is an early and very important statement of basic Christian beliefs, and it dates back to the second century. If we want a concise statement of what the earliest Christians (including the apostles) believed, this will do quite nicely.
Now notice, please, that when we make these and similar statements of faith, we use the word “believe.”
It’s been years since I first read C. S. Lewis’ paper, “On Obstinancy in Belief” (published as the second essay in The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays), but in it Lewis masterfully analyzes what we mean when we say regarding our faith, “I believe.” May I summarize a bit?
Often, Lewis says, when we use the term “believe,” we’re expressing a rather weak opinion, and we’d not be very surprised to find that it is wrong. “Where’s my book?” “In the living room, I believe.” “When was Martha born?” “I believe it was 1958.”
“Where did Jack go?” “He ran off with his secretary, I believe.” “I don’t believe that!” Note that the latter is conveying a much stronger opinion based on a real knowledge of Jack and his character.
But when a Christian says, “I believe,” he’s saying something stronger still. While “belief” can’t be called absolute “knowledge” of the sort that can be completely and irrefutably mathematically proven, enough evidence does exist that choosing to believe is at least a plausible option—and not just for the gullible.
Forgive me (and this part is not from Lewis), but if you watch most religious TV networks—many of the shows and ads—I’d not be surprised if you think all Christians must be fools. But that is not the case. It is an obvious fact that, from the very dawn of Christianity and to the present day, not just a few of the most intelligent human beings who have ever lived and whose lives have most blessed this world have been believers in Christ and, having weighed the evidence for Christian faith against the arguments arrayed against it, have chosen to put their faith in Christ and pledge their allegiance to him as Lord.
Still, the word is “believe.” I believe strongly in the truth of Christianity. My neighbor (who may be a very good person; that is not the issue here) may believe just as strongly that God does not even exist. (But I promise you, everyone puts their faith in something, even if it is just themselves, the worst and most tyrannical of gods.) One of us must be mistaken, and, however much we respect each other and even enjoy each other’s company, we both know it; neither of us is an idiot.
We both may falter at times. In a moment of personal pain or weakness, I may briefly wonder if my prayers are reaching higher than the ceiling. In a moment of personal pain and need, he may utter a short prayer just on the outside chance that Someone hears. But the fact is, we’ve each made a decision, and our lives are our vote.
I may be the one who is wrong. But, in this case, I think not. And I believe that betting this life and the next on Christ is a very good wager indeed.
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Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.