Tag Archives: unbelief

“In This Decision Our Lives Are Our Vote”

“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.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

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.


“Lord, I Believe! Help My Unbelief!”

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Two little twin boys recently walked up to our house with their mom and little sister. They could hardly wait to show us their two buckets filled with several layers of . . . woolly worms! Woolly caterpillars. The kind that seem to be everywhere right now. Pretty cool little creepy crawlies, those worms! Pretty cool little guys, those great little twins!

Now catch this woolly transition: Woolly worms are one thing. Woolly thinking about faith, and particularly about faith and prayer, is another.

The “prayer of faith” is a biblical term. But both prayer and faith get twisted pretty often by flashy TV preachers and their bunch into something much more akin to magic and superstition than Christianity.

What I’m thinking of is the very common, very mistaken, notion that praying with the kind of “faith” that is the key to “powerful prayer” means working ourselves up into some highly emotional and extremely subjective state so that we can make a desperate request of God absolutely expecting him to answer with exactly what we want. We’re most likely to get exactly whatever the “it” we want is, this approach says, if we “amp up” our “faith” so as to bar the doors of our minds to any possibility of our not receiving “it.” If we don’t get “it,” then the purveyors of such “faith” tell us that we just didn’t “believe” hard enough, and we must work harder to banish all doubt.

Such an approach is unbiblical, mistaken, and often, arrogant and cruel. As C. S. Lewis once wisely wrote, this kind of thing “is not faith in the Christian sense; it is a feat of psychological gymnastics.”
For a picture of real faith, and for a real corrective to the other sort, Lewis points us to the Son praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The perfect Son. The perfect Father. The perfect prayer. Perfect faith. And the answer was No.

And may I point you to another amazing picture of another poignant scene? Another father. Another son. Another prayer.

The son is terribly afflicted by an evil spirit. (The disciples have struck out on casting it out.) The father “prays,” asking Jesus, “If you can do anything,” (it’s the same Greek root word for Jesus’ request to the Father: “if it be possible”), “heal my son.”

Jesus replies, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible [the same word again] to him who believes.”

I love that father’s response: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” And, despite faith-flaws and weakness, the answer to this father is Yes, and this son is healed.

We have a Lord who counts our honesty about our weakness—even our weak faith—as much more valuable than our ability to build in ourselves some emotional state that supposedly excludes all doubt.

Faith in God, even a little faith, much smaller even than the “mustard seed” sort Jesus also taught about, is still real faith. Perhaps faith in the quality of my ability to believe is also faith of a sort, but it’s the wrong sort. It’s faith focused in me, not faith focused on God.

 

     You’re invited to check out my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christians Should Not Be Surprised by Faith Struggles

 

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I want, I strive, to be a person of faith.

Given that I’m a Christian pastor, you’d sort of hope so, right? I don’t expect any “attaboys” from the stands.

I know you know that having real faith implies an on-going struggle—whoever you are, whatever your vocation. Pastors are not exempt.

I well remember talking to a ministerial mentor about some hard “faith questions” I was struggling with, when he replied, “Where do you think many of my sermons come from? My own questions and struggles, exactly like the one you’ve just laid out. Why would you think having faith means not having deep questions?”

He’s right. The One who affirmed that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind” is not averse to our using our minds. We should apologize for not using them enough—as long as we don’t forget that, at the end of the inquiry, it’s childlike faith Christ values most.

Real faith is not unquestioning. By all means, use every tool available to hone your mind. Read. Study. Learn how to ask the right questions. But do so in the full realization that no bridge of logic will extend across the whole chasm. Eventually, everybody has to make a choice and take a leap of faith, even if it’s the negative faith that chooses to believe in unbelief. Choosing not to choose is its own poor choice. Instead of “minding the gap,” as the London Tube (subway) signs admonish, being careful when you cross the space between the platform and the subway car, choosing not to choose is trying to camp in the gap.

But even those who’ve made, I think, the best choice, agree that it’s not easy. C. S. Lewis, almost certainly the greatest defender and expositor of Christian belief in the past century, once said that no proposition of Christianity ever seemed less likely to be true to him than at the very moment he had just supposedly successfully “defended” it. That’s just the nature of the beast we call faith. Sometimes it purrs. Sometimes it growls.

Lewis also noted that believers should not be surprised if faith is at times difficult or fleeting. We are humans, after all, whose feelings are affected by everything from the weather to the state of our digestion. Refreshingly realistic, Lewis said that when he was an atheist, he had moments when he suspected that Christianity just might be true. Why should he be surprised to find that as a Christian, he had moments when he wondered if there was really anything to it? In such moments, it’s good to remember that, at a particular time, you’ve already, for good reasons, taken the leap, made the jump, sealed the promise, committed to the journey. Don’t navel-gaze too much in times when just hanging on to the precepts of faith seems difficult.

The good news is that those times pass. The bad news is that living out the faith is a lot harder than just holding to its central beliefs. The best news of all is that Christ understands our faith struggles and will buoy us up in the midst of them all.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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