Note: This is the first in a series of blogs that focus on what I believe, at least for today. Writing this series is motivated by many things, including Seattle First Baptist’s practice of sharing Faith Journeys with each other. I am finding value in writing these blogs, and I hope and pray that you find some in reading them.
Have you found Jesus?
I’ve been asked that question a few times in my life. My favorite answer is one on a magnet that I gave Pastor Tim years ago: “I found Jesus! He was under the couch the whole time!”
When someone asks me if I found Jesus, I usually experience some sort of disconnect between the way we understand faith. For many who identify as Christian, faith seems obvious. It’s what’s in the Bible. It’s what good people believe. It was good enough for Momma and it’s good enough for me. But I don’t find faith that simple or clear. Fundamental to my core beliefs is that faith is a choice.
I don’t need faith to know that some things exist. It doesn’t take faith to know that Mt. Rainier exists, even on cloudy days, or that it rains in Seattle. I don’t have to believe that I most likely will be seriously hurt or killed if I step in front of a moving bus. But when it comes to religion, or belief, or God, faith requires me to choose, to make a choice, probably many choices. Even the definition of the word “faith” illustrates this. Merriam Webster defines faith as “belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”
First I need to choose which religion or tradition to direct my faith toward. Am I Christian? Jewish? Buddhist? Muslim? Atheist? None of the above? Like the vast majority of people my age I “chose” the religion of my parents. While at times I find it difficult to call myself a Christian, that is my tradition. But even within Christianity I still have to make a lot of choices.
It’s easy to say, “I believe what’s in the Bible.” But that still requires choice. For example, which of these texts best illustrates what God is like?
As Elisha walked along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. Elisha turned around and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the youths.”
~ 2 Kings 2.23-24
For She will deliver you from the snare of the fowlerand from the deadly pestilence;
She will cover you with her pinions,and under her wings you will find refuge;her faithfulness is a shield and buckler.You will not fear the terror of the night,or the arrow that flies by day,or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
~ John 10.14, 16
So which is it? God who sends bears to maul kids who tease a bald prophet? God who protects us under her pinions? Or God as a shepherd, who cares not only for the sheep like us but sheep in other sheep pens - people not like us?
Recently we watched the movie “Come Sunday,” which is based on the story of Carlton D’metrius Pearson, a highly successful fundamentalist Christian pastor who was ostracized and declared a heretic when he came to believe in “universal reconciliation” – that all souls will eventually be reconciled to God. One scene depicts Pearson defending himself from accusatory parishioners by quoting Bible texts. He even stressed that he was reading the texts literally. It didn’t work.
Pearson originally chose beliefs that led him to become the heir apparent to Oral Roberts, but his life changed dramatically when he made a different choice – to believe some Bible texts not popular with the heaven-and-hell crowd. He didn’t even need to change the way he read the Bible. He could still read it literally. And he discovered, as so many others have, that the Bible literally says lots of things, many of them contradictory with each other. We can be as literal as we want, but we still have to choose.
An old song from my childhood makes everything seem so simple. So clear.
I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.
But I still need to choose which Jesus I am following, and exactly where I think we’re headed together.