“How can you be a Christian? (Do you really believe what “they” believe?)”
“How can you be a Christian? Do you really believe what ‘those guys’ believe?”
I get that question a lot. Especially when I share a political position like being pro-choice or being in support of same-sex equality. “But you still believe x-y-z? Just like the Westboro Baptist guys? How can you believe that?”
First off, let me start by saying, I don’t really know what the Westboro Baptist folks believe, other than what’s on their picket signs, so I don’t know if we share a belief in anything. The same goes for Pat Robertson or Dr. Dobson or Ted Cruz. I don’t really know what they believe except for the bits on the radio, TV, or in the news. So do I believe what they believe? I don’t know. Most likely there is at least one thing, like that Jesus existed.
But often it’s in comparison to folks like that when I am asked why or how I can believe in this thing called “Christianity”. “You aren’t conservative, you have some very liberal leanings, and you’d never vote for ‘that guy’, so how can you call yourself Christian? Why would you want to associate with them?
Political crap aside, let me just address the root of this question. “How can you be a Christian?”
Even that takes me down so many tangents like I don’t like the word “Christian”. But I will try to stick to it.
Yes. I’m a Christian. I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as described in the Old Testament of what is known as the Bible. I believe in Jesus, son of the living God, who was given that none should perish but that all should have eternal life. There’s much more, but for the sake of this discussion, that is enough.
The keyword here is ‘believe’. It’s what I ‘believe’. I have ‘faith’. Many celebrity preachers would say that to believe something is to “know” it even though you can’t see it or prove it. I think that’s a really crappy way to describe faith. The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, chapter 11, verse 1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And while that’s OK, I still don’t think that is really a good definition, it’s just another way of saying that you “know” something that you haven’t seen or heard.
Here’s how I see it. When I sit on a chair, I have faith that it’s not going to collapse under me and send me crashing to the floor. I also have faith that a monster from under the earth isn’t going to break the floor under that chair and drag me down to the molten core of the earth with its tentacles. There are a million little tiny things we all have faith in every moment of every day. Faith that the clock on the nightstand shows the correct time, faith that the TV show we’re watching won’t get switched off in the middle of the most exciting scene, faith that our employer won’t fire us today if we do our job.
You don’t “know” these things, but you believe them. That’s faith. Some things you have more evidence for, so it’s easier to believe than others. The monster under the floor, for example. It hasn’t happened before, so the likelihood of it happening now is pretty slim, so it’s easier to have faith that it won’t happen. If you’re sitting on a flimsy folding chair, maybe you don’t have as much faith in it not collapsing as you do in the monster not showing up.
My journey into the Christian faith is like that. I don’t claim to “know” anything. In fact, I will tell you that there are days when I am not even sure I believe. (GASP! Yes, I have doubts sometimes. Anyone who claims they don’t is a terrible liar.) I don’t “know” beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real, that Jesus was real, or that any of the Bible is true. I can’t know. Short of historical and archeological evidence, there is very little that we CAN know.
But I believe.
Just like the chair and the monster under the floor, there are some things that are easier to believe than others.
This is where things get tricky so bear with me as I ramble and rant through this a bit.
When I was young, it was easy to believe. Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Jesus. Kids’ imaginations are open to the possibilities of anything being true, especially when a parent or authority figure tells you it’s true. Some would argue that continuing to believe in Jesus in adulthood is like still believing in Santa in adulthood, and maybe some people hold on to their faith that way, but not me. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I got my first real dose of faith, and not until I was in my 30s that I really started to understand what it is that I believe and why I believe it (and continue to believe).
Part of it is evidence. Yes, evidence. That might seem contrary to belief and faith to say that your’s is built on it but think about my chair metaphor. If a chair is heavy, made of metal and thick wood, then experiences you have had in the past with metal and would inform your belief about that chair. Metal and wood are strong, you’ve seen evidence of that, so your belief in a metal and wood chair will be built on that experience.
Same with belief in God and Jesus. Granted there isn’t much, I will concede that. But there is some. We have the writings of the Bible, some proven to exist long before the time of Christ. The Bible was collected and brought together even though it was written by many different writers. Setting aside whether some things in it are true or not, it EXISTS. Some will argue that since there is no reliable writings outside the Bible is proof it’s false (there are many writings in fact, but that’s a different story), but these things were collected into one place. It doesn’t prove that it’s true or not, but the fact that these writings exist and have existed for thousands of years is proof in itself. There is archeological evidence as well. Again, not a lot but some. Many say that because we can’t find Noah’s ark or The Cross or figure out how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is proof that none of it is true. But, likewise, a little proof is not proof that it’s all true. But in my faith journey, it’s another bit that leads to the whole.
Back to our chair, even though we have experience with wood and metal, and we’re pretty sure the chair won’t collapse under us, it still could. But our experience tells us most likely it won’t. Experience informs our faith that the chair won’t collapse.
But there’s more.
Let’s say there’s a room full of these chairs. All the same. Since we have sat on one that didn’t collapse, we have faith that none of the others will collapse either. However, with so many, there is a greater likelihood that one might.
Flip that around. If the chair did collapse, we have faith that the others will too. But one might sustain us. Our experience with chairs tells us they are made to be sat on, so in spite of our experience with one chair, we still have faith that one MIGHT allow us to sit on it.
Evidence led to a thousand little things that led to faith in God, just like a thousand little things led to the faith that perhaps one of those faulty chairs was still useable. I could bore you with all those little discussions and life experiences, and maybe I will one day, but for the sake of brevity in this post, I won’t. I’m painting in broad strokes here.
Remember our monster under the floor? So we sit on the chair, it didn’t collapse. We sat there for a while, and the monster didn’t reach up and grab us.
But of those two, which was MOST LIKELY to happen, if either happened? What about something else? Like the chair didn’t collapse AND someone didn’t talk into the room carrying a cake singing “Happy Birthday”? Which of those was MOST LIKELY to happen? But in this case, maybe the birthday celebration was possible.
What is possible? Some things are likely, but other things, though less likely, are possible. Things that are possible are easier to believe in than things that seem outrageous. If I’m sitting in a restaurant, on my chair that didn’t collapse, it’s more likely that a birthday celebration will happen.
When it comes to faith in God and Jesus, what are things that are possible, and therefore easier to believe in? Here the faith base widens. More than the evidence, we suddenly see things that could be, and in fact may have certainly happened, even though there’s no evidence that they did. Did the Israelites live as slaves in Egypt? There’s not much evidence they did, there is evidence of others being used as slaves to build towns and monuments, so it’s POSSIBLE. It doesn’t make it TRUE, but it’s not a big leap to make from what is known to what could have been. And like the birthday in the restaurant, it seems likely.
But what about the big things? What about GOD, what about Heaven and Hell and resurrection from the dead and miracles and all of that?
This is the big one, this is what we call the “leap” of faith. From the things that known and things that are likely to things that are impossible to know and seem very very unlikely, if not completely impossible.
Let’s try another metaphor. A footbridge. It looks old and rickety. You’re not sure it can hold you. But you take a step. Then another. Your fear of it crashing starts to ease up. By the time you get to the end, your faith in the bridge has been confirmed, you no longer doubt it. Each step erased a little doubt.
My faith in God is like that. Each little step leads to more and more faith until I found myself believing in what, from the other side, seemed impossible.
How can I believe it? How can I have faith? A little bit here. A little bit there. And more and more until I got to what I believe is real and true.
Does my belief MAKE it true? No. And again, I don’t claim that because I believe it is that I know it. But I believe.
And that’s enough.