thinking theology

What’s to Believe

What’s to believe in?

When we say to someone that we believe in them, what do we mean? If belief means to trust someone, to entrust them with our confidence, to commit ourselves to them, why would we say that? Usually if I say that I believe in someone, I want them to feel encouraged by me. I want other people to join me in my support of this person. Now I would not tell someone else who is my height (that is, short) that I believe they can be the world’s most famous basketball player nor would I suggest that a tone deaf person should consider themselves the next Pavarotti. So if I tell someone that I believe in them it is because I think they can achieve their objectives and I want to be on their team as an actor or a cheerleader.

In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Since his lifetime, people have continued to hunger and thirst for food and water. No matter how we manage this passage, literally or metaphorically, people continue to hunger and thirst for peace, for justice, for compassion, for hope. Many have lost faith in Jesus because of what this text seems to offer and the reality of the last 2,000 years.

If we read on, Jesus cautions his listeners against looking for signs, for proof texting, for explanations, or now in our time, excuses. So if he does not mean this as a sign or a prediction, what else can we read here. I think one of our problems is in a misunderstanding that the improvement of human life is a task to be accomplished rather than a process to be nurtured and worked on. Hunger and thirst, both literal and metaphorical, is a quality of human nature. We will always struggle by learning new ideas and possibilities and they will bring us new problems and also new satisfaction.

I think that following Jesus means to stop looking for final solutions and to embrace the wide open life in which anything is possible and anything may happen. Believing in Jesus means to accept the long road of both joy and suffering, while trusting that life is lived within the cosmos of the divine, that all things come together, neutrino and universe, micro and macro perceptions of life. Whether it is a telescope or a microscope, we will continue to see the same patterns repeated from the infinitesimal to the infinite. To live without anxiety about outcomes requires creativity and curiosity. In the Way of Jesus, it means also to feel connected to others and to the creation, to see the life force in a shard of beach glass, the laughter of an old person delighting in still yet another surprise, in the holiness of all new born life.

Compassion, feeling with, walking alongside, is how we are to treat others. Challenge and learning, despite our fears, are the transit stations to new life. And eternity is the time frame in which we are working because, as the followers of Jesus, we know that we cannot be separated form the divine, from Jesus, or from life itself. Within the grace of Jesus, we find that we are intrinsically part of all that is unfolding and growing within and beyond us. The first disciples experienced the resurrected Jesus when they talked and walked together, when they prayed and when they ate together. Jesus is, flesh of our flesh and flesh of the Holy One, one life lived in unity with all that is. In Jesus, we see the divine not only around and beyond us, but within. The mystery of holiness transcended, incarnate and manifested in Jesus, so that we might suddenly and forever be captured by this reality in everything we see and experience. That is the mystery into which we are invited. Our job is to invite everyone else into the riches of grace and vision that is indeed more than we can ask or imagine.

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