Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Sunday, September 14, 2014 (Holy Cross Day): Numbers 21:4b–9; Psalm 98:1–4; 1 Corinthians 1:18–24; and John 3:13–17 .
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” – John 3:16
What does belief mean?
I think that we, in this 21st Century American “Christian” context, are quick to assume that belief is something that has to do with our head. It has to do with creeds, with assenting to certain things, with intellectually agreeing to certain ideas and understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are. In fact, if you look up the word “belief” in the dictionary, you will see definition 1 is something like, “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.”
But, belief means a little more than that. Even the dictionary has a second definition, which is “trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.” Which, if you think about it, is a little bit different than an intellectual thing. And the Greek word for believe leans more strongly in this direction—the direction of placing confidence in something or someone, trusting.
I think this is an important distinction because it seems like it’s an easy thing to believe something with one’s head but not with one’s heart. It’s easy to intellectually understand something to be true and an entirely different thing to live as if it is true.
I think we do this with God all the time. I think we intellectually believe that God loves us, that the Son came to save, heal, redeem creation (including us), that the Spirit moves in our midst calling us to new things. I think we intellectually get the idea of Jesus’ disciples and are interested, in principle, in following him.
But it’s a whole lot different to believe it in a way that is about trust and confidence.
I mean, that would mean not being afraid of, well, anything—since, well, to paraphrase Paul, “whether we live or whether we die, we are God’s.”
That would mean not needing to hold on to anything but the promises of God—since our value is not in what we control, but who we belong to (God).
That would mean not limiting ourselves for fear of judgement or because of our judgement of others—because God is our judge, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
That would mean radically trusting that Jesus actually is about healing us and making us more alive, rather than making us more pious and divisive—since the Son came to heal and save, not to condemn.
I don’t write this to make us feel bad. After all, this text is, I think, supposed to be a promise. Instead, I want to suggest that it might be worth giving it a try—that is trying to believe with your heart, not just your head—and what you might just find is this very thing that Jesus promises—life abundant, eternal, whole and overflowing—just waiting for you.