Saturday, September 4, 2010

Willing Suspension ~ Part II

“I charge you, you who have this book in your possession, whatever you may do, do not speak of this work to any other man.” An old medieval text I happened across some years ago prefaced itself with these words. Which book? Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you.

Of course, the simple fact that I was forbidden to tell you means that I very much want to. That’s why if I ever write a book I’ll open it with a similarly grave injunction. It leaves you feeling like you’re in on some kind of secret and makes talking about it nigh unto irresistible. Genius, I say! Marketing genius!

There are some things that sound terrifically simple - like not talking about that book - which are in fact extraordinarily difficult, some commands that are easy in the hearing and difficult in the execution. So it is with the willing suspension of our disbelief. It is the simplest of things, and yet the hardest, impossible even. Yes, impossible.

There’s a poignant scene in the gospels in which Jesus is brought to a man whose son suffers greatly from violent seizures. Encountering Christ, the man says, “If you can do anything, have pity and help us.” Jesus seizes upon these words, “If you can? If you can? Everything is possible for him that believes.” Hearing this, the man utters something that is confusing, sincere and remarkable all rolled into one: “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.”

Well put. Very well put. Help me in my unbelief! I believe, or at least want to. So, help me. Please. It’s honest, human. I like it.

Returning now to the matter we took up last time: What is it that accounts for your believing some things and disbelieving others? “Evidence,” you will perhaps reply. “It all comes down to evidence.” But, not so. If you think it’s merely a matter of weighing evidence and deciding accordingly, I have to seriously question whether you have ever met another human being and paid any attention. If we learn anything from history, it’s that absolutely staggering amounts of evidence can be marshaled before men and they may leave with their eyes all the more tightly shut. Not only do some come away none the wiser, they are more steeled in their resolution not to believe, galvanized in their resistance. The Bible is thoroughly riddled with examples of this.

Scripture speaks of a world that is positively over-brimming with evidence regarding the reality and nature of God. You may disagree, but you at least have to ask yourself this simple thing: Why? Is it really the kind or quantity of evidence, or does it have something to do with you? Just think about it.

Whether or not there is a God and the Bible is his book, is for you to decide, and decide you must. But, what is it that prompts you to decide one way or the other? Or, to frame it differently, how is it that two men can look upon exactly the same evidence and arrive at very different, even antithetical conclusions? This is the real question.

Here’s a thought: It’s not just about seeing, it’s about perception; It’s not just about what you see, but how you see. See?

Speaking now personally, as someone who has considered these things for my entire adult life, I do think there is a terrific amount of corroborating evidence clustered around the Christian story. In fact, from where I stand, nearly everything conspires to demonstrate its truth. To paraphrase what another has said: It’s like the sun. It’s not just that I see it, but that by it I see everything else.

Nevertheless, in the hearts and minds of men it doesn’t ultimately come down to this, to sheer evidential weight. According to the scriptures, whether or not we believe is ultimately a spiritual matter, something having more to do with our hearts than raw data. For this reason, quite often the first step on the path of the spiritual life is uttering the cry, “Help me in my unbelief! Help me see aright. Help me discern the meaning behind this world swirling about me. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear.”

But we’re just getting warmed up. If you think the most difficult things to swallow in scripture are seraphic visions, darkened suns and tongues of fire, then you haven’t seen anything yet. Ha! The true difficulty lies not in believing that men have seen visions of God or rise from the dead. If there really is an infinite and eternal Spirit who called the world out of nothingness, then believing those things are possible is not a function of gullibility but stark realism. It almost goes without saying. You would almost be surprised if it didn’t happen.

No, the truly difficult thing is believing that the God who comes through so vividly in the sacred text is capable not only of raising Jesus from the dead, but of raising you from the dead. True story. Infinite power is infinite power, wherever it is applied. Don’t you see that for God it’s just as easy to fashion a galaxy or give sight to the blind as lift a piece of straw? It’s one and the same. But, if you want to really feel the electric wonder of exercised omnipotence, train your eyes on statements like these:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8

“He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” ~ Micah 7:19

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin - it is by grace you have been saved.” ~ Ephesians 2:4-5

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11-12

These are the commanding heights of scripture. This is what all of the rest - lost paradises, transfigurations, and blazing mountains - is all about, God manifesting his illimitable goodness and surpassing glory in the redemption of a world.

1 comment:

  1. “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.”

    I really like that. In my faith I feel this sums up so much. I do believe and that belief guides my way, but there are a few aspects of Christianity that fall on the side of "unbelief." What I find, however, is that these "un-beliefs" have nothing to do with God Himself (the all-powerful, all-loving, all-forgiving God), but rather with my perceptions and transgressions of other humans.



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