Lord, Help My Unbelief – Mark 9:24

A father with a demon possessed, or epileptic, son brings the boy to Jesus to have him healed; if Jesus is able to.  Jesus responds that everything is possible for the one who believes.  And the quote below is the father’s response to Jesus.

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! – Mark 9:24b NIV

The father’s words here really strike a chord with me and I find myself periodically echoing his cry.  I believe.  But oftentimes it seems that belief is pretty shallow and has little impact on my life.

There is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that he has a purpose for me.  I am convinced that the Bible is inspired by God and that faith in Jesus death and resurrection is necessary to enter into relationship with God.  I believe!  And yet I struggle with unbelief.

If I really and truly believed that this world and all that it contains is only temporary and that I was created for something much more than this, should it not have more of an impact on how I live here?  Would I not spend more time preparing for eternity than I do in enjoying the temporary?  Would not the work He has for me have a higher priority than other things I choose to do?

I believe; at least intellectually.  But unfortunately my belief does not always translate well into practical terms.  Lord, help me in my unbelief!

 

So Just What Is An Atheist

I find the flack that Oprah has taken recently over her ideas of what atheism is to be interesting.   Yes, she got it wrong; although she also seemed wrong about theism.  But how many people do know what atheism is?  The term means different things to different people, similar to the term ‘Christian’, and even atheists will disagree about what the term means.  I know that the chances of defining this is a way that everyone will agree with is minute, but I am going to share my take on it anyway.

Believes There Is No God

For most of my life this is the definition that I would have given, and the one that I have generally heard: “Belief that there is no god(s)”.  And in debate with many atheists over the years it appears like that is really the position that many, if not all of them, actually hold to, even if not outwardly.

The problem with this position, and the reason many atheists will no longer admit to it, is that it is a positive statement about belief.  And as such the theist has as much right to ask for their proof as they do to ask us for proof about God’s existence.  And the reality is that there is no proof for either claim.  And so to avoid having to admit to a lack of proof, while still asking the theist for proof, they have generally adopted a different definition.

Without Belief in God

“Not having a belief in God” sounds very much like “believing there is no God”, at least to the theist.  But there actually is a difference.  Take Greek yogurt as an example.  Some people like it.  Some don’t like it.  I have no opinion since I have never experienced it.  Atheism, with this definition, says that the atheist lacks any belief concerning any god(s).  They neither believe that there is a god, or that there is no god.

This is probably a good definition for a 6 month old; they truly have no beliefs concerning a deity.  And it could be a good definition for someone who has not really been exposed to people talking about some god(s).  But it is hard to imagine that atheists who are involved in debate concerning the existence of God have no belief one way or another.

They will say that I lack belief in Santa Claus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Norse gods.  But that is not true.  I believe that none of them exist.  Can I prove it?  No.  But that does not stop me from disbelieving in them.

This definition, in my opinion, is really nothing more than a dodge.  It would be more intellectually honest for the atheist to admit to a disbelief in the existence of deities and then either provide a proof for their disbelief, or admit that they have none.

Awe & Wonder

Is an atheist capable of experiencing awe and wonder at the universe?  That seems to have been at the heart of the Oprah controversy.  Diana Nyad claimed to be an atheist and also able to experience awe and wonder of the universe as much as the most devout Christian, or other believer.  Oprah seemed to struggle with that, equating awe and wonder with God.

So who was right?  I would have to side with Diana on this.  I see no reason why an atheist could not experience awe and wonder over the grandeur of the universe, the majesty of Mt Rainier, or the beauty of a rose.  After all, those things are pretty amazing, and awe and wonder seem to be an innate part of who we are.

There is a difference though in the awe and wonder that Diana Nyad might feel about the universe, and what I feel.  She is really in awe of the end result of what she sees as a series of accidents, of fortuitous happenings.   I am in awe of a creator who produced these wonderful things.

Without Purpose

As a Christian, I believe that God created the universe and all that is in it, including myself, for a purpose.  That tells me that I have purpose, gives me hope for my future, and assures me that I have value as a person.  But what purpose, hope and value can one have if the universe and all it contains are nothing but a cosmic accident.

Sure, I can assign my own purpose to my life, and many people do that, even Christians.  And it may provide some self satisfaction.  But is it really purpose?  Purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”  But if I exist only because of a series of unplanned, unintended and accidental happenings, then what reason could there be for my existence.  If there is no creator, then life has no purpose.

I might hope the weather clears for the weekend.  I might hope that the world becomes a better place for my kids to raise their own families.  And I might hope that the few years I have on this earth is not all that I have.  The first two hopes are applicable to everyone, although they are hope with no assurance.  The third is limited to those who believe in a God who created us for a purpose.  And it is, quite honestly, a hope that I have confidence in (2 Timothy 1:12).

For the atheist, what value can there be in human life?  What is it that makes us so much more special than a cow, a germ, a weed, or a rock?  As individuals, or a society, we might choose to value human life, but there is nothing that explicitly demands that; we have no inherent value just because we are human.  What is to say that valuing the life of all humans is preferable to only placing value on your own clan?  In contrast, if I was created, then I have value to the one who created me.  And I recognize the inherent value that all other people have as well.  It is not up to me to decide if they have value or not.

Morality

Some people have a pretty bleak opinion of atheist morality.  But in my experience that is a mistake.  While you might occasionally encounter an atheist with no regard for others; much more often you will find them to be the moral equivalent, and sometime superior, to those who believe in some god(s).  While there may be some innate morality that we all have, atheist or theist, most of our morality is socially learned.  And the atheist learns the morality of their society just as much as the Christian.  Just because the atheist believes there is no creator, and no hope for existence after this life, does not mean that they have cast off all restraint here and now.

In Short

An atheist is one who, for one reason or another, believes that there is nothing beyond the natural world that we can experience with our senses, or ultimately reason out with our minds.  There is no creator, God, gods or supernatural.  While they may have no explanation for the origin of the universe, and life within it, they are unwilling to attribute it to the purposeful act of a deity.  For the atheist, the only time that they have is the present, and they refuse to look to a future beyond this life.  And so the atheist lives without any inherent purpose and without a future hope; unfortunately not unlike many who do confess belief in a creator.

Top 10 Reasons Why I Believe in God

I cannot prove that God exists.  Nor can I provide compelling arguments for why a person should believe in the existence of a creator God.  But I do believe, and am convinced that God exists and that he has a purpose for my existence.  What follows is a sometimes light hearted attempt to express just why I believe.  I do not expect that these reasons will be compelling to one who does not currently believe in God, but hopefully they will give some insight into why at least one person is a believer.

1. My past:  I have accepted that God exists for as long as I can remember.  I have believed in God for the past 41 years and 7 months, give or take a few days.  To me, the difference between accepting that God exists and believing in him is that belief requires some action on my part.  In the past 40+ years I have sought to make God a part of my life. Today, I look back at that 40+ year journey and believe that I can see God working in my life and can remember the encounters I have had with him.  To a large extent my past serves as the foundation for my present.

2. My current condition:  Today, as most every other day, I felt the need to talk with God and to listen for him.  God is a part of who I am and gives purpose to my existence.  I am what I am today because of him.

3. Friends:  Over the years I have had a number of friends, as opposed to acquaintances, the vast majority of them church goers, and there have been some of them with the same relationship with God that I have, and some that I could only dream of having.  Their presence, and our shared experience, is a reminder to me that God is not just a figment of my imagination, but is something that others share as well.

4. Other believers through history:  There are many many examples over the past 2000 years of people who have given their lives for their belief in God.  Foxes Book of Martyrs is one compilation of the faith of some early believers in Christ and the price they paid.  There are many other accounts as well.  It was a very real thing to them and worth dying for.  They encourage me.

5. The Bible:  The New Testament actually.  This collection of writings has been an integral part of my life for the past 40+ years.  I have read some parts of it easily a 100 times and all of it at least 30, memorizing large portions of it.  These writings speak to my heart, and shape what I believe about God and his purpose.  While technically I do not believe because of the NT, it does dramatically effect what I believe about him.

6. Makes more sense than no God:  A universe that was purposefully put into place by a creator makes more sense to me than one that happened accidentally.  While I do not know why God exists, his involvement in this universe provides an answer to the big ‘why’ questions for me: why the universe, and myself, exist.

7. It is rational:  There are a number of ‘proofs’ for the existence of God, although I believe they are really only effective for one who already believes or is looking for a reason to believe.  But they do tell me that belief in God is at least a logical possibility, that it is not irrational to believe in a creator.

8. I am comfortable with it:  Maybe not the best reason in the world, but I am happy believing in God and it comfortably fits into who I am.

9. No valid reason not to:  No one has yet provided me with a compelling reason not be believe in God.

10. It irritates atheists:  And finally, in order to make this an even 10, it appears to bug atheists, getting them all lathered up, just as much as the thought of atheism does to most who take it for granted that God exists.  And, just in case your irony meter is broken, this one is a lame attempt at a joke.

The Importance of Right Beliefs

As a Christian, how important are ‘right beliefs’?  Does it really matter what I believe so long as Jesus is my savior and I live a good life?  Are all beliefs equally important?  I have grappled with questions similar to these over the years as I have studied and come to grips with what I personally believe, and why.  For me, the answers to the above questions are, ‘It depends’, ‘Yes’, and ‘No’.

The Importance of Right Beliefs
So just why are my beliefs important?  I believe there are a number of reasons for this including:

  • The truth is important.  What I believe is important because I want to believe what is true.  It is more important to me to have right beliefs than just popular beliefs.
  • My beliefs will shape how I view God.  Is he a loving God who cares about what happens to people, is he a judgmental God who punishes sin, or is he indifferent to what goes on here?
  • My beliefs will also affect how I see myself serving God.  Is he satisfied with me living a good life, regularly going to church and contributing to the offering?  Or does he equip me for service within his kingdom and expect me to be more actively involved?
  • My beliefs can also impact how I relate to others in the church.  Do we come together to be ministered to, in which case I am concerned what others can do for me.  Or do we come together to minister, in which case I am more concerned with what I can do for others.
  • And how I view the world around me will be affected by what I believe.  Are the folks in Somalia godless heathen deserving only judgment.  Or are they lost and in need or a savior.  Or are they hungry and in need of what we have to offer them.
In my mind, beliefs are critically important if they impact my relationship with God.  They are moderately important if they impact my relationship with other believers and my ability to work alongside them, or if they make a big impact on how I serve God.  They are not important if they do not impact my service for God in any appreciable way nor affect my fellowship with other believers.  It is worth noting here that not everyone will agree concerning where the division should be.  What I might view as relatively unimportant may be viewed as of utmost importance to someone else, and thus impacting my ability to serve alongside them.

Critically Important Beliefs

I do believe that there are some beliefs that are vital if one is to call himself (or herself) a Christian.  I tend toward looking at the emphasis the scriptures place on some beliefs to evaluate their importance.  For instance Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God and then tells us two things about faith: we must believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  So those would seem to be critically important beliefs.

In 1 John 4:2-3 John emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  Those who do are of God, while those who do not are not of God.  John makes it clear in this letter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that he is divine.  But here he also says he is a man; that he has come in the flesh.  Belief that Jesus is God as well as human is a critical belief according to John.

 In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Paul identifies those beliefs that were of first importance, including the redemptive death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.  I find it hard to understand how one could claim to be a follower of Jesus who disputes that he died for them and rose to bring them new life.  These beliefs are critical according to Paul.

Christianity is based on belief

  • in the existence of God
  • that he has a future for those who seek him
  • that Jesus is God and man
  • that Jesus death was redemptive
  • that his resurrection brings new life.
If a person disputes one of these foundational beliefs, are they really Christians, at least in the Biblical sense?
Beliefs that are not important
On the other hand, what difference does it make where I stand concerning the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom?  For the first year of my Christian journey I was a pre-trib pre-millennialist, but after some serious study of the Bible instead of Hal Lindsey I became a post-trib pre-millenialist.  And I find that at some time in my life I have become an amillennialist.  While some will view me as moving further and further into heresy because of this, I have a hard time understanding what real difference it makes, other than in the position I take when discussing last things.  My faith in God is unchanged, the way I live my life is unchanged, and my hope for the future is unchanged.  Nor should this difference in belief affect my ability to worship and serve alongside of people with contrasting beliefs.  I would personally view what you believe about the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom as relatively unimportant.How important is the reconciliation of Jesus genealogies in Matthew and Luke?  While I would like to know the truth about it, I can really think of little practical value that it would provide to me.  At this point it is an unknown to me, and I don’t worry too much about it.  It is relatively unimportant.

Important but non-critical beliefs
But there is a middle ground here as well, beliefs that are important, but not necessarily critical to my claim to being a child of God.  Biblical inerrancy is an example of this.  Which side of this debate I stand on does not impact my salvation, so long as I hold to the critical beliefs.  But it can dramatically impact what I believe about a number of other things, such as the Genesis stories and the place of women in the church. And that can make it difficult to serve closely with others who have a different belief on some of these hot topic items.Who is called to serve God, a selected few, or all believers?  While I do not believe your answer to this question will impact your salvation, it will affect your relationship to God.  If he has called all of us to serve and yet I am satisfied with delegating that service to a professional clergy, then I am not going to be looking for his leading in my life and for opportunities to serve him.  It is the difference between being a spectator and a participant in the kingdoms work.  This is an important belief because of the impact it will have on my life, my relationship to other believers, and, most importantly, my walk with God.  But this is not a critical belief because it does not affect my salvation.

Conclusion
I do believe that each of us is responsible to God for our beliefs.  It is important to know what you believe and why.  And it is important to seek the truth.  Prayerfully search the scriptures, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth.  Know and understand what your church teaches.  Don’t be afraid to ask other people the what’s and why’s of their beliefs, but remember your own personal responsibility in the matter.  Focus most on those beliefs that are more important, that most impact your relationship with God and with your fellow believers.  Become rooted and grounded in the faith and resistant to every strange teaching that comes your way.  That is the path to maturity in your faith.

The Doctrine of Faith

‘Faith’, defined as firm persuasion, and ‘believe’, a related word defined as to be persuaded of, are frequently used in the New Testament to describe what we have to do to come into relationship with God. Faith ushers me into God’s presence and faith allows his power to work in my life.  Apart from faith I can never know God or experience his presence.

Hebrews chapter 11 is all about faith, the faith of the Old Testament saints and its importance in their lives.  Verses 1 & 6 in particular very explicitly express the importance of faith.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. …  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:1,6 NIV

Verse 1 of this passage defines faith while verse 6 attaches that definition to faith in God.  Faith is confidence in what we hope for which, as a believer, is that God rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Faith is also assurance about what we do not see which, as a believer, is that God exists.  For me as a believer, faith includes believing that God exists.  But that in itself is not really faith; it is just intellectual assent.  To have faith I must also believe that God rewards my earnest seeking of him.  The bulk of Hebrews 11 describes this earnest seeking of God, which involved a life of obedience.

Another significant passage is found in Romans 10:9-10 where Paul says:

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” – Romans 10:9-10 NIV

This passage also talks about two things that are involved in my salvation.  One of these is believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and the other is public profession that you are following him, that he is Lord.  This really follows the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith; assurance of what I can’t see – the resurrection of Jesus, and confidence in what is hoped for – exhibited by public profession.

Least anyone take me wrong, I am not saying that anything I can do will bring about my salvation or make it more secure.  But I am saying that intellectual assent that God exists and that Jesus died for sins and was raised to life will not bring about my salvation; that is not faith.  Faith includes earnestly seeking God and professing Jesus as Lord, both of which involve giving myself to him to do with as he desires.  Faith takes me off the throne and puts God on it.  Faith will hang an Under New Management sign around my neck.  If I am still in charge of my life, directing it as I see fit, then I do not have faith and thus cannot please God.

I talked about God’s grace in an earlier blog.  Faith and grace are very complimentary.  Grace defines God’s activity toward me, while faith defines my appropriate response to God.  God’s grace is available to all who will respond to him in faith.  If you are not currently experiencing God’s grace in your life, it may well be that you are not living a life of faith, one of surrender to Jesus as Lord.

God

God!  A simple three letter word that means so much and is used in so many different ways.  To some it is just a word used when swearing.  To others it is a general word used to describe all forms of deities.  To some it is the name of a non-existent mythical being.  And to others of us it is a title we use for our heavenly Father, the creator of the universe.

I believe that God is real and that he has a purpose for his creation and for me.  Can I prove that to you?  No I can’t, although I can demonstrate that belief in God is reasonable, more so than any of the alternatives.  While I cannot prove to you that God exists, I am convinced in my own mind that he does and that belief is an integral part of who I am and how I live my life here.

I believe that everyone has an opinion, or belief, concerning God.  Those beliefs range from active disbelief (militant atheism), through indifference (more passive atheism and agnosticism), to passive belief (folks for whom that belief makes no practical difference) and on to active belief.  Active belief is where ones belief in God makes a practical difference in their everyday life.  I am different specifically because of what I believe about him.

I believe, among other things:

  • that God exists
  • that he is the creator of all that is in this universe, including the laws that regulate it
  • that he has a purpose for his creation
  • that the creation bears faithful testimony to its creator and that it is knowable
  • that he does not micro manage his creation, allowing it to function according to the physical laws he put into place
  • that he knows me and has a future for me
  • that he wants me to know him in a personal way
  • that he is not overly interested in me being healthy, wealthy or wise in this life time, but rather is using the events of this life to prepare me for a future life
  • that he is not like me in any appreciable way and the terms I can use to describe him are totally inadequate and often misleading
  • that he is not obligated to me in any way, but has provided me a way to be a part of what he is doing
And because I believe the above I:
  • actively seek to know him better, spending time with him
  • try to live, not to gratify today’s desires, for in preparation for the future he has for me
  • live in awe of his creative power and what he has put together, our universe
  • am convicted of the need to share the good news with others who live without it
What do you believe about God?  And what difference does it make in your daily life?
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