By Maria French
“What do you believe, Maria?” is a question I am asked more than you can imagine.
Only the question sounds more like this…
“Do you believe that Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead?”
“Do you believe in hell?”
“Do you think Jesus was kidding when he said, ‘I am the way, the truth
and the life’?
There was a time in my life when I took the bait; hook, line and sinker!
I’ve learned the hard way, more than once, that these are questions I will never answer for people. And I don’t mean theologically. I literally mean that I will not physically open my mouth and attempt to answer them.
In reality, we need to take the debate in a different direction. To ask different questions. To ask better questions.
If the questions referenced earlier sound like the kind of thing coming out of an Evangelical ideological value system, it is because they are.
Part of my list of ‘posts’ is post-Evangelical and post-Charismatic. I have a lot of family and friends who are still Evangelical and always will be.
It means that we have to work harder at understanding each other’s theological paradigms and points of reference.
I want to take a moment and talk about this notion of belief and what it mean to believe. Simple words but concepts I deeply struggle with. So much so I have stopped using the words within my vocabulary entirely.
I’m just not sure how helpful it is to go around saying, ‘I believe this’ or ‘I believe that.’ Belief comes out of experience, out of communal understanding of certain aspects of life. It comes out of storytelling and how we might be transformed by it. It comes from how our realities are altered by our social environments and the scores of minutiae enacting upon us and our lives EVERY SINGLE DAY.
To believe or not believe doesn’t do anything to or for the thing we have belief in. It simply draws another hard and fast division rooted in an illusion of certainty that can bring comfort to our human conditions.
The thing is…
I’m not buying and selling in currencies of empirical, objective realities rooted in supernaturalism. And by refraining from participating in this sort of economy doesn’t equal a denial of it. It just means that I don’t think it is the point.
When we hold hard and fast to transcendent realities that we categorize as “real” we then make them unmovable and unchangeable-when moveable and changeable they must be.
A lot of my early Christian life was spent in pursuit of the knowledge of such realities and then spent defending such realities and proselytizing about them.
But I eventually came to the point where I figured out that it is the knowledge of the theological realities that is transformative, not the empirical ones.
I found my life and the kind of person I wanted to be was more informed and transformed by the narrative arc of what I ‘believed’ rather than the literal reality of the ‘belief’ itself.
This way of thinking about things has become so engrained in me that now when people ask about the things I believe, I have little mechanism left with which to respond. Needless to say, this does not go over so well.
Another question that comes up often is what I think about the divinity of Jesus Christ and, of course, if I have a personal relationship with him. Again, I used to take the bait for a while and I always deeply regretted my answers because it was never really what I wanted to say and never really reflected what I actually thought on the matter.
When I get asked that question now, I usually defer to an answer that took me a long time to craft and one that I love…
“That is a private matter.”
or-depending on their level of aggression and belligerence-
“That is none of your business.”
I live my faith and Christianity out with an integrity rooted in my own journey, my love for Scripture and what I think it may be teaching us-from encounters with community and values of redemption, justice and hospitality. And, certainly, from my own wonder-filled moments of how I have engaged god at all the different stages of my theological discovery.
And I think that is what matters.
What I ‘believe’ regarding said questions certainly does not.
While I may hold personal beliefs-again-that is a private matter and also absolutely pales in comparison to the amazing story we are invited into and invited to live out.
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