I fear that all too often, we simply believe what somebody told us.
I read a book a while back by Carlton Pearson called God Is Not a Christian, Nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu…: God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us.
It’s gotta be the longest book title ever, or close to it.
But this book was the journey one man took from being an evangelical Christian pastor and big time leader (I was at a conference he hosted called Azusa 97 that had T.D. Jakes speaking at it) to the point where he embraced Universalism. He now believes that there are many paths to God and that Jesus is simply a good, moral teacher.
In the book, Bishop Pearson talks about how he was raised to believe in the God that evangelicals believe in. He believed in all the orthodox beliefs that many Christians hold to be non-negotiable. At one point, he began questioning how God could allow such suffering in the world. (In case you’re interested in learning a new word, the discipline of explaining why God allows evil and suffering is called ‘Theodicy’.)
Bishop Pearson believed the Holy Spirit spoke to him and explained that the starving children in Africa were not bound for hell, but rather that their hell existed here, on earth.
Once the belief that he was obligated to go and tell every person he could find about Jesus because they were hell-bound crumbled, he began to disbelief everything he’d ever been told. If one thing he has been raised to believe was untrue, then perhaps more things were also not true. He reassessed all his beliefs and dismissed many of them.
Here’s my point in going through all this: I don’t think Carlton Pearson ever believed the things that he proclaimed. I think he believed that the people who told him were right. His faith wasn’t in what he believed. It was in who had told him.
How often do we hear a pastor preach or read a book/blog or hear a televangelist/professor/minister say something, and we just accept it? We believe it because they told us.
It’s so easy to do that. Because if, in the end, it turns out they are wrong…well, we can’t be to blame for it. “I didn’t come up with that. It was him/her.”
We sign off on what other people say they believe because it’s much easier than going through the process of examining it ourselves.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? “Well, at my church we say it was to pay the price for my sins.”
Okay. Do you believe that, though?
Are you sure it wasn’t to be an example to us? Are you sure it wasn’t to defeat the forces of evil? Are you sure it wasn’t to appease the justice of a wrathful God? Why did Jesus ask to avoid the cross? What does it mean that God forsook him on the cross?
I’m not saying that what your church says is wrong. I’m asking: do you really believe it? Or are you just accepting what you’ve been told?
Because if it’s the latter, sooner or later you’ll end up in a crisis of faith. Faith has no coat tails. It can’t be imparted or transferred or given away. You can’t just go along for the ride.
Faith is an individual climb up a steep, treacherous mountain. You can’t hook a trailer up to your parents or your pastor or anybody else and simply end up in the same place they do. Without having gone on the journey, you won’t understand how or why you’re in the place where you are, and instead of wanting to venture father into difficult conditions, you’ll be happy to stay where you’re at, until you start to ask ‘why’. ”Why did we ever come up this mountain in the first place? There’s a perfectly nice, smooth path down at the bottom. All this effort doesn’t seem worth all the trouble.”
I don’t mean this to be rude or disrespectful, but forget what your pastor has told you. Forget what your parents and teachers have told you. Forget about what us bloggers and the televangelists say. What do you believe? What is the purpose of your life? What is it that God wants to do in and through you?
I believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. I don’t believe because somebody told me. I believe because I’ve looked at all the information and evidence, I’ve examined my soul, and I’ve made the leap of faith that goes beyond proof or empirical data. If somebody asks me to show them proof positive that Jesus is real, I don’t have it. But I believe it is true. Everything else is subject to being cast aside.
Because I believe he’s the Son of God, I want to be as much like him as I can. He said to love God and to love people, so I’m trying hard to do that. Not because that’s what is expected of me. Not because other people say I should. But because I believe I should.