A few years ago, someone said to me that being part of the Church involves believing things that are impossible to believe. (I think this was supposed to be a joke based on a bit of the dialogue in Alice in Wonderland: “Alice laughed: ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’”) There are some things in Christianity that are difficult for many people to believe. It can be hard to believe that God loves us. It can be challenging to have faith that there is a purpose to our lives. It can stretch our imaginations almost to the breaking point to consider that God lived among us, died, and rose again as Jesus of Nazareth.
But you probably weren’t thinking of those things after you read the first sentence. When I mentioned “hard to believe” things, you might have thought of the world being created in six days or Jonah living in the belly of the big fish for three days or Balaam’s donkey starting up a conversation. I admit that those things can be difficult to believe, too, but the things I mentioned in the paragraph above are the ones that really challenge us. Believing, really believing, that God loves me and that there is a purpose to my existence, is a challenge because if I really believe those things, my life cannot possibly be the same. Whether Balaam’s donkey really talked or not is unlikely to have much of an effect on how I live my life.
If God loves me and God loves you and God loves the people in rural Ethiopia just the same, that has some implications for how we live. We can’t just ignore the problems and suffering of our neighbors near or far if those people matter to God just as much as we do. If people matter to God, then they should matter to us, too.
If my life has a purpose, that has implications for how I live. Having a purpose can make life worth living even when things aren’t going my way. Having a purpose can give you the ability to keep on going when you feel weakest. Many people instinctively know the truth of this statement. I suppose that is one reason why Pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more than 20 million copies in the US. If God really does have a purpose for each one of us, it makes sense to try to figure out what that purpose is and to try to pursue it. After all, if God gave us a purpose, it’s something that will be good for us. This is not to say that God has planned out all the details of our lives or even that God has one and only one career that we should choose. God can work in our lives in a variety of circumstances. We can work with God to accomplish our purpose in a variety of ways. Being open to God gives us the opportunity to discern our purpose and thrive.
Believing some things really does make a difference in our lives, but I am almost reluctant to use the word “believe” to describe this activity. “Believe” has become a word that only applies to thinking, something that happens in our brains and only there. There seems almost to be a hard line between believing and doing, and I don’t think that is helpful when we talk about our relationship with God. We don’t just believe in God; we also believe God. We believe God loves us. We believe God has a purpose for us. We believe Jesus died for us. These are not just abstract, intellectual facts. They are about a relationship, a life-changing relationship with the King of the Universe.
Maybe we should use the word “trust” instead of – or at least in addition to – “believe.” “Trust” implies a relationship. Trust also implies commitment and perhaps even action. If you trust someone, you’ll take their advice, you’ll do what they say, you’ll act on their words and rely on their promises. When we talked about believing in God in confirmation class recently, one of the students noted that it is more than just knowing something about God like we know about the planets in the solar system. It is more like knowing someone who is there to help us. I say, “Amen” to that.
We can trust God. God has our best interests at heart. Even the commandments are based on trusting God who acts out of love for us. Remember that the Ten Commandments start with the words, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt… (Exodus 20:1). How do we know that these commandments should be followed? Because God is more powerful than we are? Because God is smarter than we are? Because God has already shown us that He loves us and can be trusted? God is more powerful and smarter than we are, but the reason God provides for following the commandments is that He loves us. We can trust the LORD our God because He brought us out of slavery in Egypt. We can trust Jesus our Lord because He delivered us from sin and death by dying on the cross for us.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe. We can easily outsmart ourselves and get caught up in arguments to which we can never know the answers. But we can also trust the God who loves us. That is the most stable ground on which we can stand.
In the movie Patriot Games, Harrison Ford plays Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who is trying to find terrorists in a camp in Libya by looking at satellite photos. He agonizes over whether he has identified the correct camp, flipping back and forth between slides, searching for enough evidence. But he just can’t be 100% sure. The CIA Director asks him, “Jack, are you 100% sure about anything?” Harrison Ford answers, “My daughter’s love.”
We cannot be certain about many things in our lives. Facts can be distorted and our perceptions can be misleading. But there is one thing that we can be 100% sure about. There is one thing that we can trust even when everything is difficult to believe. We can trust God and the Father’s love for us.