I grew up in a family that didn’t believe in God. But we weren’t atheists. That’s not what I mean by the word “believe.” We simply never talked or thought about God. If we had talked about God, I imagine all of us would have said there was such a thing as God. I know I would have.
But, again, God never came up. Instead we rode our horses on Saturdays and Sundays (Boy, was that fun. I remember going to worship twice. Boy, that was not fun) and the rest of the week my mom and dad worked, we went to school, played, tried to avoid chores and homework, and paid less attention to God than the air we breathed. Is that what it means to believe?
Craig Groeschel, the pastor of the church (Lifechurch.tv) my oldest daughter is involved in, explores that very question in his book “The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.” Today we’ll ask the same question: what does it mean to believe?
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
2 Chronicles 17-18:34
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
2 Chronicles 17-18:34: Ahab asks 400 prophets if he should go to war. Somehow Jehosaphat knows they are not telling the truth but only saying what Ahab wants them to say. Michiah says he will only say what God tells him and then, presumably in fear for his life, backs down and says what Ahab wants to hear. But Ahab knows he is lying.
Most of the time we know the hard truths God wants us to live by. We just hope others will tell us the opposite in order to ease our minds.
Proverbs 20:2-3: In the time the book of Proverbs was written–and more so–the time in which proverbs were developed–few people were able to read or write. It was a time of oral communication. Therefore, these “wisdom sayings” that were to be applied to everyday life, were formulated in such a way that those who were not literate could memorize them and readily use them. They were to be carried in our minds and hearts constantly.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Is believing in God more than intellectual assent? More than knowing certain ideas about God? Paul, in this section of his letter to the believers in Rome, seems to indicate so. “For it is with your heart you believe and are justified,” he writes.
Yes, intellectually understanding that Jesus was crucified, dead, buried and resurrected is an essential ingredient to belief. But Paul says that we believe this information with more than our minds. Our hearts are crucial.
In Paul’s day reference to the heart, however, did not indicate emotions only. “Follow your heart,” we say today. By which we mean, “Follow your gut feelings. Don’t let your mind talk you out of it.”
Heart meant center. The center of ancient Greek cities was called the cardia, the heart. The Cardia is where people gathered, where the theater, the temple, the market, the government, and the businesses were located. All life emanated from this center.
Thus, Paul expects belief in Jesus to emanate from the center of each of us. The heart in this ancient understanding then is the place where intellect, emotion, and volition combine. Paul thinks belief in Jesus comes from, and moreover impacts, a combination of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Like the cardia in those ancient cities, our heart belief in Jesus should influence our relationships, entertainment, spirituality, shopping, politics, and work.
Sadly modern belief in God is largely relegated to intellectual assent. Around 90% of Americans say they believe in God, which means, like the family of my childhood, they think there is such a thing as God. But this idea of a God has little significance in life.
This anemic definition of “belief” is not restricted to God, however. People say they “believe” in UFOs, ghosts, chocolate, and life after death. Yet, for most, these beliefs change nothing, unless you glimpse a strange light in the sky, are alone in a dark, creaking house, or live next to a Chocolate Factory. But God is more than a ghost or ticket to the afterlife.
I must confess I often exist as if God doesn’t. And it’s my job to believe. Still I worry, thinking it (whatever it is) all depends on me; fear too often rules my mind and heart; I can spend an entire day and rarely let the thought of Jesus cross my mind. Yet, I yearn for a relationship with Jesus that is as real as I have with my wife, children, and friends. By God’s grace that kind of belief/relationship does come. When it does, it is because my whole self believes: mind, heart, and soul. In these times, Jesus ceases to be an idea to think about, or a historical figure to argue over, and becomes One living in me and walking alongside me. Then my worries and fears flea. And I find myself, like some crazy man, talking to Someone no one else can see. And I smile, because suddenly I know I believe.
- Have you ever acted like a Christian Atheist? If so how?
- How do these four reading connect?
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