One thing about Christianity that struck me as odd, even as a child ,is the notion of how important belief is. I could never understand why G-d was more interested in me believing than anything else. Why is belief a virtue? The way I was taught Christianity it didn't matter what you did. What mattered was what you believed. Belief was taken to mean the acceptance of certain facts. The harder the facts were to accept, the greater the belief (or faith). Belief that the Old Testament bible stories were literally true. Belief that Jesus was born of a virgin. Belief that Jesus was killed and rose again. If you were to be "saved" you had to wrap your head around these things. That's easy when you're a child. It gets harder as you become an adult. I was told that no other religion had this requirement. Christians would say with great pride the thing that separated their religion from others was it was not what you do that matters but what you believe. Not one to just take things at face value, I always wondered "Why?" Why would G-d set things up this way? On the surface, and as it was presented to me, salvation was rather easy in Christianity. Other religions made you work hard. You had to live up to a standard. (BTW, that standard was impossible to live up to according to what I was taught. ) So, trying to achieve "salvation" without belief was like running on a treadmill trying to reach the finish line in a race. Christianity didn't require you to do anything. Oh wait. Not do anything except "believe", maybe the hardest thing to do at all. How does one force oneself to believe something? You can't. I was told as long as I held on to this belief I was safe. But, the moment I let it go, I was doomed. Oh I know, they told me "once saved always saved". They told me you really don't have to do anything except.... However there was an exception to this rule. If I ever let go of this belief, obviously I had never really been saved. My favorite prayer and my favorite passage of the Bible, one verse I could always quote without hesitation was "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9:24). I tried, I tried hard to believe.
It's clear in the New Testament that Jesus put great value on "belief". Right? I mean He blasted people for their lack of faith. Once again, what may appear to be so clear to those who think their Bible was written in English by the hand of God is not so clear when we start looking at the original language. We have what has become a poorly translated word that has caused us modern people a great deal of confusion and many of us a great deal of suffering. The word translated as "faith" in the New Testament, is the Greek word pistis. Pistis is better translated as "trust", loyalty, engagement or commitment. When Yeshua was asking people to believe, He was not asking them to believe in a set of claims. He certainly wasn't asking them to believe in His divinity. He was asking for commitment.- commitment to a way of life. Commitment to way of looking at life and their fellow humans. He was asking for people to set aside the cares of this world and focus on what is truly important. He was looking for people who would spread the good news, who would live lives of unbridled compassion, who would love everyone (even tax collectors and other sinners). This is the pistis he was talking about that could move mountains. Not a belief that by having enough "faith", we could magically move the mountain. But, that people with such commitment living out that commitment could accomplish anything they set their minds to.
When the New Testament was translated from Greek into Latin, the word pistis (the noun) became fides (or loyalty). Saint Jerome used the Latin verb credo that was derived from cor do "I give my heart". He could have used opinor "I hold an opinion". But, he did not. When the Bible was translated into English credo (the verb) and pisteuo became "I believe". Actually this was not a bad translation-at the time. In 1611, the word "believe" meant something different than it means today. In Middle English to bileven meant to prize; to value; to hold dear, related to the German belieben (to love). So, belief meant loyalty to a person, binding oneself to that person or holding that person dear. Many people think (and I was taught) that Yeshua did miracles to prove His divinity. But, as Karen Armstrong points out in her book The Case for God, many people did miracles and no one ever claimed they were divine. People we are familiar with, Moses, Elijah, etc. did miracles. Contemporaries of Yeshua like Honi the Circle Drawer (brought the end to a drought) and many others performed all kinds of miracles, including miraculous healings. Yeshua did not perform miracles so that people would believe He was divine. I believe He performed the miracles to point to the power of G-d, the power available to anyone with the faith (dedication, commitment, love) to tap into that power.
Over the centuries, mankind has bounced back and forth between two extremes. There are periods of time where we acknowledge the mystery of G-d and in which philosophers, theologians and mystics have said you can say nothing about G-d. During those times they have even gone so far as to say G-d does not exist, G-d is a nothing (no-thing), G-d is not a being. These were not atheists saying this, but believers who realized that G-d is beyond all conception, that G-d is beyond description and that, in fact G-d is beyond existence. G-d has been called the "Ground of Being". They made it clear that G-d is not a being and to think so is the beginning of idolatry. But, people cannot be satisfied with saying nothing about G-d. So, we use language, we use symbols. That's OK. That's what we do. It's in our nature to seek to try to understand. The problem comes when we think we've got G-d in a box. When we think we have G-d "defined" we are putting limits on the limitless. Then, the theist thinks he has G-d all figured out. But, in reality what he has done is he has created an idol. This idol some people realize is just that. It's too small. It's merely a projection of humankind- bigger perhaps. Smarter- yes. Maybe even better. But, it's just another being among many beings in the created universe. The agnostic challenges the theist "Show me this god of yours." The theist confidently replies "There he is" and the agnostic becomes an atheist.
In a universe as wonderful and confusing as our own, how could we possibly hope to show someone G-d? If I say show me yourself? To what do you point? Are you your body? Most people would say I am not my body. My body is made up of completely different material than it was just 7 years ago. So, if I am the little boy I was at 10 or even the man I was at 40, it's not because of the atoms that make up my body. Are you your memories? If you are struck with Alzheimers or amnesia you don't cease to exist. Just a few decades ago people thought they had the nature of the universe all figured out. Atoms were these hard solid objects that combined together to make everything. Now we're finding out the material universe is mysteriously made, consisting mostly of space and infinite possibilities. Nothing is solid, even though it appears to be solid. Light- is it a particle or a wave? Yes. Light behaves like a stream of particles and like a continuous wave, depending on how you look at it. If we can't figure out exactly who we are and exactly how our material universe operates, what makes us think we can clearly define G-d? When the theist attempts to answer the agnostics questions, he is doing the best he can using a finger to point to the moon. But, the finger is not the moon.
Over the decades, my beliefs have changed. In a sense, I guess I believe less than I ever have. I don't take the Old Testament Bible stories literally anymore. No talking snakes in the Garden for me. I doubt Jesus was born of a virgin. If you asked me now if G-d even exists, I'd answer "Not in the way we think of existence.". But, my faith has grown stronger. I have more confidence than ever in what G-d is and that G-d binds us all together. I have confidence that G-d will never leave nor forsake me, G-d cannot because I am made of G-dstuff. When I go to look for G-d now, I don't look for a being outside myself, I get still and look for a spirit within myself. Christians say all the time that G-d is spirit. But, in truth, most don't believe it. I confess I still have the remnants of that idol . I still picture G-d as a old white guy sitting on a throne unless I consciously reject it.
Jesus was asked by His disciples to show them the Father (G-d). Jesus replied with this:
John 14: 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
If there had been atheists around during the time of Jesus, I can imagine this conversation taking place.
Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people. An atheist in the crowd interrupted him. "Jesus, I say to you this God of yours does not exist." Jesus answered him "You have spoken well my friend. The mysteries of the Kingdom have been revealed to you. Now, go and serve G-d."