"A great many people think they are thinking when they are
merely rearranging their prejudices." - William James
More Thoughts on Belief
How the word "belief" is used in the Gospels
Overwhelmingly in the
gospels the words "believe" and "belief" are used by Jesus, not
so much by others and not much in the narrative of the gospel writer or
A serious mistake I
have made in the past is thinking that, when a gospel writer says a
person, group or crowd believed, the writer was using the word the same
way and, meaning the same thing that Jesus meant.
Or even worse on my part
that they believed the essential truth or that they believed who Jesus
really was, believed in him as the ultimate spokesman for God and were
now prepared to listen to him and accept what he would reveal to them.
Maybe this was out of wishful thinking, rooting and cheering for the
good side to win, but the acceptance of this equation or meaning is another
So, two questions that
should always be asked when coming across the word "believed" are:
1) "Believed what?" and
2) "How is this different
from what they should have believed?"
There is one other very
salient piece of information that is needed to put things into the
proper framework. In Koine Greek, the word translated "faith" is the
same word for "belief". If the speaker or writer of the word meant some
nuanced difference, one must pick that up from the context, or in some
other facet of implication.
To put things into the
perspective that Jesus had late in his time on earth, we can read his
rhetorical question in Luke 18:8, "Nevertheless, when the son of man
passes, will he find belief on earth? Obviously not!" Now, don't fault
me for supplying the words, "Obviously not!" The negative is
ALWAYS implied in
this particular Greek structure, and even though I am unaware of a single
published translation that does anything but leave the embedded
sentiment out, there should be no question that
this is what is meant.
Thus, when Jesus was
nearing the end of his ministry he did NOT expect to find adequate
belief. No wonder he called the disciples "puny-faiths", or referred to
them as, "Ye of little belief." No wonder things did NOT progress in the
right direction after he left. No wonder his most extravagant statements
about belief seemingly have to be taken as symbolic or metaphorical.
Obviously, in his life on earth he did NOT engender the kind of belief
for which he was looking. This suggests why he said, "Narrow is the way
and few there are that find it." He did NOT say this to discourage us,
but merely as an observation. Of course, the "narrow way" has the
criteria of being rational, logical, reasonable and good, free from
darkness, confusion and mysticism, and above all consonant with the
ideal. That is what is so narrow and hard about it!
Let's look at one
example. After the incident with the woman at the well, we have the
Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them, and so he stayed for two
days. John 4:41, 42. "And many more believed because of his word. They
said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of your words that we
believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that he is indeed
the Savior of the world.'"
OK, they believed that he was the savior of the world, but THAT IS NOT
ENOUGH! They needed to see that this was God, that this was what God
WAS/IS/ALWAYS WILL BE! A human being! Of course, one empowered, one of wisdom, maturity, and grace, but a
HUMAN. Not different, nor separate. This idea of separateness is the
Devil, the original lie that separates us as being different, lower than