Thursday, 6 July 2017

Lord, I believe...

‘Belief’ is obviously very important when it comes to faith.  We even use it as a sort of code for whether a person sits comfortably in our church communities saying he or she is ‘a person of belief’.  Yet I suspect if you analysed an average congregation you’d find a multitude of ‘beliefs’.

Some ecclesiastical traditions ask us to affirm our beliefs weekly by bundling them into the creeds which nearly always begin with the phrase. ‘I believe…’.

This week I’ve been struck by Sir John Chilcot’s ‘revelation’ that he considers Mr Blair based much of his decision making leading up to the invasion of Iraq more on a deeply personal ‘belief’ that this was right rather than a conviction backed up by hard evidence.  Intense ‘feelings’ that such actions were right have since been proved inadequate for neither did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction and nor was all out war the last resort option open to the West.  Chilcot makes for uncomfortable reading as it ultimately concludes that just because you passionately believe something is right – if there is insufficient evidence to back up your ‘feelings', however intense – your decisions, based on such subjectivity, are almost certainly wrong.

Andrew Marr, in his Monday morning radio show also considered this question of belief.  One of his guests was the scientist Richard Dawkins – not the best loved of academics in the eyes of The Church!  Dawkins made the very reasonable point that Darwinism and Natural Selection is a beautiful theory and pretty much the very best explanation we have for how life has developed on earth.  Of course, it cuts across Creationism and that is a problem for some Christians and some in other faiths, including Islam. 

So how does a modern-day disciple view Genesis 1 and 2 today?  Well, many of us have never really seen it as a scientific account but a poetic one.  It doesn’t intend to tell us how life began in a ‘matter of fact’ way, rather it celebrates the gift of life using images and painting word pictures.  It’s a song rather than a thesis!

Of course there are so many different kinds of belief.  We Christians hold on to a sort of tension when it comes to belief.  Many of us value ‘reason’ and want to read our scriptures with our minds as well as our hearts.  That means we want to put the words of The Bible in their historic context and understand the type, or genre of literature they represent.

Personally I can no longer really agree with the Reformation dictum ‘Sola Scripture’ – if by that we mean that our faith is entirely influenced and defined by scripture alone.

For me I have to put ‘experience’ into the frame as well.  It’s through countless ‘experiences’ in life that my faith is honed, tested and constantly redefined.  Of course, the bible remains a vital guide, but alongside that I believe in the ‘continuous revelation’ that comes through reason, discussion, and the hard knocks of life.

Yet, I willingly acknowledge that ‘belief’ is also about holding on to mystery, beauty and hope.  Maybe some will think I’m contradicting myself, but I want to hold a creative and, at times uncomfortable, tension between the mind and the heart.

For me that means I still ‘feel’ deeply moved by that verse etched into the walls of a concentration camp over seventy years ago:

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining.
And I believe in love,
even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent.

The words of a character from a gospel bible story still ring true in my ears - I hear them in the King James version we used in Sunday School!

'Lord, I do believe, help thou my unbelief.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speaking of Sin

Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a...