“I really don’t have faith in anything. Sure I believe things are true, but only if it makes sense to me. And if they can be proven to me. All this heaven and hell stuff cannot be proven so do not waste your time in talking about it. “
A good number of years ago I was training at a local inpatient treatment center with a chaplain who was instrumental in my personal alcoholism treatment. The chaplain, who liked to be called Buzz, had the ability to get people to challenge their own beliefs by reflecting back to the person what he heard them say. (By the way, that is now part of an evidence-based practice in the forefront of treatment today called Motivational Interviewing).
Part of the ongoing assessment included me asking the patients about their relationship with God as a way to identify a possible strength for their recovery. The quote above came after a patient, let’s call him Fred, asked me what I believed and so I shared my faith in Jesus as my Savior. (Yes, that was still permitted back then.)
Now to be honest I do not remember the whole conversation we had, but one part did stick with me. At one point I asked Fred, “What happens if you are wrong?” And it went something like this:
Fred: What do you mean if I am wrong?
ME: If your life ends, and suddenly you find out that there is God and heaven and hell.
Fred: I guess I will just be wrong then. But what if you are wrong?
ME: If I am wrong, then there is just nothing. If you are wrong, then there could be an issue for you.
Fred: Yea, maybe, but if you are wrong then you wasted your whole life. I mean look at all the things you cannot do. That is a waste.
ME: You believe living your life the way you want, making the choices you want and ending up in a treatment center are all part of a good life.
Fred: How can you say that. After all, you said you are an alcoholic and even went through this same place. Where did God get you?
ME: Can I tell you something? You are pretty insightful to pick up on that. I believe in God and still through my own selfish choices I messed up. He gave me the strength to start my recovery and since then I have done whatever I can to thank him for not only for my recovery, but also for his willingness to send his son Jesus to die for all my sins, or character defects as you call them.
Fred: So now you want me to just ignore my own ability to be insightful–your words remember–and believe just because you say I should?
ME: For you to accept that there is another possible outcome when you die, you need a more reliable source of information than me.
Fred: Yea, that is right. You just work here and you say what you are told to say.
ME: Since I work here, it makes sense to you that I am just repeating a line that I am told to share. But it also makes sense to you that there could be other beliefs than yours and you are willing to consider them depending on the source. So how about if we start there next time?
Fred: Fine, but you better be ready. I am a hard man to convince!
Wouldn’t my story have a wonderful ending if I met with this fellow a few more times and he came to believe in Jesus as his Savior? Unfortunately, when I went to Fred’s room to escort him to our next session I was told he had gone AWOL and was never heard from again.
I do not have a good ending to share. I wonder what direction I should take in this post. I could explore the whole practice of Motivational Interviewing and how to look for change talk which means that a person may be willing to listen to another point of view. So now you want me to just ignore my own ability to be insightful–your words remember–and believe just because you say I should? That was a small opening but it worked.
Or I could explore how some people base their beliefs on seeking out someone who agrees with them. This someone could be a warm, living body or encased in the electronic form of the Internet. Wherever agreement is found, it is then proof that the belief is valid and it becomes their own.
But as I think of Fred in the treatment center, I wonder now what I would have shared with him had he not run away. He was looking for more than just my word about the reality of Jesus and what he did for all people. What would I have shared with him? The bottom line–why do I believe in the Gospel message?
I could have shared that I was raised from birth being told and learning that Jesus is my Savior. I attended schools from kindergarten through college where I heard hundreds of other students talking about their faith. Is that why I believe? It is a part.
Or maybe I would have shared about all the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled during his life here on earth. I read that the probability of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of the prophecies from the Old Testament about him is 1 in 10 with twenty-seven zeros behind it.(Goodnewsdispatch.org) Surely a person, like Fred, who needs something to be proven to him would have been impressed by those numbers. Is that why I believe? Again, only a part of the answer.
I believe because I have faith. Faith that did not form because Jesus made sense to me. Faith that was not a product of what others told me. Faith that did not result from a fear that I might someday stand in front of a judging God.
Rather, it is a faith that began to burn through hearing the wonderful message of the plan that God laid out before time began. That plan took into account that I and all humans, are sinful and thus could never reach heaven. So he sent Jesus to live a perfect life I could not and then die to pay for all my sins.
Without my hearing the Word, my faith would not have been possible. 2 Corinthians says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (Hmmm sounds like someone I once met.) However, without the Word the Gospel was foolishness to me also.
Without continuing hearing of the Word, my faith cannot grow, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Romans 10:17. I need to be in constant contact with the Word so as I face the challenges of my recovery and life, I grow closer to the strength I have available to me in Jesus as my faith grows.
I do not know if Fred would have believed me about Jesus and faith. What I do know is that I need to always be ready to share about what I know the Bible tells me about my Savior. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15. There are a lot of Freds in this world.
I can believe a lot of things in this world. To be honest, beliefs can change depending on our feelings, our circumstances, and the people with whom we associate. Usually changing beliefs work well for us. But for me one belief cannot change–that Jesus is my Savior. And with that fact, with that belief, all will be well. And that is what I believe, no, what I know is true.
Please come back. I will wait you.