Recently, I was asked to write about the four core beliefs that are at the core of both my book and, in my opinion, the bedrock of Christian living. The question was, how can these beliefs help readers navigate through life? Here’s my answer.
To restate them, they are:
- God is good – loving and gracious who only wants the best for us.
- God communicates with us through his presence within us and around us.
- Love is our primary calling as human beings – love of God, our neighbors and ourselves.
- We should always choose life over death, living fully with as much joy as possible, whatever the circumstances.
From my perspective, these are not dogmatic statements that we intellectually assent to, but conclusions based on the experience each of us has accrued in living our life. This is a critical point. They are not items of blind faith but the essence of what our experience teaches us. Still, they are statements of faith in the original sense of the Gospels, written in the original Greek. In those Gospels, the Greek word that we translate as faith, is “pistis”. It means to “know what is going to happen”. This meaning thus shifts the focus to something we “know” to be true, in some sense.
How do we know the truth? Well, when we are convinced by the weight of our experience.
How do we get that experience? – we certainly aren’t going to get it by avoiding involvement in life, by only doing things and making choices that we feel safe about.
This is where Statement number 2 comes in to play – communication with God is important. This is how we build up our faith. Many years ago, as a pastor, people would ask me, “Why do we pray? What purpose does it serve? These were tough questions. All I could say at the time was that praying was something Jesus told us to do and that somehow, for some reason, we were supposed to ask for things, even when we realized we usually don’t know what’s good for us.
I now have a more informative answer to that question. The reason we pray is to build up a body of personal experience that tells us two things.
The first thing it tell us is, in making specific requests of God and then seeing what happens, we are taught that If what we ask for isn’t going to be bad for us or for other people, God, in his own way and a his own time, gives us what we ask for. Each such “transaction” tells us something about the nature of God and our own nature. That lesson is belief number 1 – God is good and he only wants what’s good for us. In other words, prayer is a “confidence-building process” (to use the diplomatic term) that builds up faith in belief number 1.
The other thing that the prayer process teaches us is that we don’t know what is good for us. Everything we ask for (and get), upon reflection, leads us to understand our severe limitations as humans in knowing what is good for us. We finally, get to the point where we pray more generally, in the words of Jesus, “Give us our daily bread” give us what you know we need on a “here and now” basis.
What is this “daily bread” we need? The wisdom to know the right thing to do and the power to do it. This overcomes our human design limitations in wisdom and strength by supplementing our human inadequacies with help from God in those areas in which we are found wanting. This is a potent de-stressor of life. It leads us to posture of peace and confidence to go forward into the uncertainties of life.
What about belief number 3 – Love is our primary calling as human beings? As we surrender our human willfulness and “sync up with God” we find something happening. When we are “synced up” we are born with a sensor that tells us that we are in sync – the feeling of joy. In a sense, we are learning to intimately relate to God, to love him. We also discover that, when we are “synced up”, many words and deeds he helps us understand and effectively carry out, facilitate our ability to love our neighbor. In addition, the words and deeds regarding experiences with other people relate directly to ourselves. In teaching us to be righteous, we learn who we are. This process is also teaching us to love ourselves.
We find ourselves growing more spontaneously loving each day.
So, if we follow this process, as taught by Jesus, we overcome our human limitations that, if left unchecked, cause much misery in us and in the world. We also discover we grow more loving, day by day, and our life becomes one of almost continual joy. What a great outcome!
There’s only one big thing that stands in our way – despair. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness we experience if we wander around blindly on our own, in isolation from all that gives us life and sustains it.
This is why belief number 4 is so critical. Never let despair lead you to either active suicide or passive suicide (just giving up and going limp). Otherwise, those choices prevent you from experiencing all the good things God has in store for you that you cannot see for yourself because of your human limitations. You have to use a bit of discipline here. You have to endure some suffering. The word “suffer”, in its original meaning meant “to permit”, to allow”. Suffering is not noble. It is just a conscious, disciplined choice to not close out future good possibilities you cannot presently see, as you wallow in your current misery. From my perspective, the only purpose for enduring suffering is to keep you alive until you break through into future good possibilities you hadn’t foreseen. Choosing death (either spiritual or actual) is the one certain way to make sure you will never experience those good future possibilities.