Rector's Blog: Why I Believe in Jesus for Now
Why do I believe in Jesus though?
Last week I wrote about believing in God even though terrible things happen. But why do I believe in God? Why do I believe in Jesus? Why am I even a Christian? We live in a time where belief in God is not a given, and being Christian does not feel like good news to many people. So I do not take belief in God for granted, even though I’m a priest. And if you’re a Christian, I encourage you to reflect on what makes you say you believe.
Today I want to talk a little about why I believe in Jesus. I want to be clear that this is not an exhaustive list or systematic argument. I’m just going to list three things that are true about my experience of Jesus, with the knowledge that what I write will be wildly incomplete, and may not be persuasive. I am not trying to convince you of anything. But I do believe in Jesus, and sometimes I feel like I owe people an explanation for that. So here we are.
I want to begin with the easiest, most obvious, truth about my belief in Jesus – and it’s also the one that is the easiest to dismiss. I was raised Christian. My parents were Christians who baptized me as an infant and raised me in a church community. I don’t remember a time in my life when God wasn’t part of the equation. And I don’t remember a time when I took seriously the possibility of being another religion.
I think it’s better to be honest about that. I know saying it out loud opens me up to the observation that if I’d been raised Muslim I’d be a Muslim, if I’d been raised Sikh I’d be Sikh, if I’d been raised Jewish I’d be Jewish, and so on. And that is very likely. It would be really impressive if I could say I studied every single religion in depth and then chose Christianity, but that is not what happened. I did not choose Christianity. I did not find Jesus. Christianity chose me. Jesus found me. This is indefensible, and I believe it. Jesus found me.
This, by the way, is called indoctrination. I would like to write more about indoctrination in the future – I think it is misunderstood and gets a bad rap. But for now I’ll just say, I don’t believe it’s possible not to indoctrinate our children. The question is into what shall we indoctrinate them? I am choosing love. Specifically, I am choosing the magnificent, faithful, gracious, sacrificial love of God that I see present in Jesus.
If I was ever going to be anything other than Christian, I would have been an atheist. For much of my life I have been tempted by atheism. Because many times God seems so implausible. But instead of ever really being an atheist, I keep believing in Jesus, and here’s the second thing that is true about that:
I believe in Jesus because I have had mystical experiences that have persuaded me to believe in Jesus. I have had moments of divine revelation, of unmitigated awe, of hearing the voice and sensing the utter presence of God. This is not something that happens to me all the time, and it is not something I can conjure or control. But it happens enough, and in such unavoidable ways, and always centered on Jesus somehow that I keep believing.
Please notice I’m not just describing these mystical experiences as “unexplainable” – people do that sometime, chalk the Divine up to unexplainable things. But that word is used to suggest an emptiness, a lack – “I cannot explain so I choose to believe”. Which means belief is what you do when nothing else works.
But the experiences I have had of God were not made of emptiness or lack. They were some of the most pregnant moments of my life, moments of deep peace and conviction. Moments that managed both to transcend while being perfectly real and present and digestible. It’s not that I did not understand them so I called them divine – it’s that I understood them innately and called them divine as if that was always their name. This too is indefensible, and you may dismiss it without offending me. But I believe it.
And the third thing that is true about my belief in God is this: I keep believing in Jesus because of what happens when I keep believing.
I believe in Jesus because in Christian Scriptures it says that God is Love, and when I act as if God is Love, I experience more joy. Jesus says loving God and my neighbor is the fulfillment of every commandment. And when I seek to love like that, I have more peace.
I do not mean to say my life gets easier. Let’s get rid of that notion right away. Belief in God does not make your life easier, more profitable, or more prosperous, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. As fortunate as I am in so many respects, this often has to do more with the circumstances of my birth than as a reward for any of my beliefs or actions. In fact, believing in Jesus doesn’t make things easier. There’s a lot of friction in it. But at the same time – however paradoxical this sounds – seeking to follow Jesus in the way of love is how I know peace.
When it comes down to it, of all the things that I tend towards believing in my whole little life, there is nothing that seems as real or plausible or powerfully true as Jesus. Jesus is God, who joined humanity eternally and embodied love in the flesh, living and dying in solidarity with us, and then was raised from the dead in a way that means we are all raised up forever into endless lives of love and healing. I believe every bit of that even when I don’t know how or why.
Jesus. Everything else just seems like noise to me, if I’m honest. Everything else is either a supporting detail or a tempting distraction And that includes my own religion, my own denomination, my own job, the Bible, theology – all of it is secondary to Jesus who somehow makes more sense to me than anything whether I want him to or not. The bare fact of God’s magnificent Love as personified in Jesus is the truest thing I know. And on the days I believe that, my whole world has more color and shape, more flavor and intensity, more vulnerability and tenderness.
So for now I will keep believing. I have tried not believing. It did not take. God told me otherwise. That was one of the first times I remember God’s voice. God said to me, “You believe in me,” and it was not a command, but an observation. God was just telling the truth. Who was I to disagree?
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