“Tell me why I should believe in God,” he said to me. It was actually a conversation over facebook chat.
“Tell me why I should believe in God.”
I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I grew up going to church. I’ve been to seminary. I’m trained to be a Presbyterian minister. I read books about God, Jesus, faith—I’ve read and own hundreds of them. Literally. My understanding of who God is and therefore who that tells me I am is probably the most foundational piece of my life. It’s not an insignificant part of who I am.
He knows all that. Which is why it was somewhat surprising to him when my response was “I’m not sure that I want to tell you that you should believe in God…”
I worry because I’m sure there are those for whom my statement will seem the utmost in blasphemy. You are supposed to be fit for ministry and you are not willing or able to tell someone why he should believe in God?!
My hesitancy does make me worry that I’m a heretic. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Not because I’m trying to be risky or edgy or cool. Not because I think knowing God is insignificant. In fact, there’s nothing I’d like more than for my friend to be able to know God. I’m just not sure believing in God is the way to get there.
I think the problem, for me, with the idea of believing in God, is that it has gotten so much baggage built up around it over the years. It brings images of the street-corner preacher beating someone into submission. Perhaps it’s unfair to associate believing in God with these negative manifestations of how that has been skewed.
But aside from that, believing in God makes it sound like it is something that I do, that I will into reality, that I make happen. I’m just not so sure that is the case.
So, what would I prefer for my friend? I would prefer that he know God.
In Spanish there are two words for know—conocer and saber. It is saber that one uses when knowing facts, details, or information about something. It is conocer that one uses when knowing a person, when having a relationship, when being familiar with another.
I’m afraid our knowing of God in the church today has focused overly on the saber aspects of knowing God—which are not bad in and of themselves. But this is only knowing about God. I think what we lack is the conocer type of knowing—the knowing God. We are so full of the knowing about that perhaps we think that we do know God.
Perhaps we don’t even realize that there is a difference between knowing about and knowing. But anyone who has been in a dating relationship knows the distinction between gathering facts about the other, versus truly knowing the other as a human being.
Knowing about may be a good beginning, but if the relationship goes on for too long simply at the level of knowing about, it will lack the vulnerability and the intimacy that it needs in order to deepen and blossom. Knowing about leaves us cut off from the deeper connection that we seek.
“Tell me why I should believe in God” elicits images of a list of facts or details or characteristics that would then somehow add up to be enough to overcome doubt and disbelief and tip the scales in the direction of belief. Perhaps that works for some people. It does not work for me.
The thing is, it is much easier to come up with a list of facts to memorize, data to learn, than to begin to explain what it might mean to know God.
It is also easier to know when you’ve accomplished your goal. Did you commit to memory the entire list of data about God? Or, did you recite the formula that will assure you that you have performed the right steps to prove your belief in God? It is like a to-do list that you can check off after having performed the necessary steps.
But to know God, rather than to know about God, is both more complex but also much richer and ultimately more fulfilling.
So, then, how does one not just know about God, but truly learn to know God?
I wish that I could give you ten easy steps. I wish that I could tell my friend what he needs to do to know God. I’m not sure that I can do that. Actually, to be more accurate, I’m not sure that I want to do that.
Perhaps denying the temptation to convince is actually a part of the telling…