Hollywood movie critics often speak about this or that movie making it possible for an audience to “suspend disbelief” long enough to enjoy or be entertained by the story in a movie.
One of the best examples of this ability to “suspend disbelief” is the recent movie called “The Life of Pi.” This movie is about a boy who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck that costs the boy his family and the crew. The movie is the now grown man telling how he survived the shipwreck and the long time adrift in a lifeboat with only a few animals as companions, not the least of which is a full grown Bengal tiger. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen the movie, but let’s just say the story is incredible and the unexpected twist in the story at the end sheds even more light on our ability to “suspend disbelief” when it comes to a good story.
But isn’t that true of our real lives as well. We are asked to believe some incredible things, especially as Christians. Things we can’t necessarily see or touch. There is something special about the ability to believe. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that to believe is stronger than to know because once I absolutely “know” something, it becomes this small bit of data tucked away in my brain that I can access when I need it. But my belief is always a country not yet fully explored that fills my heart with wonder and hope and amazing realities yet to be embraced and discovered. My belief fills me with wonder and hope and joy.
To say “I believe” is to have the ability to embrace eternal hope of a never ending relationship.
Believing is no small thing, but a lack of belief, well, that creates a whole set of challenges to a person.
Take for example the village where Jesus grew up as a boy. In today’s Gospel Lesson Jesus is back in His hometown and He is doing what He has been doing since His ministry started after His baptism by St. John the Forerunner at the Jordan River; He is teaching. Look what it says: “At that time, Jesus came to his own country, and taught the people in their synagogue so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Matthew 13:54-58
He did not do many mighty works there, BECAUSE of their unbelief. Wow, what an indictment. Here these folks have the Son of God in their midst and they have lost or they have forfeited their ability to dare to believe because of their familiarity with the Lord’s extended family. What an opportunity missed! What a potential joy abandoned all because they could not believe that one of their own had broken the bonds of the mundane existence they felt trapped within, to reveal their true potential to them by His mighty works. How terrible to remain in a prison of disbelief, especially when that prison is self-imposed! Hell is locked from the inside!
But please notice some significant revelations here.
First, the scripture says He “did not do,” not “He could not do” mighty works there. The miracles of God could have been done in spite of their disbelief. Their disbelief didn’t render Jesus powerless anymore than modern disbelief in God makes God disappear! No, He, out of His freedom, know any mighty works would not only be lost on these dear people but the mighty works themselves would serve only to heighten the condemnation of these people the Lord loved! His mighty works in their midst would fall on unbelieving hearts and would only compound their judgement for rejecting Him. So, out of His love for them He did not do mighty works.
Second, the scripture reveals the dangers of assumptions. There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” In this case that saying was all too true. There is something dangerous about a disbelieving heart because it assumes too much in any relationship. At the center of a disbelieving heart is a dark self-love that sees all relationships as only serving to meet the needs of that very dark heart. Everything and everyone is to be owned and consumed by the heart that won’t believe. You see, the ability to believe requires a freedom from self-centeredness that unbelief cannot dare to have. In an unbelieving heart, it is the center of the universe, not God. No, God has to be brought down to their level; never are they ever going to believe they must ascend to be with God.
Today, do you believe? Is your heart a believing heart? If it is it is free of the sickness of selfishness thinking that grips every unbelieving heart. Do you dare to relinquish the slave notion of you being the center of the universe, and allow the true nature of the awe-inspired love of God to set you free to believe? Dare to believe and anything, even your own salvation, is possible.
Today, believe and be free.