There’s a prevailing notion that the mere granting of mental assent is believing. But is that really true?
Does simply saying you think something is true mean you truly believe it? I know we live in a society that likes to reduce life to “manageable” sizes. We want to reduce achievement to “imagine the possibilities.” We want “positive thinking” to replace the hard work of following through. We want the mere good intentions we hold in our hearts to be enough without actually having to get our hands dirty in the hard work of ministry. After all, “I meant well!”
But when does this minimalism get so bad that it actually puts the lie to our insistence that we really do believe? When does a healthy dose of reality and honesty bring us to the difficult but necessary place of waking up to the reality of our own spiritual needs? Our own lack of authentic faith?
I believe this place of honesty comes to us when we face the gap between what we say with our mouths and the consequences of our behaviors (or lack of behaviors). But we live in a society that seems to reward the delusion of “pretend” and the absolute protection of our egos. We really resist anything that makes us “feel” bad. And then we go further by insisting that if something makes us “feel” bad then it must be bad for us. Talk about a closed spiral toward total delusion!
So, how do we escape this trap of delusion concerning our real beliefs? How do we balance the necessary care and concern for others with telling the truth “in love” and bringing our lives to that place of uncomfortable confrontation with the gap between what we say and how we live?
In our Scripture Lesson today we read about Abram becoming the man of faith. We begin seeing him be transformed into that example of belief that acts as well as claims to believe. In Genesis 15:1-15 we see God and Abram (his name will be changed to Abraham as his transformation through his relationship with God becomes more clear) growing in their relationship as God confronts Abram with his true calling and offers Abram a vision of what his life can become if he seriously enters into relationship with God and dares to follow God no matter what the cost!
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.
What I love about this passage is Abram’s willingness to hear and obey God, but honestly ask God “how is this going to happen?” He is honest in his relationship with God. And that, dear ones, is the first step in transforming what you say into how you live; to love God and enter into an honest and intimate relationship with God that is both honest enough to question and brave enough to believe. This combination of love and confidence builds strong faith and peace that, even in the face of challenging circumstances, we don’t waver from what we know to be true. And that confidence is translated into actions. In fact, one without the other simply never rises to the level of true belief.
Abram and God love and know each other. And Abram’s closeness with God will be proven over and over again as Abram becomes Abraham, the father of the faithful!
And here’s the key: “And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” The belief is counted as righteousness in the actions that prove the heart of Abram to be sincere and trusting in God’s promises. Abram obeys God and it is in that obedience that he hears from God all God will make of him because of his belief.
Today, do you believe? Before you answer, do a spiritual inventory of your actions. That icon of yourself is a better diagnosis of your faith than what we want to think about ourselves. But before you fall into the other ditch on the other side of this narrow path (that ditch that lies to you and tells you “you’re no good” and “what’s the use in trying!”), know that God truly knows your heart even better than you do and He wants to move us to the path that leads to spiritual health – the gift of true repentance and spiritual healing. If you are ever going to be free to become the person of faith you were created to be, it will be through the dual remedies of repentance AND action. It isn’t enough to simply “feel” bad. We must move beyond the slavery of our fears and “feelings” to the brave and daring honest and mature relationship God longs to have with each of us. Because it is in that dynamic and thrilling practice of our faith that we discover just what is possible in our lives when we truly believe. This is what I mean when I challenge us to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Wow, I don’t know what to say (I know that comes as a shock to you!). We really haven’t talked about the “Donate” button on the Faith Encouraged home page but already kind friends are investing into the growth of our media outreach! Our goal is to create a video and print tool for parishes to help them introduce our Orthodox faith to the average English speaker. Your kind donation is both tax-deductible (Faith Encouraged Ministries is a 501(c)3 Non-profit ministry) and so very much appreciated. We’ll have more information about the video project very soon!