Belief in the Age of Disbelief
“We’ll get through this.”, “Rain will come.”, “It’s just a rough patch.”, “Prices will turn around.”; Sentiments that I have heard old ranchers say more than a few times. Belief is central to the way of an agrarian society. The crossing of the line between skepticism and belief was done for the men I know long ago. The close connection to the land has fostered a culture toward belief; a culture under fire today.
Joel Achenbach, science writer for the Washington Post, wrote the cover article in National Geographic this month entitled “Age of Disbelief”. The core of the article is the skepticism of Americans toward scientific and technological innovation and discovery. Citing issues like the presence of fluoride in water, the moon landing, creationism, climate change, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations, the article draws the lines dividing the debate, and then mocks one side or the other as uniformed. Achenbach is offering up a chance to live life unencumbered by the ignorance of skepticism (in place because of our primitive and native beliefs), by embracing the scientific methods and questioning everything as long as those things are the correct things. I did not appreciate his linking many Christians with those who despise vaccines, hated Galileo, and don’t believe in the Moon landing, but he was painting with a broad brush those who have trouble with beliefs the same as he has.
Belief in itself is honorable. It takes courage and vulnerability. Fear of persecution, being mistaken, or “not believing enough” makes skepticism a viable alternative as a worldview. In the end, skepticism may hurt less, but it offers nothing to this life. Skepticism is the easy way out; never having to defend a position, always questioning. Living in fog is always easier than trying to see through the mist. Those who believe in something (even if it is opposite of me) should be held in high regards, as belief is one of the toughest things to hold on to.
Belief, to some, is considered a crutch, a hindrance, and weakness. Today, in our technologically and scientifically charged and run generation, belief is something to rid you of, like lice or bed bugs. By whatever means necessary, belief is to be thrown off and removed.
Achenbach argues for belief based upon a journey of inquiry and discovery. John would agree.
John wrote his book for a very specific purpose: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.31)
John, from the first verses of his book, begins a trail of evidence pointing the person and works of Jesus, drawing a line in the sand begging a decision of belief.
What lines of evidence does he provide?
- The Signs. He alluded to it in the aforementioned verse when he wrote: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs…” (John 20.30) Later he would write that the amount of things that Jesus had done would fill so many books the world could not contain them (John 21.25). But for John, the seven he recorded would be enough for a decision to cross the line or stay put (and an eighth that would put him over the line). The water to wine (John 2), healing the officials son (John 4), the healing at the pool (John 5), the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6), walking on the water (John 6), healing the man born blind (John 9), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11), like the highlight reel moments of Jesus ministry, are described to the reader. All in effort to help make a decision. Then of course the biggie, the empty tomb, where John saw and believed (John 20.8); the reason that he crossed the line, is depicted in line with the rest.
- The Statements. Seven times Jesus is recorded making a profound statement about his character and identity. Beginning with the words “I Am…”, a reference to the self-disclosure of God to Moses in Exodus 3-4, Jesus tells anyone who will listen who he is. In contrast to Mark’s messianic secret, where Jesus keeps telling people to not tell who he is, Jesus in the book of John makes it quite clear about his identity. He is “the bread of life” (John 6); the “light of the world” (John 9.8); the “gate for the sheep” (John 10.7); the “good shepherd” (John 10.14); the “resurrection and the life” (John 11.25); the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14.6); and “the true vine” (John 15.1). John records these statements to bring us to the line of decision. He postures the question: Does Jesus words match who he was?
- The People. Like a parade, people are marched through the pages of John’s gospel. Each one carrying a story about their interactions with Jesus. From John the Baptist, a prophet in the wilderness (John 1) to Pilate, the Roman Governor (John 18-19). In talks with the religious elite (John 3), a dishonorable woman (John 4), friends like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (John 11) to complete strangers (John 9). He taught great crowds (John 6) and the three. He talked with Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier, and Thomas the doubter. John has each take the stand, give their testimony, their story, and lets us be the judge and jury. Each bringing us to the line of decision.
- The Divisions. The line in the sand was not drawn for us first. It was for the disciples (John 6); three times the crowd of John 7 divided (v. 12-13, 30-31, 40-43); the Pharisees and others over the Sabbath (John 9.16); Jewish leaders (John 10.19-21); the Jewish leaders and crowd (John 11.36-37, 45-46), and the crowd after the signs (12.37-43). Each showdown, each division, is woven into the story by John, as a device to bring the conflict to the forefront in order to reveal our own. The line is brought before us.
As Mr. Achenbach chides this generation for their skepticism, as they refuse to cross the line of belief about vaccines or climate change, John, 2,000 years ago, begged, pleaded, and implored his readers to cross the line of skepticism about Jesus to belief. He has shown them the evidence to bring about the cognitive aspect of belief and now he asks for the volitional side of belief. He says “now you can believe with your head, will you believe with your feet?”