Does what you believe Really matter?
Two streams of my life converged this week in an interesting way to challenge me on the question of, whether what I believe is important. It’s easy to take an academic philosophical point of view on such things, but this week it has become more of a pragmatic challenge. In my role of teacher I am being challenged to find ways to help students learn, who would really rather not…at least not in class, or not on topics that the adults in their lives think are valuable for them to know now. It would probably be easiest for me to fall back into a regimented worksheet oriented program with lots of reading of the text and answering comprehension questions, but my belief, based on some success in other venues, is that ultimately more learning goes on in a project–based approach where students must search out knowledge and create something new with that knowledge.
So my belief is important in two ways. First, it informs what I will do and guides my actions. This is true in teaching but it is also true in every other aspect of living. My choices and actions are dependent on my belief, and when I am challenged regarding my beliefs or when I act contrary to those beliefs it creates a great tension or feeling of unease in my life, that needs to be resolved. Second, my beliefs inform my goals and expectations. I expect that given the tools and the time, children can learn and grow to be more than they can presently imagine. There is some need as a result to challenge what they think the future holds and help them see the reality and the possibilities that they had not considered for lack of knowledge of their world, and their own strengths and weaknesses.
Teaching is a challenging profession, and there are days when the quiet, solitary life of a mountain dwelling hermit has a lot of appeal. But that too would lead to dissatisfaction pretty quickly as it flies in the face of my belief that people are happiest when they are helping others. Of course, this brings up another consideration in regards to our belief — that our belief must be grounded in reality. Believing in the palpably untrue also has its heartaches. As for “happiness” I have the scientific evidence of “double blind” studies that confirm this sociological phenomenon; happiness is tied to the feelings of worth we experience when we help others. I also have anecdotal evidence, the wisdom of common sense, centuries of experience and stories, and scriptural teaching that tend to validate this belief. Generally, I put my trust in the latter rather than the former.
Now what about my beliefs as a Christian? Does it matter what I believe? Yes, of course, and for all the same reasons that my “teaching beliefs” matter to me as a teacher. My belief guides my motivation (why I do what I do), my thought and understanding of how to relate to God and other people, my actions, and my expectations. This week some of my beliefs have been challenged as I have had the opportunity to discuss with others my understanding of scripture. As a result I have had occasion to rethink my understanding on the Nature of God, the Nature of my covenant with God, and the importance of biblical instructions. Now I have not altogether thrown out what I have become convicted of over the past 40 years, but I have had a chance to refine and see how my belief is fundamental to who I am.
My belief is not a shirt I wear but more the skin I live in, that holds my being together in an integrated whole. This week has made me see more clearly that my beliefs are not a question of picking and choosing those things that appeal to me, making for an eclectic wardrobe that I wear in haphazard fashion as whim suits me. Rather my beliefs are integrated into a seamless whole, one belief being consistent with and supporting all my other beliefs – a spiritual “skin” that expresses my understanding of reality and represents who I am to the world. It could not be altered or shed without a lot of pain.
This brings to mind another consideration when it comes to beliefs. Some people would have me believe that I should set aside my “beliefs” for the sake of peace or unity within the Body of Christ. I on the other hand believe I can have love for those who believe differently – even though I may believe they are in error, interpreting the scriptures through a lens that differs from my own. This love, concern for the welfare of those who have differing beliefs, means I will uphold what I believe to be truth because to do otherwise would be to refuse to take up the challenge of providing them an answer of the hope that I have in Christ. Do I presume to have all the answers? Not at all. I hope those whose beliefs differ will also continue with me in reading the scripture and seeking God’s will so we can all grow in grace and knowledge, so that in time we can come into a unity of belief. This hope of future unity is my belief in the face of the present reality of disunity.
So you can understand that my life is my belief and I can refine my belief, grow in understanding, cast off misunderstanding, but I cannot cast aside my belief. The Father who we live in covenant with is guided by His belief and he never acts contrary to His belief and that is why the scripture tells us, that He is light and there is no shadow of doubt or disbelief. He is true to His nature, His belief. Likewise, His Son, our Lord and Saviour, the one who spoke the Word and earth existed, and the one who spoke the Words from Mt. Sinai, is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Why? Because His nature, His belief is steadfast and faithful. Our goal is to come to believe as Christ and the Father, so we can be as unshakeable as they are in wisdom and faith – belief.