Mark 9:23 “All things are possible for the one who believes.”
Yesterday I wrote about a friend who had some questions on faith that we discussed over dinner. Another one of those concerns had to do with the fact that he still had doubts. “I’m just not sure that I can fully accept that everything in the bible happened exactly as it’s written.”
I replied “my mom once said to me that she’s visited a lot of different churches, and some of them take a more literal interpretation of the bible, and some of them take a more poetic interpretation of parts of the bible. One thing that she noticed is that those churches that take a more literal approach tend to see more miracles than those that interpret more loosely. That kind of makes sense, because a large body of peer-reviewed research demonstrates that thinking something is possible makes it more possible. That’s why sprinters visualize winning a race before they compete. It’s why self-help gurus espouse vision boards. And while I believe spiritual practices are especially powerful, even atheist scientists admit that people who pray get healed of ailments more than those who don’t.
If you believe that Moses actually parted the Red Sea, that Jesus actually walked on water, that even Peter’s shadow actually healed the sick, then believing for a promotion, a restored relationship or healing of cancer is no big deal. You don’t always get what you want, but if you have faith that it can happen, it’s way more likely to happen. Even atheists believe that.”
What you believe is also a choice. In a study titled “The Biochemistry of Belief,” three psychiatrists from India highlighted that “one of the biggest misconceptions people often harbor is that belief is a static, intellectual concept… Beliefs are a choice. We have the power to choose our beliefs.”
So if we can choose our beliefs, and believing in a literal interpretation of the bible leads to more miraculous outcomes, then well the pragmatist in me will choose to believe it’s all literally true. I’d take that trade all day long. But honestly there are days when I have questions too. So do I beat myself up over it? There are also days when I encounter believers with different theology than me, or folks who follow different gods. Does that threaten my sense of intellectual consistency if some of their arguments make some sense?
Honestly it used to. I often felt a sense of defensiveness when someone challenged my theology. But I realized that my tone and posture when defending myself often resembled that of the Pharisees more than it did that of Jesus. The most learned leaders of his day got so many things wrong about the nature of God and of love. So who am I to say I’ve got it all right? Surely I need to have a bit more humility than that.
The other day I posted about how two different parts of the brain can actually believe two different things at one time. It’s kind of how two different people within a team can believe two different things, but ultimately what matters is that they can “disagree and commit” to use Jeff Bezos language. If I had to peer into the inner workings of my brain, I’m sure there are moments where I 80% believe that xyz happened in the Bible and 20% am not so sure. But I’m ok with that now, because I know that what I believe is a choice. And I know I choose to have faith.
Dear God, thanks for giving us your word. Long before psychiatry journals and self-help books, you laid out the key to living a meaningful and fulfilled life. I choose to love you with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.