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Apr 08 2010

To Believe or Not Believe

  I was at my co-op market yesterday.  Since it’s a co-op and only open on Wednesdays, the line long  I always bring something to read to pass the time.  The man in front of me was very talkative so I did not have much of a chance to read.  Actually, I gave up on reading and chatted.  He started the conversation by asking me what I was reading.  Since I was reading a Christian book, that opened the conversation.  He asked me several questions about Christianity including what made me believe.  What he was trying to get at was why do I believe?  He shared that not only did he not believe, but that he doesn’t follow any “religion.”  He grew up Jewish, was bar mitzvahed, still observed Jewish holidays though out of custom rather than belief.  Summarizing his beliefs, he did believe in an “afterlife” but he believed in reincarnation and that a person’s life and how they treated others and respected nature determined what people came back as.  In essence, he worshipped nature.

Talking to him about the Bible – well, he knew the scriptures.  He even was well versed in the New Testament.  Actually, his knowledge of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament was impressive.  Towards the middle of our conversation, he said something to me that stunned me.  He stated “you don’t respect nature because you DON’T WANT to believe.”  WHAT???  I DON’T WANT to believe?  Surely he jests.  It occurred to me this is the same reasoning/argument we Christians use with respect to those that do not believe in Christ.

  • Believe:  To credit upon the authority or testimony of another; to be persuaded of the truth of something upon the declaration of another, or upon evidence furnished by reasons, arguments, and deductions of the mind, or by other circumstances, than personal knowledge. When we believe upon the authority of another, we always put confidence in his veracity.When we believe upon the authority of reasoning, arguments, or a concurrence of facts and circumstances, we rest our conclusions upon their strength or probability, their agreement with our own experience.  (Webster’s Dictionary)

Belief is “to have confidence  of” the object.  How can I refuse to believe in something that I do not believe?  Is that not a classic definition of a “catch 22?”  How can I refuse to place my faith in nature, or “mother earth?”  Believe is a verb, an action.  This is not an action that we can conjure up on our own, something must precede it for it to happen, that is we must be convinced in our mind to believe on the “reason, arguments or a concurrence of facts and circumstances” so that “we rest our conclusions upon their strength or probability.”

As I had this conversation with this man, I thought to myself “how can I believe something that I am convinced is not true?”  It’s not like I was refusing to believe.  I simply don’t accept it as truth.  To refuse is an active choice, one that we make.  We refuse things all the time I can refuse a job offer, I can refuse to eat something, what we can refuse is countless.  What we can’t refuse is what we believe for that is in our mind and heart.  At most, we can deny we believe something but the belief remains.  It occurred to me that many Christians take the position that the non-Christians refuse to believe.  It’s just not true.  In fact, scripture gives us the reason why people don’t believe.

  • but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
    John 10:26 (ESV)

That is at the very core of why people do not believe.  Jesus said that those that do not believe are unbeliever because they are not part of His flock.  Belief precedes salvation.

Who are of His flock?  Those that have been ordained unto eternal life.  (Acts 13:48)

Man cannot conjure up belief on his own.  We can’t make ourselves believe something is true if we don’t believe.  We either believe or don’t.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts.  Without the Holy Spirit piercing the heart of the unbeliever, they cannot believe.  They don’t refuse to believe, they cannot.  They can no more force themselves to believe than a Christian can force themselves to believe in “mother earth.”

The man I had the conversation with was wrong.  I don’t believe his position based on a lack of a desire to believe but instead, I don’t believe because I am not convicted that it is truth.  A non Christian who does not believe in the truth of God’s word is not because they don’t want to believe, but is because they cannot believe.  Their natural inclination is not towards light but darkness.  (John 3:19)

Before I came to faith in Christ, I did not choose to NOT believe.  I did not believe because I did not accept it as truth.  It took the Holy Spirit to convict me that the Word of God was truth.  There is no way I could have conjured up the necessary belief and faith on my own.  It required an act of God.  As Jesus stated, those that do not believe is because they are not part of His flock.  His sheep hear His voice (Good News) and follow Him.

  • My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:27-29 (ESV)

My conversation with that man yesterday really opened my eyes for he used the same reasoning that many Christians use.  He reasoned that I do not believe in “mother nature” because I do not want to believe much like Christians reason that non-Christians do not believe is because they do not want to believe.  It’s funny how God can use life’s experiences to drive home particular lessons in His word.

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  1. Repent Harlequin

    Hey Blog Lady T.,

    I do not believe in Mother Nature because I think it’s a goofy idea. In fact, I’ve never really thought about before, so I can’t say I’ve refused to believe in… her?

    What is revealing is that this man frames it terms of desire, and there is the answer. He hasn’t come upon some truth but has constructed this “truth” out of his own desire for what he wants to be true.

    I agree with you that faith comes from the Holy Spirit. That has been my own experience and besides the Bible says so:-) I was not consciously hostile to God, though I realize now I was at emnity with Him. Nor was a hostile to Christians, though I did not respect their beliefs.

    That brings me to what I call the rabid atheist and a dilemma. They believe in God and they hate Him. They are, indeed, refusing God. It’s an interesting psychology but it makes sense. It would make less sense, though, if they did not believe. And there lies the Judas Dilemma. What kind of belief is that?

    Good thought provoking post.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Kent,

      There’s this guy that I know. He was born and raised in Iran. He has shared with me his story. He had an extreme hatred of Christians and Jews. That’s how they are raised over there. While I did not have the hatred he did before coming to Christ, Christianity was about the dumbest thing I ever heard. The many denominations, what I believed as three gods, two bibles (Old and New), and the list goes on. There was absolutely no way I was going to make myself believe in what I considered utter nonsense. At least I believed in one god that had rules that I could follow (so I thought). That’s how I saw things. Back to the Iranian guy, his ways were ingrained in him. It defined who he was. Nothing short of a miracle would change him. He came to faith and now worships at a messianic congregation. I look at someone like him and it just verifies that only through a miracle of God can anyone come to faith.

      It is that miracle that any of us come to faith. For any of us to believe, whether we were brought up in a “Christian type home” or other, no one believes unless God brings that person to faith. As the bible says, no one seeks after God. Sure, humans are spiritual creatures. Look at all the gods people have created — all the way back to the Old Testament. People created all sorts of stuff and bowed before it. But to believe in the one true God takes an actual miracle.

      For some, it seems more pronounced like that Iranian guy. This is what he said to me once — “If God Himself did not show me the truth, I’d still be a muslim.” Actually, same with me — same with every single Christian. They would still believe in whatever they believed in before they came to faith. There’s this other person I know. He says he’s a Christian. But honestly, he’s not. He doesn’t dispute the bible because he claims he’s a Christian. He goes to one of those churches that teach it’s okay to do all sorts of things — you know, one of those liberal churches. What he does is he has a set of beliefs and then takes scripture to say what he wants it to mean so that he can maintain the lifestyle he wants. For instance, he says that homosexuality is a sin but that sex outside of marriage is allowable. You see, he doesn’t want to give up the lifestyle of his choice. And it ain’t a pretty lifestyle if you get my drift.

      You said that the guy I spoke with constructed his own “truth” to suit his own desire of what he wants to be truth. You are absolutely correct, I totally agree with you 100%. That is all of mankind whether it’s the tree huggers, the atheists, the muslims, buddhists, mormons, the list is endless, and sadly, even the Jews (rabbinical Judaism).

      Man is by nature a spiritual creature. Mankind is very inventive and will invent all sorts of things to bow to. Some are more bizarre than others. In my view, the Catholics have invented really strange things that they will bow down before. There is very little more bizarre and strange to me than taking a bunch of beads and counting out hail mary’s while standing before a silly statute and praying to that lifeless thing. It’s just weird. But talk to a catholic about that stuff and get ready to duck.

      It just seems that any of us come to faith is a miracle no matter who we are. Some of us just come from more bizarre backgrounds than others.

      All I know is that no one comes to faith unless God intervenes. What I do know is that no one has the ability to come to faith unless He acts first. No one is refusing to believe in Him, they are unable to believe in Him. That’s how perverse sin has made us.

      As to that guy, I agree with you — his beliefs were just downright weird. I thought to myself “how can you come up with this stuff and then believe in it?” I didn’t want to get kicked out of that co-op so I remained polite. It’s the only place I can buy my raw milk. If you ever want to hear people talk weird stuff, you should go to a co-op like that. Many of those folks are so into the mother earth stuff — and then someone like me shows up who has a hard time keeping her mouth shut but I’m working on it, LOL.

  2. Margaret

    I am Jesus’ little lamb,
    Ever glad at heart I am;
    For my Shepherd gently guides me,
    Knows my need, and well provides me,
    Loves me every day the same,
    Even calls me by my name.

    ……. Just rejoicing in God’s love.

    Margaret

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      What a beautiful poem. You should post your poem on your blog.

      Me too….rejoicing in God’s love.

  3. Loren

    Wow, Tishrei, what a thought-provoking post, indeed!

    I seriously wonder if the guy you had the conversation with actually believes that you are choosing not to believe, or if he was simply trying to “beat you to the punch” since he likely felt that you might have ended up making a similar challenge. You noted his vast knowledge of Scripture, he is probably also very familiar with common Evangelistic strategies (as you mentioned, a lot of Christians say the same sort of thing).

    Regardless, you brought up some wonderful observations. “Faith”, by definition, is not something that we can conjure up– no matter what the particular object of that faith is. Faith is not something that is produced through mental acumen or deductive reasoning. It is a spiritual quality, not an intellectual. As you pointed out, what we believe is never the result of what we merely will ourselves to believe. We can certainly pretend to believe one thing or disbelieve another, but we are ultimately only fooling ourselves.

    Genuine, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is something that is entirely produced by the Holy Spirit and placed within our own spirit. Apart from the work of the Spirit of God, it is not “unlikely” that we cannot believe in God; it is IMPOSSIBLE!

    “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

    The only other thing that I might add to this discussion is that a person’s inability to come to faith in Jesus Christ in no way alleviates their responsibility for NOT trusting and believing on Him. Romans 1:19-23 makes it clear that God has given unto very person enough revelation in order for them to come to faith in Christ. Peter tells us that the atheistic scoffers are in fact “ignorant” when they ridicule Christianity, but they are “willingly” ignorant. They do not know any better, but it is their choice that they do not know any better.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Loren,

      You’re probably right — he was trying to beat me to the punch line. I never use that line but I do tell people that the scriptures state that “a fool says there’s no God.”

      And yes, God has revealed Himself so that no man is without excuse. What puzzles me is if someone like that guy I mentioned can hear the Gospel and come to faith, why not another person? He was as hardened as you can get. The only reason has to be God intervening. There’s a line that He does make Himself known so that there’s no excuse but even so, it is Him that seeks us and intervenes. Without that intervention, no one would come to faith.

      One day I’ll post on this guy who was a PLO sniper — a Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia. Can’t get much worse than that — and he came to faith. Why did someone as hardened as him come to faith but the nice grandmother down the street doesn’t? The only answer has to be God.

  4. Loren

    OOOPS! I really like to include Scripture references when I make them and I forgot to do so in my reference to what Peter wrote. It is found in 2 Peter 3:5. Thanks!

  5. Margaret

    Tishrei,

    Oi, yoi, yoi!!!….. I did not give credit where credit is due!….. Yes, that is a poem, but, more importantly it is a well-known Sunday School song….. It was written by Henrietta L. von Hayn in 1778, in German, and then translated into English….. It has two more verses that I am aware of….. I’m not sure, but you can probably listen to the tune at cyberhymnal.org….. It has a beautiful tune.

    Margaret

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      Oops. My ignorance just came through, LOL. Well, I like it anyway. You know, sometimes when things like this happen, I sometimes wish that I did grow up in a Christian home. Some of the things that people take for granted, I’m kind of left standing there wondering what happened.

      Thanks for sharing that poem. I really did like it.

  6. Alan Robertson

    Re ‘That brings me to what I call the rabid atheist and a dilemma. They believe in God and they hate Him. They are, indeed, refusing God. It’s an interesting psychology…..’ What kind of weird logic is that!
    What is curious about this discussion is that belief is regarded as an act of will. You can believe in something or not as you like and if you don’t believe in something its because you/they don’t want to. It does not seem to occur to you that belief is not just an act of free will but requires a reason or some external evidence to support it. The reason I don’t believe in God is because I don’t see any evidence for him existing and the concept does not explain anything about the universe. The theory of evolution provides a mechanism for creation that requires no overall designer. How can an atheist who by definition does not believe in God, actually believe in God and hate him! Sounds more like a devil worshipper. An amusing idea though.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi, I’m just getting to a bunch of comments because of computer problems and couldn’t log on. Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer.

      You say “It does not seem to occur to you that belief is not just an act of free will but requires a reason or some external evidence to support it.” It does occur to me and in fact, I agree. Belief in something requires a reason for that belief. However, it does not always require some external evidence to support it. I would like to share an example of not requiring external evidence. A friend of mine, who is not a Christian and does not believe in God, believes in reincarnation. To keep this short, I asked her on what basis she believed in reincarnation. She said she had none, that she just believed. it’s something she heard about, she liked the idea of coming back so that’s what she believed.

      You say “The reason I don’t believe in God is because I don’t see any evidence for him existing and the concept does not explain anything about the universe.” Actually, I could point you to a bunch of evidence that defies mathematical probability that is simply mind boggling. How could prophecy after prophecy come true, written long before it ever occurred, time and time again without fail? As to the explanation of the universe, you don’t accept the account that is stated in Scripture. You believe in the theory of evolution and the reason you give is because it does not require a designer. In other words, according to what you just told me, your belief is because no designer is involved, you don’t want a designer.

      I realize you are answering someone else that commented so I can’t answer speak for the commenter but I did want to reply to some of what you said.

      Again, sorry it’s taken so long to respond.

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