Belief Really Is Hard
By Rev. Stephen Dale
I’ve lived in Vermont long enough to receive spam calls. I really don’t give out my home number; I don’t use it for anything. I’m not even honestly sure why I have one. But there it is, sitting on my desk like a relic out of a 1990’s TV show, coiled phone cord and all.
Anyone born before the proliferation of cordless phones would recognize that my home phone never gets used: that funny little spiraled cord that connects the handset to the base and inevitably gets so strung out that it eventually becomes an unidentifiable tangle is still pristine, coiled up like it just came out of the box.
But now I’ve started to receive spam calls on that phone and they’re the only calls I get on that line. Consequently, I ignore it. I know it’s not for me, well, not for me in any way I actually care about. I’m not talking about the office phone at the end of this article. That one I answer! But when home number rings, straight to voice mail. Because I know what it’s going to be. A scam. Probably an offer for an unbelievably low rate my credit card. And as much as I like lower rates, when something sounds too good to be true, guess what?
It almost always is.
That’s the problem some people have with religion. We speak of a savior who accepts us as we are. We preach Jesus, grace, forgiveness, and redemption. And it sounds so good, so wonderful!
Too good? Too wonderful?
We’re so inundated with scams that it’s easy for the cynic in each of us to see Jesus’ promise of unmerited grace as just that: a scam, a fraud. Spiritual spam.
Because to believe in Jesus is to believe in something that just sounds too good to be true.
And Jesus knew it.
It’s funny, but way back in the beginning, when Jesus was unknown, just a poor, Jewish carpenter’s kid turned wandering rabbi starting to make his circuit around the Sea of Galilee, he knew how he would have sounded if he made his full pitch. He knew it was an impossible sell. He knew he couldn’t walk up to people and say, “I am the son of God, the Messiah, and in me you can find healing and grace.”
He knew he’d sound like a con artist. More importantly, he knew no one would take him seriously.
No one would believe in him, not just at his word.
And that’s why, back in the beginning, he didn’t ask anyone to believe in him. Rather, he found them where they were, stepped into their lives, and invited them, not to believe, but to “come and see.”
Even his closest Twelve failed to believe, right up through the resurrection. Even they didn’t get it, not until they saw him risen from the grave. When the hammer came down, the faltered, and, ultimately, they fled. They hid behind closed doors, whispering to each other that it was all wrong, all over. That everything they thought they’d known was a lie.
Until they saw him, risen and alive again. And then they believed at last.
Because they came. And they saw.
Belief is really hard. In a world where we’ve found a way to somehow make science and faith incompatible, it’s particularly hard to hear that we have a savior who loved us enough to go to the cross for our sins and rise again for our salvation and accept it as true.
But Jesus didn’t invite his disciples to believe, not in the beginning. He invited them to come and see. To follow him. And that was the invitation they accepted. They followed him, they heard him preach, and they saw the way he loved and sacrificed for those around him. And in the end, they saw him resurrected, alive.
And when they saw how he transformed the world around him, they finally believed, and let him transform them as well.
Friends, belief is really hard.
So, try this instead: if you’re someone who has turned away from your childhood faith, or if you’ve never approached Christ at all, don’t be afraid to start at a different place than all-or-nothing belief. Don’t be afraid to set aside your expectations and just come to Christ, and, like Jesus’s own Disciples, allow the possibilities of faith grow out of what you see as you experience a relationship with him.
It’s not too good to be true.
Rev. Stephen Dale is a pastor of the United Methodist Church who has been appointed to Bennington to plant a new community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-440-0217, or at https://www.revanchorman.org.
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