The word “believe” is indelibly connected to the Christmas season.
The dictionary definition of the word “believe” is “...to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.” Therefore, when we believe we adhere to truths that are somehow transcendent.
We begin our lives with a childlike belief that the world is fair. It’s the Santa Clause world where the nice get rewarded and the naughty get punished. But as we mature, we realize that this is productive for training dogs, but not people.
The word “believe” is connected to the election season even more than the Christmas season. The 2016 Republican Party Platform uses the word “believe” 31 times and the Democratic counterpart uses that word 121 times. The 2016 election season ended with the Republicans prevailing over the Democrats. The Republicans will define “niceness” and “naughtiness” until the next election, and they hope that the state of the union will be “nicer” after that period.
I would like to believe that, but the flow of history has both its peaks and its valleys.
Human naughtiness is deeper than simply breaking laws. The author of Genesis describes the essence of human naughtiness as believing that “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (I must add here that I defend the truth of Genesis, but I don’t get into arguments about the historicity or science of Genesis.)
If I steal from my neighbor, or murder him, or even covet his possessions or success, I believe in myself and I perceive myself to be “like God, knowing good and evil”. This perception is contrary to Jefferson’s truth that “All men are created equal”.
We know from Saint Luke’s account that Jesus was born in a barn. I do volunteer chores in a horse barn as exercise most mornings of the week. My retirement income is enough so that I could pay for time in one of the fitness businesses with all the fancy exercise machines. But there is something about working in a barn that helps me see the truth that “All men are created equal.”
As Jesus grew to manhood we see him perform miracles. But often he told people to keep his miraculous powers secret. He wanted the story of his death to define his equality with humanity. Furthermore, our human analogies only partially explain how the death of Jesus unconditionally forgives us for all the times we raise ourselves to God-status as we relate to other people. This forgiveness is for all people who have ever lived and will live.
About three centuries after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus’ followers were struggling for words to describe who Jesus is. They finally settled on the words, “fully God and fully human”. When the present phase of God’s “project humanity” ends some may choose to keep their self-assigned God-status - but probably not many. Hell may just be a space where everyone thinks he or she is God. C. S. Lewis conjectured that the door will be locked from the inside.
Four-score and seven years after Jefferson penned “All men are created equal” President Lincoln reminded the nation that we were dedicated to that proposition. However, the “naughtiness” of humanity throughout history is a testimony that our dedication is consistently weak.
Believing in a proposition hasn’t worked very well. I think we should try believing in the person of Jesus, who identifies with humanity and has created every human being equal.
John Torgerson - Christmas 2016