Letters from the Outskirts of Rome:
The Courage and Cowardice of Belief
Your mother and I once rented canoes on Lake Tahoe and spent the morning exploring the shoreline, weaving in and out of great boulders that have been there for who knows how many centuries.
The sun fell upon the water in such a way that I had to divert my eyes, and looking straight down could see through the water at least twenty feet deep. We pulled the canoes onto a hidden beach and sat for many hours watching the lake and talking to strangers. Locals hiked onto the beach from the road but were welcoming to us nonetheless, and they used the place as we did: to behold the beauty of life, to eat sandwiches, to be with people they loved.
God is evident everywhere I look. In beautiful moments and in mundane ones, I have learned to accept how He is woven throughout all things without requiring further explanation. God is, and for this reason I am too.
As I’ve grown older and lived a little, the more I realize what a false choice it is to believe in God or not. I believe, as does Paul when he was writing to the Romans, that God has revealed Himself to every individual through the ages, in one way or another. Paul says, “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” In other words, everyone recognizes God at some level, at some point in their lives.
What is that moment?
As the child emerges from the mother’s womb, the father and mother are awakened to wonder. The fire of remembrance ignites in their minds for a moment – the universe was created, this child was created, on purpose and therefore has a purpose.
As the boy beholds the sunset across the desert as his father is buried, he wonders upon the mechanisms of the earth, how time moves in circles, how his own life is tied into the life of his father, how the words spoken over his days remain with him even now.
As the man falls in love, he wonders why he must. He wonders why the desire to have and to hold is not fleeting but an ancient cornerstone in his heart.
Declaring belief is meaningless, just as it would be meaningless to be asked to declare that feet are used for walking, or that human beings need oxygen. The woman standing on a road has no need to proudly declare, “I am standing on a road!” We already know this, so to declare belief alone is an insult to our own intellect and to the intellect of those who can hear us. So it is with God. James famously says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
We do not arrive at belief; we begin there.
Some of us move into a state of amnesia – either forced or chosen. We forget what we already know to be true or pursue false teachings about manufactured gods. Some remain in a state of simple belief, as James’s demons do. The third choice is to enter into the mystery prepared for us.
Belief requires no courage at all.
And courage is the single distinguishing factor of those who follow God and those who simply believe He exists. Many preachers of our time call this obedience, but I think courage is the more appropriate characteristic needed. If the truth of God has been revealed to all men (that, too, is a great mystery worth exploring) – we all believe in God. So let us not simply believe. Let us believe and be courageous.