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~ Believe It or Not ~

There is such a tremendous weight on the word “believe.” People stake their decisions, life directions and eternal destinies on it. We live, and die, for what we believe and in whom we believe. We revise or compromise our beliefs in the face of challenge or political and economic expediency and self-promotion.

The New Testament was largely written in the Greek dialect of the common people, for it was written for common, working class people to read and hear read. It is not a scholarly academic treatise that needs to be rephrased in “plain language” so every one can understand. In the original language, the New Testament has no “thee”, “thou” or “thine” distinctions. (Our modern English doesn’t have them either.) There are many distinctions in meaning, however. “Believe” is a heavy duty one.

The Greek word that almost all English versions translate as “believe” is “pisteuo.” Upon reading or hearing that word pisteuo, “believe” did not cross the minds of the first century people. Their understanding of the meaning of that word was a combination of the English phrases “adhere to, cleave to, trust in, have faith in, rely upon.” This is appallingly significant as a literal difference between life and death. It is of deep interest to those of us who embrace the Scriptures as     inspired by Spirit. While the original language was inspired, the hundreds of various translations in hundreds of current languages have obviously compromised the original meaning in favor of a readable, attractive literary form.

Lots of people believe in Christ as our ancestors did. Lots of them waged war and conducted systematic campaigns of oppression and violence based on their belief in Christ. The Spirit of the Scriptures was thus compromised as well as this Christian “belief.”

Speaking to His Jewish contemporaries, Jesus explained, “And the Father Who sent Me has Himself testified concerning Me. Not one of you has ever given ears to His voice, or seen His form (His face, what He is like). – You have always been deaf to His voice and blind to the vision of Him” (John 5:37, Amplified Bible). Most translations render this something like “You have never heard His voice or seen His form/face,” connoting the notion that Jesus was saying the Father was unable to be heard or seen. The hearers and readers of the original Greek would have understood Jesus’ lament that they were actively deafening and blinding themselves to God’s many voices and forms. Added meaning is given to a descriptive of Christ’s work, “The blind shall see and the deaf shall hear.”

Ponder carefully this proclamation that expresses the nuances and shades of meaning in the original Greek: “I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, the person whose ears are open to My words – who listens to My message – and believes and trusts in and clings to and relies on Him Who sent Me has (possesses now) eternal life. And he does not come into judgment – does not incur sentence of judgment, will not come under condemnation – but he has already passed over out of death into life. Believe Me when I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, the time is coming and is here now when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it shall live” (John 5:24-25, AB).

This “passover” of judgment and condemnation, foreshadowed by the sprinkling of blood as a sign to the angel of death during the Egyptian slavery of the Hebrews, renders a purity of heart and, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew  5:8). To the Greek readers, “heart” meant the center of being, including the emotions, mind and will.

Regarding will, Jesus provides this remarkable statement: “I am able to do nothing from Myself – independently, of My own accord, but as I am taught by God and as I get His orders. [I decide as I am bidden to decide. As the voice comes to Me, so I give a decision.] Even as I hear, I judge and my judgment is right (just, righteous), because I do not seek or consult My own will – I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose – but only the will and pleasure of the Father Who sent Me. If I alone testify in My behalf, My testimony is not valid and cannot be worth anything. There is Another Who testifies concerning Me and I know and am certain that His evidence on My behalf is true and valid” (John 5:30-32, AB).

The Son of God, in His Incarnate Being as a human, declared He was unable to do nothing independently of God, that He did not seek His own will or purpose...that even His own testifying on His own behalf was worth nothing, deferring to Another, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate Christ would send after His ascension. We may believe in Him, but are we like Him? How far must we yet journey for our adhering, cleaving, relying, trusting, placing all faith in Him to reach fullness? How close are we in the unrestricted, unconditional ability to pray with Christ to the Father about the smallest of our personal ambitions or desires, “Not my will but Yours”?

Jesus put the Scriptures that we revere into perspective as well: “You search and investigate and pore over the Scriptures diligently, because you suppose and trust that you have eternal life through them. And these [very Scriptures] testify about Me!” (John 5:39, AB). So we can believe in the Scriptures, and believe in vain as well.

“I have come in My Father’s name and with His power and you do not receive Me – your hearts are not open to Me, you give Me no welcome. But if another comes in his own name and his own power and with no other authority but himself, you will receive him and give him your approval” (John 5:43, AB). Yes, go figure.

Put out of your minds the thought and do not suppose [as some of you are supposing] that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you; it is Moses, the very one on whom you have built your hopes – in whom you trust” (John 5:45, AB).  Jesus’ reference to Moses was well understood by the people. It was a poignant way of saying staking your spirituality and eternal destiny on adherence to and trust in the law and morality and self-attained “righteousness” is pointless and fatal.

As beings originally created in the image of God, we have an intrinsic sense of perfect love and perfect justice. Although a generally self-serving exclamation, children are quick to remark, “That’s not fair!” Our notion of perfect love becomes our unconscious standard against which we measure the quality of love given us by others. This is why eventually every one who loves us will, at some point, hurt and disappoint us since few practice love to perfection. And we, in turn, will inevitably hurt and disappoint those whom we love. The only one who will never hurt, harm or disappoint us by His loving is God, for God is perfect love and perfect justice. (Unless one has a very twisted notion of what perfect love and justice are, resulting from the abuse and violations of others or from not ever having been genuinely loved.)

It’s ironic how we can pray for peace among nations without having achieved peace in our own households, workplaces and churches. Isn’t achieving world peace supremely more difficult than ridding our personal relationships of all contention and strife? We believe in peace, but do we adhere, cling, trust in, place faith in it fully? We always impose conditions, don’t we? Violate them and “peace” evaporates instantly. But Jesus said, “My peace is not as the world gives.”

Christ opens our eyes to the vision of the Father and the experience and knowledge of perfect love, peace and justice. From that vision, we can learn to love perfectly, “as I love you,” Jesus put it.

These are remarkable declarations for the Incarnation of the Father to make about Himself. The mystery is profound and pervasive and its implications are radical. They merit so much more deep, lingering contemplation and absorption in solitude and community than they generally are given. It isn’t about what we “believe,” in the English sense.  Believe it or not.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Prayergear.com © October 3, 2003

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