I am a Christian. Some might even call me a professional Christian. I’m a clergyman you see. An Anglican minister. A proper God-botherer. And so sometimes I’m asked ‘Why do you believe?’
But I don’t really like that question. Or rather I don’t like what it often assumes. Because the question often assumes that I believe but that other people don’t. And I don’t think it works like that. I reckon we all believe. Not just clergymen, not just Christians, everyone believes. I realise that’s not a view you’ll commonly hear, but I think it’s true. Everyone is a person of faith. Everyone is a believer.
And already I can hear the objections. Someone will say, “I don’t believe. I’m a sceptic.”
Ok, good, but, here’s the thing. I’m also a sceptic, and I’m a believer. And — stick with me on this — you are a sceptic and you are a believer. We all have beliefs, we all have doubts. That’s life. That’s how we tick. Inescapably. Universally.
We’re all believers and we’re all doubters. The question is what we believe, or who.
We’re all believers and we’re all doubters. The question is what we believe, or who.
For me, I believe in Jesus. I think he is Lord.
That’s a religious sounding phrase isn’t it? “Jesus is Lord”. It’s straight out of the Bible (1 Corinthians 12:3). It’s a three-word summary of the Christian faith. There’s no more basic description of a Christian’s belief than this: Jesus is LORD.
Now “LORD” is the most common name for God in the Bible. In the Old Testament, 6800 times, God is called by the personal name of “LORD” and you know it’s a serious name because it’s all in capitals: capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. Here is the Maker of heaven and earth, the Source of all life and being. Jesus is LORD. He’s tops, he’s number one, numero uno, head honcho, the big cheese, he is Ultimate Reality. When I think of the most basic force driving this world onwards, when I think of the operating system of all reality, when I ask myself What lies beneath everything else, I think of Jesus. That’s my belief, I believe that Jesus is LORD.
And maybe you’re sceptical about that. Well alright, you might be sceptical about Jesus. But you also have a belief. You also think that something is in charge. Something is ultimate reality, something lies underneath it all.
There’s a story about a famous scientist giving a lecture on astronomy to a sceptical audience. He tells them that the earth is not the centre of the universe, it orbits the sun and our solar system swirls around one of 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. An old woman comes up afterwards and says “You’re very clever young man but actually the earth is propped up on a flat disc that sits on a giant turtle.” The scientist asks “What is the turtle sitting on?” The woman says “Don’t try to be clever, it’s turtles all the way down.”
I look at a world of love, laughter and lemon drizzle cake and I think “blind, pitiless indifference” is a poor explanation.
What do you think is ‘all the way down’? What do you think the world rests on? I assume it’s not turtles. What is underneath it all? Do our experiences of life just boil down to psychology, which boils down to biology, which boils down to chemistry, which boils down to physics? Are we all propped up on inanimate matter and impersonal laws of nature?
Richard Dawkins once wrote that ‘at bottom’ there is ‘no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’. That’s his belief. I’m sceptical.
I look at a world of love, laughter and lemon drizzle cake and I think “blind, pitiless indifference” is a poor explanation. I look at a world of beauty, bliss and bumblebees — bumblebees for goodness sakes — and it just doesn’t make sense to me that blind, pitiless indifference is the ultimate explanation.
I believe in Jesus.
You see on the night before Jesus died he prayed this prayer. He prayed “Father… you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) This is Jesus’ picture of ultimate reality, and notice, he is in on it. Before the world began, he was there. At the headwaters of all life and being, Jesus was present. He himself was in on an eternal flow of life and love. The Father had always been loving him, always pouring his Spirit into him. According to Jesus himself, he had forever been in on a Niagara Falls of life and blessing. Love has eternally cascaded from the Father onto Jesus, the Son, in the fierce joy of the Holy Spirit.
That is ultimate reality according to Jesus. And it means we’ve come from love, we’ve been shaped by love, we are determined by love, we are destined for love. Love makes sense if Jesus is Lord.
Love doesn’t make sense if “blind, pitiless indifference” is Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to believe in Jesus in order to love. That’s not my point at all. In fact my point is that everyone does love. Richard Dawkins loves. Atheists love. Buddhists love. Muslims love. We all love. But my point is that Jesus makes sense of that love. We all live as though love is the ultimate thing but only with Jesus is love actually, eternally and fundamentally ultimate. Only with Jesus can you say “God is love.”
What are your beliefs? Because you do have beliefs. I just wonder what they are. What do you think is LORD? What do you think is underneath it all?
Dawkins says underneath it all was blind pitiless indifference. But in the Bible it says “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) Can you believe that—beneath it all is a loving embrace? Let me tell you why you can believe that love really is ultimate: Christmas and Easter.
At Christmas we remember what happened when the LORD Jesus showed up. When the LORD showed up, he did what love does. You see love commits; love shares our burdens; love enters into our struggles.
You see love commits; love shares our burdens; love enters into our struggles.
And who can deny that we have burdens and struggles. Maybe you’ve been thinking about our burdens and struggles as you’ve been reading. Maybe, as I’ve spoken of love, you’ve been protesting: Yes, but what about everything that’s unloving? What about everything that’s unlovely?!
Those are good questions. But that’s where Easter comes in. You see, Jesus came into a world that we had made unlovely through our own lack of love. He entered into this pit of our own making. And he did it because that’s what love does. Love says “Your pit will be my pit”, “Your pain will be my pain”, and “Your debts will be my debts.”
Think of Jesus dying on the cross. It’s the centrepiece of Christian belief. You know what you’re seeing when you see Jesus crucified? You’re seeing love enter in. You’re seeing love shoulder our burdens. You’re seeing love pay our debts. And when He rises again, you know what you’re seeing? You’re seeing life conquering death; light driving out darkness; love defeating hate.
Easter is the confirmation of your dearest intuition: that love really is ultimate; and that love really will have the last word.
Without Jesus, love is nice. It’s beautiful. It’s important. But it’s not ultimate.
Without Jesus, love is nice. It’s beautiful. It’s important. But it’s not ultimate. In the end it is swallowed up by death, chaos and an uncaring universe. But if Christmas and Easter are real, if Jesus is LORD, a whole new world opens up. Jesus can assure us of our heart’s deepest hope. He can make sense of our highest aspirations and our deepest convictions. More than that, he can forgive us for the times we have failed to love. He can bring healing for the ways we’ve contributed to the world’s unloveliness. This, most profoundly, is why he died and rose again, to take our sins—our loveless, hurtful selfishness—on himself. He bore our guilt so we would not have to. Love draws near, love pays the price, and love outshines the darkness of our hatred and sorrow. This is the meaning of Christmas and Easter.
As I’ve looked at these things over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, this is the deepest reality, the truest truth: Jesus is Lord! For some people the realisation hits them all at once, for some it sneaks up on them over years. I was in the latter camp. After a friend pestered me for years I finally read the Gospels for myself (the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). In them I saw Christ’s towering personality and stooping love and I thought: He’s it! He’s the One! And seeing him made sense of my world.
That’s why I believe... and that’s why I doubt. I doubt that the universe grinds along purely according to iron laws of physics; I doubt that the world is governed purely by the will of a distant deity or fate; I doubt that the cosmos is impersonal and that life’s meaning is to detach, or to slave away, or to seek meaning in sex, money, fame or power. I doubt those things. I believe in Jesus. How about you?