Every so often a line will hit you hard, and you’ll never forget it. Maybe from a film, book or song, or maybe in everyday conversation. Of course there’s quite a few memorable lines in the Bible.
There were a few lines that struck me back in my early school days. There was “go to the ant, thou sluggard,” (Proverbs 6:6) for no particular reason, except it had a pleasing rhythm when I spoke or thought it. Then there was “the plank in your own eye,” and the rest of that small section of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:1-5) that I had to memorise and recite in a morning assembly, aged 9 or 10. But the most memorable Bible quotation in my entire life is found at the end of Mark 5:9, and it has to be the King James Version:
My name is Legion: for we are many.
I didn’t have any understanding of the context – I think I still have a lot to learn from the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man – but I was just mesmerised by the weirdness of the line. It was the creepiest thing I’d ever heard. And because of the way my neural pathways were being laid down at that time, it probably still is! I think I got the idea that the Bible was an exciting book just from the knowledge and remembrance of those eight words. And though I drifted far from Jesus over the years that followed, that line never left me, and never lost its power to enthral me.
More recently, last year to be rather imprecise, another verse got under my skin in a similar way. And as I write I am only just realising that it is very similar because of the paradox it encapsulates. It’s Mark 9:24…
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Is it presumptuous of me to suggest that if you ask any Christian “Do you believe in God?” then there’s a very high probability that they’ll answer “Yes”?
But if I was ever asked that question, even though I’ve surrendered my life to Christ, I wouldn’t want to say “Yes”!
Because to “believe” something, or to “believe in” something, there has to be an element of doubt – or room for doubt. I believe it’s going to rain tomorrow, but it might not. I believe in my ability to hit a tennis ball over a net, but I might fail. Whenever I hear someone say “I believe in God,” I can’t help hearing the unspoken continuation, “…but I could be wrong.”
I believed in God for as long as I can remember. There were times when that belief was more important and times when it drifted out of my consciousness. When it was important, I’d seek answers to the meaning of life and what was the exact nature of God. I looked at various religions, they all had their pros and cons. None fully met my requirements, or fitted completely with whatever I might call my world view. So I defined myself as “spiritual but not religious” and left it at that.
During a difficult time in my life, in late 2008, I was invited to a church conference which ignited a passion in me. Over the course of several weeks I found myself drawn to Christ, and on 7 December I accepted Him as my personal Saviour.
The moment before I made that commitment I believed in God, and I believed in His Son Jesus. Moments afterwards, “believe” became the wrong word.
God touched me in a physical way, He shook my body, moving from my head down to my feet, in a way I can’t describe and which I’ve never experienced before or since. It was a completely unexpected manifestation, although I’ve since heard that other people have felt His presence in a similar way.
Because of what I’ve experienced, I no longer “believe” in God, I “know” Him in a personal way.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. (Job 19:25)
Is the distinction important? Is it just semantics? It’s difficult to say. On a personal level, yes it feels very important to me. Knowing the reality of God makes it much easier to have faith at those times when He feels far away from me. But what about those Christians who haven’t had such a tangible confirmation? I can’t help thinking about Jesus’ words to Thomas:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Maybe God touched me because it’s what I needed. Maybe if He hasn’t touched you, the faith He’s given you is strong enough without further intervention. Whether it’s connected to your personality, or your life story, or because of His plans for you, I don’t know. Maybe He will touch you some time in the future when you need it most.
I’m also aware that certainty brings danger as well as comfort. There’s a danger of certainty leading to arrogance. There’s a danger that that I could lack patience or understanding when I’m talking to people who still have doubts.
And finally, my certainty about the existence of God is not going to answer the other questions that naturally arise in my journey through life. There is so much for me to learn about God’s nature, about His plan for me and for those who are close to me. There is so much for me to understand about everyday issues, and my personal trials and my weaknesses. There are more questions than will ever be answered in my lifetime, but I’ll keep learning all I can while I have breath, and then look forward to learning the rest when I find my way home to my Heavenly Father.