Preoccupation with belief is a distinctly Christian attribute. Its origins trace to a concept introduced by the first century Jesus movement, namely that belief in Jesus, or more specifically that the person of Jesus was fully human and simultaneously fully divine, confers eternal life in some fashion. The gospel of John, written significantly later than the other accounts, is the only one to put such an emphasis on belief. One statement, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” (John 11:25-26) immortalized in canon two startlingly new concepts that thereafter marked Christianity. The concepts are (1) beliefs have consequences and (2) the possibility of life after death.
Other religious traditions don’t emphasize belief. Jews care more about what one does than what one believes. Whether I am deeply conflicted about what action to choose or I’m steadfast, it’s of no consequence if in the end I chose the right action. Action matters. In Buddhism, it’s perception and understanding that matter. Believing without perceiving or understanding is a construct that has no merit or usefulness in Buddhism.
Beliefs do influence our choices, however, and thus do have consequences. Beliefs inform actions which form habits which reflect character. My understanding of God’s nature influences how I respond to him. We are responding to God all the time, whether or not we are aware of it. Especially when we are looking for life change—significant emotional healing or life change—the road we take depends on our understanding of God. If we are seeking God-help rather than relying solely on self-help, we will ask God to do something for us that we cannot do on our own unaided. Our beliefs inform how we approach that request.
The Old Testament recounts story after story of people saved by faith. The New Testament makes many references to people healed by their faith. Our faith is what we believe about God’s ability and his inclination to intervene for us. If we lack belief in God’s power, we can go through the motions of searching ourselves for what needs to change, but we are unlikely surrender our way (that has led to despair) for God’s way (that leads to healing).
The Twelve Step tradition teaches recovery seekers are not prepared to embark on the Fourth Step moral inventory until they have an understanding of God and also a willingness to trust God based on that understanding. Significantly, the Twelve Step tradition does not dictate what that understanding should be. It simply asserts that an understanding and trust are necessary.
Join the conversation. What is your understanding of God? What difference do your beliefs make?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.