Do Beliefs Matter?

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.

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2 thoughts on “Do Beliefs Matter?

  1. Beliefs matter at lot. In addition to making a lot of difference in the ways we think and act, beliefs have an immediate effect on our physiology. Our bodies respond completely to what we believe. We are comfortable or anxious, joyful or threatened all on the basis of what we believe about the situation we are in. I wonder what he Aramaic version of John’s gospel actually says in the part that comes into English as “those who believe in me…..” I know that other Christian scripture translated directly from ancient Aramaic into modern English sound a lot different than the common versions we grew up with.
    The scripture that has come down to us was translated from Aramaic, a language used for communicating spiritual ideas much as Hebrew and Sanskrit are, into Greek, a language of commerce, then into Latin, a legal and political language, and thence into English. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, in English today starts, “Our Father, who art in heaven….” The same words translated from ancient Aramaic read more like “You who gives birth to the universe, who dwells in our breath….” There is an intimacy and immediacy in the Aramaic that faded away as the literal content came to overshadow the personal value of the prayer.
    I have a one year old puppy who has taught me a great deal about my relationship with the Awareness (that’s cute-speak for God). My puppy is continually immersed in love for and devotion to me. The only response to her devotion I can make is to do everything I can to make her life as full of delight as possible. That includes doing things that momentarily distress her, teaching her to adapt to human ways, taking her to the veterinarian periodically, things that serve to increase her pleasure on the longer term. She has also shown me that in spite of her willfulness, her lack of understanding of my universe, there is nothing whatsoever that she do mistakenly or willfully, that will cause me to love her less.
    When I live with the knowledge that the Awareness of the universe cares for me in the way I care for my puppy I am very comfortable doing the best I can to fulfill the awesome design my Creator has given me.

  2. Excellent point about the Aramaic, Allen. That is worth doing some research. I’m also curious about the Aramaic for “heaven” and “eternal life,” how those words would have been understood in the 1st century, and how the meaning has evolved. Alas, a project for another day.

    I appreciate your astute point. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the linkedin connection.
    S

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