Humbling Belief

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Dear friends,

Christian belief is a gym for radical humility. At its best, faith stretches our capacity for complexity, charity, and careful listening in a time of polarization and culture war.

Consider some pillar beliefs of the Christian faith.

God is Trinity or three-in-one. But Christians have had endless debates about what this means and how the divine persons relate, remaining distinct “persons” but not three different “gods.” Some Christians have condemned other Christians over differences of Trinitarian opinion and vocabulary. But who could claim to dissect the inner nature of God?

Jesus is the Incarnation of God, the God-human. But Christians have had endless debates over what this means and how the two (“natures”? “persons”? “hypostases”?) relate without destroying each other. Whole Christian churches and cultures have divided over this question, all certain they are right and the other wrong.

The bread and cup are the ultimate meal Jesus gave to every Christian. But do they “become” Jesus? “Represent” Jesus? “Memorialize” Jesus? Billions of Christians refuse to sit and eat at Jesus’s table together over these questions.

The Bible is God’s word. But does it have 66 books (the Protestant Bible), 73 books (the Roman Catholic Bible), or 81 books (the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible)? Is it “inerrant,” “infallible,” “inspired,” “sufficient,” “God’s gift,” or something else? Christians police one another, lose livelihoods, and get kicked out of community over this debate.

The Holy Spirit lives in believers. But is speaking in tongues a necessary proof of salvation? An optional gift? An outdated grace? The work of demons?

What we believe matters. It matters greatly and can profoundly affect how we live.

But the simple observations above offer a profound lesson in radical humility: billions of Christians fiercely disagree with other Christians over the very basics of their own faith — to say nothing of others of other faiths!

I believe — deeply and passionately. I’ve devoted many years of my life to rigorous study and practice. I have a PhD in Theological Ethics and remain a passionate follower of Jesus.

But the first and last lesson Christian belief has taught me is humility. We know less than we think, and we have more to learn from others than we often admit.

Listening is the most radical act of true faith. It marries confidence in one’s own belief and willingness to learn from others. The ear is the icon of the humble believer.

As the Sage taught, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom… Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 11:2; 22:4).

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