Can’t believe that! It’s impossible.
But, if we pay heed to Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, then believing impossible things is an art to be learned. Enough practice and, like her, we might be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast. So perhaps we are not trying hard enough.
There seems to be something of a prevailing misapprehension in our culture that Christianity in particular, and probably other faiths as well, consist of believing impossible things. If we are perceived as diligent students of the fictitious White Queen then it is scarcely surprising if our credibility is regarded as dubious.
If we feel accused of absurd beliefs, we need to ask ourselves some questions. How and why do we believe what we do and who is the arbiter of what is or is not possible?
I recall my Mum telling us that when she was at school they were taught that it was impossible to split the atom or for men to go to the moon. To us as children it seemed pretty incredible that a school could teach such things. But, as it was Mum telling us of her own experience, we concluded that ‘back in the olden days’ as my brother put it, things had been different.
That little story holds a big clue as to what we decide to believe and what we deem possible or impossible. Such strange teachers sounded an unlikely possibility; certainly outside of our experience. But we trusted Mum so we believed what she told us.
As for splitting the atom or travelling to the moon, such things had once been impossible and then become possible. If, that is, you define possibility in terms of what certain human beings with the right equipment are capable of. In practice, both these things remain impossible to the vast majority of us but that doesn’t stop us from believing them. This belief is not based on our own verifiable experience; we put our trust in the sources such information comes from.
When you really stop and think about it, how much of anything do we really know from our own experience and how much do we take on trust from others? We tend to think that we believe things if we see them yet we know things are not always what they appear. We have our expectations and if something we see does not fit then we claim not to believe our own eyes.
When something is ‘hard to believe’ we have somehow become convinced of the truth of it but are having to adjust our expectations and prejudges to accommodate the new information. This is a learning process. It is not the same as the White Queen’s believing impossible things; that implies not merely a lack of conviction about the truth of it, but being convinced of its falsity. It is clearly a nonsense to believe something we know is untrue. Yet it seems that is what a lot of people think faith is about.
It is up to us to demonstrate the difference. And to do that, we need to understand something our own thought processes.
We believe because we see the truth of the matter. But what convinces us when others say it is untrue or it doesn’t fit with our own expectations? Sometimes we weigh the evidence and decide with our mind to accept, reject, or maybe hold in abeyance pending further enlightenment. Other times it is more of a gut reaction, an instinct.
There has been an overemphasis on so-called scientific, objective thinking for that last couple of centuries; scientific truth changes all the time. Much of it is speculative and scientists do not agree with each other’s opinions. Yet many aspects of faith are criticised for not being scientific as though that were a universally accepted absolute; a standard to measure against.
A good scientific argument can persuade us on one level, but if the truth does not resonate in our heart, another argument will sway our opinion.
The point is that true religion is not about facts; things true or false, possible or impossible. It is about relationship. It is about trust.
Imagine you are lost in the desert and have run out of water. Someone comes along and says he knows where there is an oasis. Now you can debate all you like about the likelihood of his information being correct. Or you can go with him. Going with him is a choice that you have to make. It doesn’t happen automatically because you believe that he will find the water. You could be quite convinced of that and yet, for whatever perverse reason, choose to sit where you are or walk off in the opposite direction.
On the other hand, you might be very sceptical of his claims yet decide to accompany him anyway. What you believe is going to influence the decision you make but the belief is not the same thing as the decision.
We call ourselves Christians because we have decided to accompany Christ; to follow him, put our trust in him. That is a decision we make; to commit to a relationship. No doubt there were things we believed that contributed to making that decision and there will be things we come to believe as a result of having made that decision. But the beliefs are not the same thing as the relationship.
And that is what people who accuse us of believing impossible things fail to understand; the central point of Christian faith is believing in Jesus, trusting in a person, not worrying about how thoroughly or in what way we believe things which may or may not be deemed impossible by some people.
For a good start to the day, enjoy breakfast with Jesus and leave the impossible to God.