God is faithful; by God you were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1.9)
A Deep Breath
Movies bring out my cynical side. I take a jaundiced view of how 99/100 of them boil human emotion down to cheap glue that holds their slapdash stories together. So a morning like this one, following Hollywood’s “biggest night,” saddles me with a cynicism hangover. (Watching a coddled class congratulate itself and act like regular folk can be intoxicating—toxic being the operative word.) Like millions, I mist up when winners acknowledge parents, mentors, and colleagues who believed in them. But the cynic perched on my shoulder is also quick to remind me these are the same people who manufacture mist for a living. They’re the ones behind the violins that saw away while the coach tells the underdog to get in the game and the understudy to step into the spotlight—the ones who exploit our insecurities by stacking the odds against the hero and then raising someone who assures her/him, “I believe in you. You can do it!”
From our earliest endeavors until our dying day, we crave belief in our potential and abilities. How many times do we turn to those we trust and ask, “Do really think I can do this?” How often do we pray someone will come along to bolster our self-confidence? How quick are we to tell ourselves, “That only happens in the movies.” So when I opened today’s readings, 1 Corinthians 1.9 kicked me in the head. God is faithful, it said. God called you into the fellowship of Christ. I took a deep breath. Could it really mean what I think it means? Does God have faith in me? Can I say with confidence that my Creator honestly, truly, wholeheartedly believes in me? I pulled up the Greek translation, half-expecting to learn my hunch was off. Guess what? That’s exactly what it means.
In Black and White
The word Paul uses to describe how God regards us (pistós) is one we’d normally use for how we view God. “Faithful” is a broad translation to emit a number of nuances—loyalty, trustworthiness, constancy, etc.—that grow out of unshakable belief. The term’s etymology is rooted in the Greek word for “persuasion,” meaning God sees something in us that convinces God we’re worth believing in. Processing this idea requires us to stretch a bit, as our relationship with God is preponderantly focused on our belief. We’re so easily consumed by faith’s demands that we stay loyal, trusting, and true, of being fully persuaded God is worth believing in, that it never occurs to us: God believes in me. But we have it in black and white: God not only can and will, God does believe in us. And lest our cynical side press us to dismiss Paul’s statement as a linguistic anomaly, we see pistós repeatedly attributed to God in the apostles’ writings.
Without the slightest disruption to the writers’ thought, we can substitute “believes in you” for “faithful” in text after text. First Corinthians 10.13: “God believes in you, and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” First Thessalonians 5.24: “The One Who calls you believes in you.” Second Timothy 2.13: “[Even] if we are faithless, Christ believes in us.” Hebrews 2.17: Jesus “had to become like His brothers and sisters in every respect, so that He might be a merciful and believing high priest in the service of God.” First Peter 4.19: “Let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a believing Creator, while continuing to do good.” By now, you get the idea. But I beg your indulgence to do one more, since it’s a personal favorite: “If we confess our sins, God Who is just and believes in us will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1.9)
Seeing God’s belief in us plastered across the New Testament in bold letters, how is it we’ve turned faith into a one-sided love affair, where we do all the believing and God only gets to reward our loyalty and trust? Reducing God to a Being Who’s eternally grateful for our belief turns faith into a farce about our arrogance and God’s insecurities. Faith in a God Who believes in us dignifies the relationship. It intensifies our awareness of how loyal, trusting, and constant our God is.
Self-Doubt Contradicts God’s Belief
Faith in a God Who believes changes everything. It assures that God comes to us and wants us to come to God. Our mutual belief in one another cements our bond. It extinguishes any doubts that God remains faithful—that God wants access to our lives, that God is always there, looking beyond our failures, seeing what we can’t, or refuse to, see in us, placing confidence in us that we can’t muster on our own. And when we ponder this idea, it makes a whole lot of sense. Why would a God Who creates and loves us as we are not believe in us? To doubt us would require God to question God’s own judgment and handiwork. And who wants to believe in a god who’s unsure of his/her wisdom, power, and abilities? Thus, for our God to be all we say God is, we must accept and rejoice in the fact that God believes in us. What’s more, if we are to trust God’s judgment and power fully, we must believe in us, too, because self-doubt contradicts God’s belief. (Take a moment and let that sink in.)
One of the most magnificent aspects of Lent’s wilderness comes to fore in the enormous room it provides to break away from narrow perspectives of God and self. In the desert we find solitude to commune with faith’s realities, free from inner doubts and silly fears spawned by religious dogma and coercion. God’s love supersedes pity for our flawed condition. It’s driven by the persuasion we’re worth believing in—that our making speaks for itself and needs no alteration to merit God’s attention or acceptance. The desert puts much-needed space between us and those who are unconvinced we’re worth believing in. We know better—and we know God knows better. Because God believes in us, Paul says, God calls us into fellowship with Christ. When we enter Lent’s desert with our faith secure in a God Who believes in us, that’s what happens: we find fellowship with Christ.
Faith in a God Who doesn’t believe in us makes no sense.
Postscript: Question 5
How does faith in a God Who believes in us change what we believe?