Why I believe in Jesus
Thirteen people have sat in the driver’s seat at the MB Herald. Each person brought a unique perspective and a distinct voice to a particular time in the life of the magazine and the Canadian MB Conference. To celebrate our 50th year in print, “Re:View” welcomes each of the men and women back for another spin as they reflect on their experience in the editor’s chair.—Eds
Nearly fifty years ago – in 1964 to be precise – as a young man in his twenties, I first came to the Mennonite Brethren Herald. Those were turbulent years. A few months earlier, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The U.S. was drifting into the Vietnam conflict, the first major war it was to lose. Riots, marches, and city ghettoes on fire heralded the civil rights conflict. Young people were turning against their elders in huge numbers, crying slogans such as “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” The “God is dead” notion made headlines.
New challenges to Christian faith
Tension and conflict are nothing new. What I find interesting is that some of the sharpest conflicts of the last decade or so have been connected to religious faith, instead of the divisions between political ideologies of the 20th century. A clash of Christianity with Islam appears to be convulsing our world. Moreover, few of us have ever before had to face such sharp hostility to belief in God.
What does this mean for us as followers of Jesus?
One outcome, I’m convinced, is growing numbers of people on church rolls becoming quite unsure about their Christian faith. They, as I, read books, absorb media, and catch the steady assault on faith. The derision of a Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris doesn’t simply wash off. When Hitchens and former British prime minister Tony Blair faced off on belief and unbelief in Toronto recently, 57 percent of the audience sided with Hitchens even before the debate began.
Some of these are like a curling buddy of mine – a retired minister of a mainline church – who told me he no longer believes the watered-down Christian faith he once preached. I sense that even within much more orthodox Christian settings, there is a struggle to know what to claim. And when society goes in very different directions on matters that touch us at core levels, as is true in respect for life, marriage and divorce, or sexual ethics, it’s difficult to know where to find our anchors.
Facing the challenges
Over the years, I have faced numerous challenges to my faith. One of my pivotal experiences happened as a university student. I was asked to analyze for class presentation the writings of Albert Camus, an existentialist writer for whom this life was everything and beyond it nothing. I had to resolve in my mind why faith in a God beyond time helps us live better in this life. I concluded it did, taking a cue from the writer of Ecclesiastes, “Also he put eternity into man’s mind” (3:11, RSV), and moving from there to the words of the New Testament about how we can live for the good of others. It became a transforming experience.
A fundamental belief has long simply been the fact of our existence. I find the words of Hebrews 11 especially satisfactory when it says, “By faith we understand…that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (vs. 3, NRSV). Even if we push back 15 billion years, someone or something still had to be there to start it off. That, I believe, was God.
Lived faith has been very important to me. This goes back to my parents. My father was not especially vocal about his faith, but he lived with great integrity, as did my mother. That nourished me greatly.
Others challenged me. A wonderful friend and mentor was a youth leader who with his wife had come through some very difficult experiences. It set them on a spiritual journey rooted deeply in Christ. I found their faith particularly wholesome and attractive.
I found studies at Mennonite Brethren Bible College and some of the teachers there helpful. They weren’t boxed in by understandings that refused new light, though John A. Toews on more than one occasion said Christians shouldn’t fear being seen as naïve or abandon their convictions too easily.
After all these years, my core conviction has been that the starting point of everything is the confession that Jesus Christ is God entering into human history in the flesh, to make God known to us and to provide for all creation a way to redemption and healing. As a result, we don’t read the Bible as a flat book: we read it through the lens that Jesus Christ creates. And through Christ, God’s kingdom comes to earth.
We are meant to nourish ourselves on the Scriptures. A high school teacher made us memorize Scripture – what a gift he gave his students! Through our reading in the Bible, private prayer, and communion, God guides us as we make our way through the world. I’ve made Bible reading and prayer a daily practice most of my life.
Then, together with others who confess Christ with us in the church, we are supported and nourished in our life as Christians. We gain correctives to our understandings. We engage in common causes. We are a body to one another. The church has helped anchor me all my life.
As a result, despite today’s assaults on Christian faith, I don’t find belief in God a stretch at all. It is a world without God that would be unimaginable for me.