Why Do I Believe in God?

John 1:47-51

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,*you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’


What convinces a person to believe in something?

For some people, only the miraculous persuades them to accept what they would otherwise not believe.  For others, belief comes from the most mundane experiences.

I have believed in God for as long as I can remember, and I have never experienced the sense of doubt that so many people talk about.  Also, when something terrible happens, it has never felt natural to blame God.

But how do I know that God exists?  Why do I so willingly believe?

To be clear, I do not believe everything that various churches have taught me over the years.  It is not the Christian system that I believe in.  The only reason I follow the liturgical calendar and the major Christian holidays is because it is a familiar calendar to me, but I do not believe one must recognize the major Christian holidays to enter heaven.  I do not believe that a church must look a certain way or that a church service must contain certain actions.  I might enjoy a particular type of church service for its rituals, its familiarity, but I do not think any part of it is essential for my soul.

But I believe in God.  How do I know that God exists?  How do I know the sound of my mother’s voice?  How do I know that my wife loves me?  This sort of belief is almost impossible to explain, but I am forever trying.

To be more specific, I believe that the Jesus of the Gospels shows through His actions and His words the nature of God.  One piece of evidence is that Jesus acts differently compared to a normal person.  When a normal person is afraid, He is not.  When a normal person gets angry and turns to violence, He does not.  Also, the Jesus of the Gospels stresses love over the laws of His time and culture.  These are vague clues, of course, but vague clues are all I can offer when I describe anyone.  Based on the culmination of a few general observations, I sense that God exists.

When Nathaneal asks Jesus how He knows of him, the answer sounds pretty unexciting.  “‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’”  To Nathaneal, however, this simple answer is meaningful.  Somehow he knows who Jesus is.  I suspect if we can ask the man today how he knows that Jesus is the Son of God, he would not be able to answer with clear words.  Instead he might shrug and ask, “How do you know your mother’s voice?  How do you know that your spouse loves you?  How do you know anyone?”

Still, the belief is undeniable.

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Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-30

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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Returning back to one’s home town as an adult is always quite the experience to say the least. Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, following many impressive reports of his miracles. He reads from the scroll with a connection and a presence to those who hear. They spoke well of him, proud of the son of Joseph who had become such an inspiration. Jesus tells them he is sure they will challenge him with requests such repeating the miracles they have heard happened at Capernaum. Jesus reminds them in turn that prophets are not accepted in their own home towns.

Jesus reminds those listening that there were many widows in Israel during the time if Elijah. During this time of Elijah, there was a pervasive famine for three years and six months. Elijah was sent to none of them except a widow at Zaraphath in Sidon. And during this time of Elijah, there were many lepers in Israel. Yet the only leper cleansed was Naaman the Syrian. Jesus was making a very shocking point that Israelites were not the only ones granted miracles. The widow in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian were granted miracles. Jesus speaks very bluntly of miracles happening to people of all backgrounds. That is not a message well received.

Those in the Synagogue in Nazareth are outraged at the thought of miracles happening to people other than Israelites. It means they do not have exclusive privilege in God’s favor; instead, God’s love and mercy and favor extends to all people. So disturbing is this message that they drove Christ to the edge of a hill, intending to hurl him off the cliff. We are only told in a brief statement that in the chaos, Jesus passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.

The fact that one is not exclusively favored is a message that is often not well received. Accepting God’s favor is open to everyone means admitting God’s favor is available to everyone, even those with very divisive differences. It means God’s favor is extended to those we do not necessarily like, and even our enemies. That kind of favor can be hard to swallow. The idea of mercy being extended to all people is critical if we are to believe in God’s unconditional love. I know in my human condition I can’t begin to be perfect in that unconditional love to all people. I can certainly strive to give my best to loving all people, but I will never fully succeed. I take great comfort though in knowing that God’s unconditional love does work in that perfection. And perhaps for me, just praying for all people is a start.

How Can Evil People Be Good?

Matthew 9:9-13

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’


The worst people are capable of performing the most good.

I do not need to read the New Testament to know this is true.  Through the course of life, one meets a number of “bad” people who terrorize the helpless but who also give generously to important causes.  Sometimes this person is a high level CEO, feared by all of his employees who must constantly deal with his foul moods and unrealistic demands.  One day the world discovers that he has been giving away most of his wealth to feed the starving from all over the world.  People are shocked by the nearly schizophrenic actions of such individuals–in some instances cruel, in other instances loving.

Jesus seems to understand that people are not as simple as the labels that we love to give them.  We tend to file each other into neat categories: that man is good, that man is bad.  It is clear that Jesus does not mean to ignore the wrongs that people commit.  Afterall, He refers to the sinners surrounding Him as “those who are sick.”  They need help, and he is there to provide that help.

Lately, I have been reflecting on several different people that have terrorized some of my closest friends.  The loving part of me feels many levels of anguish, mostly because I can do nothing to help them.  The love that I feel is also tainted, however, with a natural anger towards the terrorizers.  How could they get away with treating my friends that way?  Such cruelty must be stopped, and such cruel people must be punished.

I cannot lie: I have wished for horrible suffering on these abusers.  I can see a piano come crashing down on one of them right now.  What would Jesus do with cruel people?  He would have the audacity to invite them to dinner.  He would invite them to join his ministry despite all of the evil things they have done.

This seems like an injustice, but if there is to be peace in the world, it is the only way to live.  Jesus shows us a path of mercy–for everyone.  Even those who have done cruel things.

And this view begins to make sense to me when I remember that people are more than their categories.  In New Testament times and culture, tax collectors were viewed as dirty, sinful.  A tax collector, however, was still a human being, capable of both evil deeds and good deeds.  Cruel people are still people, and within every person is the never-ending potential of good.

Instead of wishing for the death of any cruel people that I meet, I should pray for those cruel people to find God’s love.  If there is to be peace in this world, we all must first accept that there is goodness even within its darkest corners.

Debt Cancelled

Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus* to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’41‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,*and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus* said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

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This Gospel reading brings to light for me the importance of appreciation for what we have received. We are told a woman who was a sinner learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s home. She seeks out Christ, bathing his feet with tears and oil, and drying them with her hair. The Pharisees question how Jesus could allow that from a woman with her reputation. They even reason that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know that woman’s sins and would not associate with her.

To make a point about forgiveness, Christ gives a scenario of two debtors. One has a small debt, and the other a huge debt. And both debts are forgiven. The one with the greater debt forgiven is presumed to be the most appreciative because that individual received the more substantial gift. Likewise, the woman whose sins were forgiven feels immense gratitude as shown in the way she washes Jesus’ feet. The guest who is presumed to be the most sinful has gained the most in Christ’s forgiveness and shows the greatest gratitude in her actions.

At the end of the reading, Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, that her faith has saved her. Christ sees the depth of her sincerity. It is precisely because of her past that she understands most fully the extent of what Christ offers. Her faith is the greatest because she has had the farthest spiritual journey.

I teach in a community college environment where eighty percent of our students place into Developmental classes. Most of our students are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and have a great deal to overcome in pursuing higher education. It is my experience though that many of the students who make the greatest progress are those who had the very toughest challenges understand most fully most fully the impact this education will have. The most successful are not the ones who have the shortest distance to come, but the ones who have the most invested in the process.

Why would the woman with the roughest past have the deepest faith? Why would students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have the greatest appreciation their new educational opportunities? Perhaps it is because they see most fully the cost and have traveled the longest distance. And their faith in the opportunities extended to them are most appreciated because they of all people know what is being offered to them.

The Light in a World of Darkness

John 12:31-36

31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.


I remember the experience of getting lost in a new school.  It was the first day of my freshman year in highschool, so I was already terrified, but as I wandered down the long hallways where every door looked the same, as I could feel precious time slipping away before the bell would ring for class to start, panic began to set in.  The exact number of the classroom has long vanished from my memory, but I know I repeated the number over and over again in my head.  Thinking of the number was pretty much the only thing that kept my mind from succumbing to full-fledge terror.  Even if the classrooms did not appear to be organized in a logical way, I could rest all of my hope on the fact that the printout of my class schedule showed a room number.

Sometimes we know very little about the challenges we are going to face.  Sometimes we are even clueless about the dangers that threaten us right now in the present.  Times of uncertainty can feel like a journey into darkness.  What I had not yet accepted during my childhood was the idea that you do not need to deal with that uncertainty alone.

On that first day of school, I managed to find my classroom just in time.  The bell literally rang just as I stepped through the doorway.  I had found the room the hard way by wandering down every hallway on the second floor of the school.  My mind reasoned that if I checked every door, I would eventually find the right one.  Who designed this school, I remember asking myself.  The architect must have been a cruel man.  

But there was no need for me to suffer that day.  If I had simply searched for a teacher, there was likely someone who could point me in the right direction.  Teachers were encouraged to stand outside of their classrooms between class periods to help lost students, especially on the first day of school.  Why didn’t I ask for help?  Was it pride?  Perhaps I was so nervous that it never crossed my mind to ask for help.  I reverted to the standard human reaction to difficult times: I figured that I had to solve the problem on my own, even when I had no idea how to solve it.

Jesus says, “While you have the light, believe in the light.”  It is true that we do not always have a school full of teachers to help us, but I suspect help is available much more often than we realize.  People who offer help to those in need are believers of the “light” that Jesus mentions, so why should a person in trouble choose to walk around in the dark?

Human beings are not perfect, and I can think of times when I should have helped a person in need but failed to do so.  Still, Jesus offers a better way to live, and that way is one of love and support in spite of the trials that surround us.  That love and support is what we need today just as desperately as the early followers of Christ did years ago.

Loving your Enemies

Luke 6:27-38

Love for Enemies

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.* Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

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This section of the Gospel of Luke contains callings that are enough to take me aback at first glance. Do good to those people who hate me? If someone takes my coat, give them my shirt? If they strike my cheek, offer the other one also? Many sure would call that playing the role of the ultimate victim. I get the perspective that it’s no great credit to do good to those who do good to you. The real trick for me comes in how I go beyond that to love my enemies without being that complete victim. I think the answer comes in my own perspective. If I am mistreated, and mistreat that person back in turn, I am doing that out of revenge. And if I let hatred and anger and negativity build in me, I am only hurting myself. If I return negativity with that same negativity, I am spreading that same evil and sin. I think this Gospel challenges us to not let those negative situations destroy our own selves from within. It challenges us to turn those bad experiences into positive examples for others and to not do more damage to ourselves.

This Gospel reading also reminds us that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. We are called to me merciful as God is merciful. That certainly can be hard to swallow in many cases, but it is the basis of Christianity. Otherwise, God’s love would not be unconditional. God’s offer of salvation and unconditional love is just that—without condition. Seeing that played out can be hard in some cases, but it’s critical if we are called to live in the image of God. Returning hateful actions with the same would be contrary to that spirit. We are not to judge so that we will not be judged. It might not involve the same situation, but the issue of judgment impacts infinite circumstance. We are not to condemn so that we won’t be condemned. We are to forgive so that we may be forgiven. All of this indicates to me that not judging or condemning cannot be about the idea that I’m not as bad as the other person. It’s about God’s greatest offer of mercy and forgiveness to all. Those ideas have to apply to everyone if we believe God is the greatest source of love.

Not judging or condemning and loving my enemies does not mean I have to keep myself in abusive or negative situations. I believe that would not be living into God’s purpose since those circumstances keep people from living into the full life Christ intends. It means I will not let the sinful actions of others keep me from giving the best of myself. Loving you enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who abuse you means not being drawn into reciprocating those actions. And it also sometimes means being willing to consider what brought those people to those actions. It means taking a moment to consider what is behind the hatred, the cursing, and the abuse. Sometimes, understanding the core of those patterns can be the basis of healing.

The idea of justice and mercy in this reading might not always seem fair in our human experience, but that is actually a very good thing. It means it is absolutely unconditional. And if nothing else, we are promised in the end that the measure we give will be the measure we get back. When that idea seems far removed, I try to at least remember the idea of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Law

Luke 6:6-11

6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there. 9Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ 10After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored.11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.


I live in a large community that values independence.  When news breaks out about  United States government intelligence programs spying on citizens, people in my area tend to feel outrage.  Despite this demand for freedom, I also notice that people around me are quick to establish rules, and God help you if you disobey one of those rules.

Today’s Gospel passage addresses a specific group of people who are quick to judge.  Jesus does more than address these people, however.  The conflict centers on a complicated moral dilemma: are rules so important that they should outrank compassion and human decency?  I believe this scene shows that Jesus respects the legal code of his religion but also accepts that life presents challenges that do not fit within the parameters of the law.

I think we can apply this concept to modern times.  In the United States, there is an ongoing debate over what to do about foreigners living and working in the country illegally.  A large group of the U.S. population seems to believe that illegal immigrants should be treated as people who break the law (i.e. criminals).  The details are often sketchy, but I assume those who make this argument envision a trial of some kind followed by some sort of punishment and then deportation for each illegal immigrant.

From a strictly legal point of view, this argument sounds rational; after all, illegal immigrants are in fact breaking the law.  A strict adherence to the law, however, can lead to cruel acts.  This dark reality has recently hit the American consciousness when the news media started to focus on the growing number of illegal children showing up at the U.S.-Mexican border.

It is well known that parents in other countries search for ways to secret their children into the United States.  Often members of families do not enter the country together, and the children end up alone and lost.  Is it morally right to apprehend, prosecute, and punish children who have entered the country illegally?

Many of the illegal immigrants are trying to escape dangerous gangs or nations with terrible economies.  Is it morally right to prosecute someone who has no choice but to break the law or face certain death?

I will not embarrass my home community by posting some of the cruel answers to the above questions that I have heard recently.

Jesus asks, “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath?”  The question does not suggest that the law should be eliminated.  Instead, it implies that the overseers of the law should apply it in a humane way.  There is the law, but love for your fellow humans should always come before the law.