Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Belief, Misbelief, Unbelief

I managed to escape in the direction of the Peaks again last Friday.  It was a glorious walk.  It also marked the start of a full week when I wouldn't be motorway travelling, so I wanted to engage in a bit of mental recalibration.  The process had begun in a personal prayer time earlier in the week.  I'd sensed God focussing on two images - not very remarkable, but carrying significance outside of my normal thought tracks.  (They were a petrol station and a small child.)

I'm aware that I have habitual thought patterns.  I invite you to agree that you have too, whether you've got some perception of this or not!  In usual mode, I'm a problem-solver.  It's not all bad: strong on analysis, open to creative solutions, practical focus on implementation.  However, God doesn't share this habituity; or any.  If we're going to get conformed to some of His thoughts, we clearly have to undergo restructuring and repositioning.  I think that when I first came to Sheffield, I was more open, available and responsive.  Preconceptions weren't going to build the church, even though I had a model that seemed to fit with what I knew of co-working with the Holy Spirit.  I was probably more energetic and motivational (ugh - horrible word), too.

So, while walking I was wrestling with how to dislodge the familiar and get nearer to a blank sheet of paper.  I started with beliefs that are misbeliefs.  These are a strange set of acquisitions.  If you find some truths intuitively plausible, attractive, acceptable, even obvious, you only go through a conversion-lite process to transfer them into Christian garb.  For example, compassion is a wonderful virtue, and so readily absorbed into the set of Christian values.  We may be horrified to find we disagree over what something so basic actually involves!  (I recently witnessed this in an email exchange about our street evangelism.)  But if the new creation meaning is only partly formed in each of us, if we've only acquired some conviction and indeed understanding by superficial engagement - misconception, we have a bastard child in our family.  And basic dissimilarity; with resulting moral and spiritual woe in the church. 

By contrast, unbelief, starting with no sympathy, affinity, inclination or credulity, even antipathy, requires a full and robust work of Holy Spirit conception to force its way into our truth system.  Mercifully, this God is well able to do as His Word carries creative power and require no preexistent material.  Though it calls for rock-breaking assaults on our barrenness, it's safer, and inevitably more fruit-bearing.

Suddenly, I'm more alarmed by the predominance of misbeliefs around the place than I am by the existence of sheer unbelief.  How stupid we are ever to think that something natural, secondhand and eroded by usage  should recommend itself to God for inclusion in our faith.  What a perilous journey the third Century apologists led us on when they co-opted Greek thought into service to the gospel.  How each generation parades a different selection of relevant, self-evident, universal half truth to bloat our pretentions and dilute hoped-for penetrating insight.  I could name some; but if you've been following me - you do it.

And I was at peace about my missing thought tracks, precisely because they present the Lord with space I won't interfere with, to generate growth.

Just yesterday I was reading a bit of Isaiah 53: a tender plant springing from dry and sterile ground (verse 2).  I've met dry and sterile ground in the United Arab Emirates.  Isaiah's message is "God will bring salvation from somewhere you wouldn't conceive of".  So we have pregnant virgins and green shoots in the concrete.  Praise God for such conceptions; may they fill the place.  How we need them.

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