Monday, January 23, 2012

Connecting the Dots

What do we believe in? Edward R. Murrow led the 1950s radio series This I Believe, which gave individuals the chance to state the basis of their belief. NPR revived that radio series a few years ago, and it continues on a website: Until someone asks me to write a short essay or give a short radio interview, I feel like I believe in lots of things—too many even to name. But the real genius of the This I Believe approach is that it forces us to ask, “What do I really believe?”

I think many things. I believe a fair number. I put my faith in only a few. I think there’s a difference in the kind of belief that Murrow has in mind and the sort of reasonable assent that we might otherwise count as a belief. For example, I believe in gravity—which is to say that I have no reason to think that my being stuck to the ground is the result of anything other than this to me abstract concept that physicists have named “gravity.” But I don’t really put my heart into that belief. What, then, is it to believe at that deeper level?

In today’s gospel reading (John 4:43-54), Jesus bluntly tells an authority figure, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The gospel writer John likes to call miracles “signs”—feats of wonder that point the viewer (or reader) to something bigger (namely that Jesus is the Son of God). This official has come to Jesus asking for him to come and heal his son, but Jesus’ reply suggests that the man must see a sign before he can believe. Undeterred, the man begs Jesus to come and heal his son, to which Jesus replies, “Go; your son will live.”

It’s an odd interchange. The man asks for a miracle, but Jesus seems reluctant to give it. The man pursues, and Jesus grants his request but not by making any big show of it—simply by assuring the man that his son would live. Then the man returns home and discovers that his son is recovering. Upon learning when the fever broke, the man puts the pieces together and believes. He makes the connection between his son’s recovery and Jesus’ confident prediction. That was enough. The connection was made, and the man believes.

Unless we see signs and wonders, we won’t believe either. But what are signs and wonders? I don’t think they are miracles in the biblical sense (unless you mean this one). We won’t get to see Jesus walk on water. But we do have opportunities to see God working in our lives. What has he done for you today? How is God active in your daily life? If I have a fever, I take antibiotics and recover. Few of us would call that a miracle, but I might still call it a sign—as long as I can put the pieces together.

Signs and wonders don’t have to be inexplicable; they just need to point us back to God. What is pointing you back to God, helping you connect the dots? If you can make the connection, you can believe. Our faith doesn’t rest exclusively on the miraculous. Our belief comes when we recognize that God is active in our life—often in simple, obvious, mundane ways. We don’t need a laser-light show. We need the big picture.

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