At my weekly Bible Study in the cafeteria of Rowan College of South Jersey, a community college near me, we are studying the Gospel of John. This week we were reading about when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. (John 6) It’s a pretty incredible story. And by “incredible” I mean it is not credible –“Credible” as in “credo” — as in “I believe.” This miracle and all of the miracles the gospels record are unbelievable. They cannot be believed, And yet I believe them to be true.
The college students who had gathered around the pepperoni pizza were wondering what to do with this. I agreed that these miracles are indeed unbelievable and yet I still believe them. I asked them what they think. Am I an idiot? Am I just comfortable with being that inconsistent? Am I just okay with the Bible being laughable and weird?
1) Am I just an idiot?
Well yes, but for other reasons. However, I am comfortable with not knowing all the answers. The word miracle originally had more to do with wonder and mystery than the inexplicable. Around the end of the 19th century Christians by-and-large conceded to an understanding of the world in a dualism of natural and supernatural — explicable and inexplicable. What scientists could describe by means of cause-and-effect was deemed natural; and what they could not was still available for interpretation as miraculous but that space would one day be reduced to nothing. Everything would be explained. The word “belief’ got split on either side of the duality. Scientists believed in theories. Religious people believed in their God, too. Uh-oh! I think the scientific side became the concensus meaning without too much debate. So now religious people like me believe as a scientist does, we’re just idiots.
So now, one hundred or so years later, when we ask “Do you believe that Jesus fed five thousand people plus with just five loaves and two fishes?” what does that question mean? The tendency in our group at the Bible Study seemed to lean in two directions. 1) I guess I believe it but I kind of feel like an idiot if I do; and 2) It’s unbelievable but I suppose if you could explain to me how, I guess I could believe it.
But when I say “I believe it” I confess I mean something not much different than “I have decided to live as if it is true” or even “I want it to be true.” According to the rules of belief largely accepted today, I guess that makes me an idiot. But my heart has something to say to my head. I don’t accept the split in the first place. I believe the miracles because I believe in Jesus. I believe him. I trust him. And if he is a him to trust — if he is a living person with whom I relate — then yeah, I believe what they say about him. I believe he fed five thousand people plus with five loaves and two fishes.
2) Am I just comfortable with being inconsistent?
Well yes, but for other reasons. I don’t have to know everything in an intellectual way for it to be true. I believe Jesus in the present tense because I have experienced Jesus in the present tense. My heart and soul seem to speak to me. Jesus grabs me by my love and pulls me along. I don’t have it all figured out but it seems that when I say yes to where he is leading me I find enough confirmation along the way.
Can I prove it to you? No. But if you come along, I think you might get what I’m saying. That’s all I’ve got. I can’t prove it to you before you come. There are some parts of the unbelievability that I can clear out of the way for you, but believing is believing, not seeing.
3) Am I just okay with the Bible being laughable and weird?
Well yes, but for different reasons. It’s laughable because it makes me laugh for joy sometimes not because I fear being laughed at for believing it. When I make a connection I hadn’t before, or I learn something new and exciting, or when I’m doing the Bible (and this is the best and most common for me) I laugh for the life I’ve been given and the gifts God delights in me finding. And sometimes I laugh because, yes, the Bible is very weird. This is part of its appeal for me, though. Something in me longs for a different world than the one in which we live. Something in me dreams of a fuller version of myself living in that world. I want both of those things very badly. Of course, they are weird because they are not yet real the way I want them to be. Whenever I get a glimpse or take a step toward that future it does feel strange. The Bible was very weird to those who wrote it because they were recording those sorts of faltering steps. They were stepping into new territory in almost every verse. Ever thought about it that way? It’s so old it’s kind of a head trip to try. But try it!
I’m glad to have found a group of students who want to try it at Rowan College of South Jersey and I’m looking for more.