Believing

Read John 20:24-29

People accept information in different ways. For some individuals, if a trusted friend or relative tells them something, they accept what is shared as truth. Other people need to see some type of physical evidence before they trust new information. In between are what may be referred to as “situational acceptors.” These individuals examine the situation, i.e., the person who is sharing, the circumstances surrounding the information, and the impact of the information upon them, before deciding if physical proof is necessary.

In the passage from John’s gospel account, we encounter Thomas who is definitely a physical evidence acceptor. Jesus had just appeared to the Apostles for one of the first times since his resurrection. Thomas was away doing something at the time of the appearance. When Thomas returns, the others tell Thomas that Jesus is alive and they have seen him. The information seems illogical to Thomas. Even though he has spent almost three years with the disciples, he was not willing to accept their verbal declaration of Jesus being alive. After all, he had watched him die on a cross. Thomas demands physical evidence that who they claim to have seen was truly Jesus and that he was indeed resurrected. Jesus appears again and provides Thomas with the physical evidence which he needs. Then Jesus refers to you and me.

What type of person are you when it comes to believing information? Are you like Thomas who demanded the physical evidence before accepting? Maybe you are a situational acceptor. Jesus says to us that it is great if you come to believe after seeing but it is even better to believe without seeing. Belief in Jeans requires us to go beyond the evidence and to see with the heart, or spirit. Belief in Jesus must be within our very spirit; it must be deeper than just a factual knowledge.

Unbelief

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 (NIV)

In the Star Wars movie, “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda is attempting to train Luke Skywalker in the Jedi ways. Luke is impatient and quickly gives up when the tasks which Yoda gives him prove extremely difficult. As part of his training, Yoda instructs Lake to use his mind and the Force to lift Luke’s X-wing fighter out of the swamp where he crashed. Luke does not think it will be possible but tells Yoda that he will try. Yoda responds, “No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.” Yoda emphasizes that only by believing you can will anything be possible.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’s ministry, we witness a scene when a man brings his son to be cured of an unclean spirit. When the man arrives with his son, Jesus is on a mountainside with three of his closest disciples. The remaining disciples attempt to cure the boy in Jesus’s absence but are unsuccessful. When Jesus rejoins them, the man requests Jesus’s help but begins the request with, “If you can…” Jesus repeats those words back to the man with what appears to be a bit of frustration. He then goes on to say that belief can make things possible. Jesus’s words prompt the man to declare his belief and requests Jesus to assist him in overcoming his unbelief.

Yoda has to show Luke the importance of believing in himself. Jesus has to show the man the importance of believing in Jesus. Frequently, we need to be reminded of the importance of believing. Believing not to just get something we desire but believing as the starting point in accomplishing in the midst of difficulty. The man’s response to Jesus is one which we all can echo. Even in the midst of our belief, we have areas of doubt or unbelief. Some of these doubts are not easy to overcome. We need to reach out to the Lord for assistance. Through the Spirit we can receive the tools to overcome our doubts. Sometimes those tools are provided through other people placed on our path. Sometimes these tools are only found in the midst of prayer as Jesus states at the end of our passage. Still other times, we receive the tools through the study of the Word.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

Is This Heaven?

Thirty years ago, a movie was released which starred Kevin Costner and told the story of a man who built a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farmland because a voice had told him that if he built it, all the great baseball stars would come and play there. One small piece of dialogue from the movie Field of Dreams became famous, especially in Iowa:

“Is this heaven?”

“No, this is Iowa.”

One of the “ghost players” arrived at the newly constructed baseball diamond and asks the question. Costner’s character provides the response.

I am prompted by this movie scene to consider the question, “What is heaven?” In the movie, the baseball diamond seemed to the ghost baseball player like it might be heaven. A lot of people refer to a certain setting as being like heaven. Images of golden streets and angels with harps are presented as ways heaven may look. While these images and settings my bring comfort and give us a sense of something grand, I am not certain that they truly are heaven.

At the start, I have to be honest and state there is no concrete proof of what heaven is or is not. Jesus tells stories that give us more a concept of the nature of heaven and not a physical description. People recorded in the Bible speak of visions which are often associated with heaven but are not intended to give us a physical description. I think there is a significant reason for this vagueness. In fact, this vagueness is part of what creates an image of heaven for me.

I am convinced that heaven is not an actual location. While we are accustomed to looking toward the sky when referencing heaven, this comes more out of Greek and Roman cultures and their mythology than any theological understanding. Heaven is a spiritual reality which cannot be understood fully in our physical nature. This prompts us to create images in our mind, so we are able to gain some type of grasp on the concept of heaven. Creating physical images to understand spiritual realities is common among humans.

My belief is that heaven should be understood as being present with the fullness of God. While we are physically alive on earth, we get glimpses what heaven is because we receive glimpses of the presence of God. When the fullness of our spiritual being is unbound at the time of our physical death, then we will experience the fullness of God who is spiritual. Becoming aware of the fullness of God which already surrounds us now, though we are incapable of fully experiencing this fullness, is to me experiencing heaven.

As wonderful as Iowa is and a baseball field may be, it is not heaven. Heaven is present in those places but heaven is not a place of itself.

How does this align with your understanding of heaven? How do you disagree with my understanding of heaven?