Faith without Belief: Transactional Faith

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Back in March, I watched An Interview with God on Netflix. The movie is about a young journalist trying to put his life together who is granted three interviews with God. He meets with Him, asks Him questions, and learns some interesting perspectives from the conversations. Through the process, he realizes some things about himself and admits a truth he hadn’t allowed himself to believe.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer. You may want to watch it before reading the blog if you are interested in it. What I share isn’t a spoiler but I don’t want you to be looking for the statement instead of watching and enjoying the movie. The blog will be here after you’re done watching it! (That’s what’s great about blogging – and the save feature if you see this post through WordPress Reader or in email.)

 

The movie opens up with Paul, the main character, stating:

“When I hear people say, ‘I lost faith’, I picture them giving up, no longer able to keep looking. It wasn’t like that for me. I even thought–selfishly–witnessing a war would bring me closer to God. But the more I prayed, the more empty my prayers seemed. They were whispers into a void. I was looking for a sign, any sign. But it was quiet.”

That statement was so real to me that it is the main reason I was drawn into the movie. I was intrigued because I felt at that time in my life like I was hearing silence from God in my own life. As I watched the beginning of the movie, there were a few lines that caught my attention.

“And you can build your house on no foundation but you better hope the earth doesn’t shake.”

“Is the problem that you don’t trust God’s plan or that you don’t trust yourself?”

“Everyone wants to get to heaven but no one wants to die.”

“Now you see why the burning bush worked so well. I talk; people listen.”

“Faith isn’t something that you can just have. Not in the conventional sense. Because faith isn’t the goal. Faith is a process. It’s a lot like a marriage; the vows you take aren’t the end. They are just the beginning. It takes time and dedication…every day.”

I paused a few times during the conversations between Paul and God to see what I really thought about some of the dialogue, tried to put myself in the Paul’s shoes and think about how I’d feel asking these questions and hearing the answers, and considered what I would ask God if I could interview Him. I thought of all the questions I have had over the years and wondered if my questions would change if my circumstances were different. Before long the movie took an interesting turn and I was hooked. I watched and stopped pausing it to consider things because I was so engaged in what the playwright wrote.

Then, this line hit me… HARD!

faith and belief

Stop and digest that statement. 

“Having faith isn’t worth much if you don’t really believe.”

Can you have faith without believing? Is that possible?

“I kept praying…sure. But I stopped looking or even listening.”

Ohhhhh man… ouch. The faith was in the deity but there was a lack of belief that the deity was actually hearing anything being said. It stopped me in my steps when I first watched it. I had to watch it twice to really process that statement and fully understand what Paul was saying. Having faith without believing doesn’t seem possible because faith is believing… right? I thought so until I went diving into the definitions of the words to help me understand the full statement.

Faith  – according to Merriam-Webster – is: …
2a(1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God
b(1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof
(2) : complete trust
To understand faith better, I wanted to understand the definition to belief.
Belief – according to Merriam-Webster – is: …
1 : a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
2 : something that is accepted, considered to be true, or held as an opinion : something believed

Having a belief and trust in and loyalty to God isn’t worth much if you don’t… oh wait… I still needed to look up believe – a verb not a noun.

Believe – according to Merriam-Webster – is:
1a : to consider to be true or honest
b : to accept the word or evidence of

Let’s try that again. Having a belief and trust in and loyalty to God isn’t worth much if you don’t consider [God] to be true or honest.

Ouch. The trust in part is a double whammy because faith is a noun but it requires you to have a trust in … see the “and” between those words? “A belief and trust in and loyalty to God”. And – in addition do.

Belief in + trust in + loyalty to

I started to break it down like this :

I have faith that God exists. [But do I? I don’t trust Him when it comes to me. Well, it doesn’t say trust without reservations… so perhaps it is still faith?]

I believe He is up there and working for others.

Therefore I have faith because I have a belief in His existence by accepting it as true. While I struggle with trusting Him when it comes to my own life because of the past four years, I trust Him for others without fail.

So, what happened in my own life, similar to Paul’s, is that I got to a place where I’d been let down and seen my dreams stomped on so many times that I stopped believing that God was looking out for me. The statement he made about not listening or looking anymore really hit me because I wouldn’t have thought that I had stopped looking for how He was working in my own life. I wouldn’t have admitted it if I had realized it. I was still jaded and wanted to believe I was a strong Christian who was filled with faith and following God with all I had. But then I sat with this line for another hour and really meditated on how it applied to my own life.

In my own life, I stopped doing and started just going through the motions and living each moment. I no longer actually thought about what I was doing but just did what I needed to do to get through each day. I didn’t really think about the words of the scripture I was studying, but instead just read them and went with what I knew them to mean. I stopped looking for deeper meaning in things and went instead to this work mode to “fix my situation.”

I had faith in God’s existence and believed He was there, but I felt like He was there in the way that a teacher is present in the classroom during detention – present but not really available or caring about what’s going on. Like someone stuck in a job He no longer cared about, I felt like God had stopped leading my life and left me to my own actions. Except, that goes against what I read in the Bible.

“I stopped looking or evening listening.”

I had stopped looking for His presence in my own life. But I could see Him in others! I could pray and believe He was going to show up for other folks. I prayed and mountains moved when I did so for others. The miracles I have seen in the last four years have been pretty incredible in the lives of those around me. But I stopped praying for myself. Because I stopped looking for Him and listening to Him.

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I was standing in the midst of Him doing a great thing but I wasn’t seeing it that way because it wasn’t happening the way I needed it to happen for my goals. I was arrogant enough to believe that I was doing it all right and HE was missing something. That’s a really hard reality to accept. But I had to accept it now that I realized it.

I was the problem. Not God. I thought of the line, “Paul, I told you. I play an active role in the lives of all my children. So let’s stop wasting time on things you already know and let’s move on. Shall we?” OUCH!

God has an active role in my life. That happened the day I decided I wanted to walk with Him. I’m sure some theologian will say He is active before then too but for a relationship to be real, BOTH people have to be invested. Someone can’t have an active role in someone else’s life if the person doesn’t want it.

I’d wanted God to be a part of my life and invited Him to take an active role. But when He didn’t participate the way I wanted Him to, I stopped trusting Him. I stopped believing in Him. I believed He was there; I just didn’t believe that He cared anymore. All because He didn’t do what I wanted Him to do in the way He wanted me to do.

an interview with God quote

My faith was shook. I had built my faith all these years on a foundation that was completely transactional. I didn’t build a relationship with God that would withstand the storms. Instead, I’d made a transaction. “Save me from myself and I will walk with you. But don’t tell me what to do. Just be there.” I expected Him to be a genie in the bottle who was there when I needed Him to answer my prayers…no demands…for myself and others. When He stopped answering my demands for myself, I stopped looking for Him and listening for Him when it came to my life. Instead I focused on a faith that only existed for others.

Last year I began phasing out friends and really getting serious about my relationships. This year has been more of that. I have focused on friendships that brought me closer to God, befriending folks who wanted to study the Bible more and talk about what scripture was really saying. With others, my faith was growing. With myself, it was staying stagnant. I heard the words of encouragement and all these sermons that are inspirational, but I stopped believing that He would do anything about my situation. Since I had stopped working for myself, and since I had stopped believing things would change, I stopped believing that He cared either.

In the end, this questions sent me on a year-long journey this year to strengthen my foundation, rebuild my house, and be sure that when the earth shakes, I am prepared. I am slowly, VERY slowly, gaining trust in Him again and believing that He does want the best for me. I am allowing myself to live in this moment instead of ALWAYS planning ahead and thinking of how one action defines the next. I am learning to go with promptings in my heart and reach out to others when I am struggling, instead of trying to do everything myself. I am feeling stronger though still fragile.

One fictional movie.

One statement in the movie that made me step back and evaluate. And several others that made me realize where I was and how I’d been acting.

Faith is personal. It isn’t something anyone else can give us. We must decide we want it. Believing is even more personal. No one can help us believe more. We must find that within us. We can have faith IN something without believing it. Faith is a noun. Believing is a verb.

When Paul realized this, thing began to change. And I have been watching things change for me this year as well. Sometimes we simply need to admit something to unbelieve it’s truth!

Thanks for reading this far. I hope in some way it helps you in an area of your own life.

~Shell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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