Trust versus Belief
Trust versus Belief
Our passages today focus on reconciliation, the hard work of forgiveness. It might not look that way at first glance, as the passages have more finger pointing in them than words of forgiveness. However, if you dig deeper you will find that the theme of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships is at the heart of the passage.
Scripture: John 20: 19-31
Are we asked to believe or to trust?
If you read through John’s gospel you will find the following. In John 1: 7 we read: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” If you skip to the end you will read in John 20: 31, which we read today: “But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” A few verses earlier in response to Thomas Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It seems that John wants us to believe.
Here’s the trick, if I asked you what was the difference between believing and trusting I’m not sure we would have a really big difference. The words can and often are used interchangeably.
Let’s talk Greek for a few moments. Greek is a challenging language. The word translated as believe can also be translated as trust. Remember what I just said about using them interchangeably? However, it depends on how that word is formed. In Greek the word for believe or trust can be used as a noun or a verb. In his gospel, John opts to use it as a verb, which is the form that is usually translated as believe. All of this opens up some interesting questions that we can ask ourselves. What if we read it a bit differently? It gets a bit nuanced but here is a rereading providing by Prof. Rene Schreiner:
Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Do not be distrusting but trusting” and “Are you trusting because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.”
The purpose of the gospel: “ … written so that you may come to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you may have life in his name.” (Rene Schreiner)
How does trusting in Jesus change our outlook as opposed to simply believing in Jesus?
Have you ever done a trust exercise with a group of people? One of the more interesting ones is to stand on an elevated platform with the group behind you. Their arms are outstretched, and you fall backwards, and they catch you. Sounds simple yet terrifying. What if they drop me? What if they decide not to catch me? Is it enough to believe they will catch you or do you need to trust that they will catch you?
Believing is good and it’s clear that John is interested in this. But trust? Well trust comes with risk.
Now imagine you are Thomas. You have not had the same experience as everyone else. You haven’t seen the risen Christ, you were away that day. Now we don’t know much about Thomas. We don’t even know much about the inner workings of the disciples, other than that of all of them we hear about Peter, James, and John the most. For all we know Thomas was the one who was always the butt of the joke. But let’s talk all assumptions out of it and pretend we are Thomas. We haven’t seen the risen Christ, it’s still dangerous to be associated with Jesus and his movement. Then one night your friends tell you that Jesus is alive. This is wonderful news, but to act on it comes with risk. To trust that what was said puts you at risk.
Thomas isn’t so sure. We dub him Doubting Thomas and I’m not sure that’s really fair. If we are honest with ourselves our reaction might not be so different. Trusting comes with risk.
Do we believe? Yes. Do we trust to the extent that we are willing to put ourselves at risk? I dare say sometimes we hesitate. Our belief needs to feed our trust, because the next step is truth telling and that takes courage. This passage isn’t really about an object lesson in belief and doubt. This passage, at the very end of John’s gospel, is a reminder that what we believe takes courage to share.
The message of the resurrection is that God is saying yes to life in the most affirming way possible, by defeating death. Jesus preached a message of life and radical inclusion. That radical inclusion includes an upending of the current social, economic, and political order. Why does that take courage and how does it affect me? I’m so glad you asked!
We might say we don’t live in a patriarch society. Some might debate that. We don’t live in an empire, but rather a democracy. Yes, we do but others in the world live in authoritarian regimes. Jesus preached a message that said, in rather broad strokes, the way we care for one another and organize ourselves is harmful to some people and further enriches others. That’s the message of the gospels and the resurrection is God’s way of affirming how broken our relationships and systems of interaction are that the one who preached against it was risen from the dead.
Why does this take courage and what does it have to do with trust?
Do we have the courage to proclaim as Jesus did that everyone should have access to equal health care? Jesus healed those that society shunned. Do we have the courage to proclaim that everyone should have access to the same base level of social services? That no one should subsist below a certain line? Don’t want to talk about homelessness or poor people. What about seniors and elder care. Everything we learned over two years of Covid in congregate living settings. Is it right? Has anything changed? What will it cost us to proclaim that? What will it cost us to enact that?
Do we care enough about the planet that we are willing to make decisions about the companies we invest in? Are their policies equitable and sustainable? Do our pensions invest in energy companies? Do those energy companies have good policies on renewable energy? What percentage of their revenue comes from practices that damage the earth? What’s that have to do with being a Christian? Read Genesis again, the part where God creates the earth and calls it good. What responsibility do we have as people who claim to follow Christ to live as he did and to speak about injustice as he did?
I could go on.
Will it cost us? Probably. Do we trust in the message of the gospel enough that we are willing to take that chance anyway?
All of this takes courage. You need to trust that God has your back. And God does, that’s the message of the resurrection. That’s what John is trying to tell us in this passage about Doubting Thomas. That God has our back, now get out from behind the locked door of the upper room, take heart and proclaim the good news. God’s got your back. Trust in that, it is a message I chose to believe. Amen.
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St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
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