I was having a debate with a friend about the definitions of the words ‘Debt’ and ‘Investment’. They had said that they were debt free. They had paid off credit cards, car loans, and student loans. This is fantastic but, they still had a Home Mortgage. In my mind I kept thinking, “You’re doing amazing paying off debt but you are not debt free… You don’t own your home. You may have equity in it but you have a loan on it that you have to pay every month. That’s debt!”
We went back and forth and I realized that I consider debt to be anything that involves a loan of some sort or money you owe outstanding for some sort of penalty incurred (breaking a lease for instance or overdue taxes). My friend’s definition of debt didn’t include their mortgage because in their home growing up, their parents considered their home to be an investment, even though they were carrying a home loan it was always referred to as an investment. Now I understood that our definitions of debt and investment, or at least the way we used those words in everyday language, had some nuanced differences that led to our debate. It was friendly debate.
The point as it relates to defining what a person means by ‘God’, is that we can’t make assumptions that those closest to us use words in the same way we use them… even about the most fundamental of things of life. Let alone a complex idea like ‘God’. The use of language is necessary for communication but words alone don’t always express the full complexity of what they are being used to describe.
When my life as a Christian ended, one of the questions I asked myself was, “What does it mean to have faith in something?” If I had faith in God and I have faith in myself or others, is that the same kind of faith? Well the obvious answer is, no, because God is different from humanity… until you don’t believe in God.
If I have faith that my friend that I talked about in the beginning of this post, is a reasonable human being and will explain to me how they’re using words, why do I have that faith? Well, I’ve seen them interact with new ideas and debate myself and others in the past about certain topics. I therefore suspect that they won’t mind engaging me around new ideas and topics in the future. I have faith in potential present/future behavior based on tangible observations of patterns in the past. My friend and their behavior are tangible objects of my faith (another word could be trust).
However, once I came to the conclusion that the Bible had been written by human hands and there was no way to know whether these writings were under the influence of the ‘God’ that is described in the writings… I realized that the Theistic God of the Western Protestant Bible was more of an idea and in Western Christianity there are thousands of variations on how the definitions/interpretations of that idea play out in life (different denominations with different doctrines). So God is not a tangible person that can be observed by my 5 senses and therefore it is a hard to recognize patterns so as to extrapolate faith/trust in God. But wait, we do put our faith in ideas, right?
Well, yes. I believe in the idea that failure is an essential part of growth in life. I’m sure there are many who would agree with that idea, but from person to person, our ideas about the application of that principle will vary based on personal experience in applying the idea. For me, looking at my past experiences, failure seems to be a consistent part of the process, so I have faith /trust in the idea. But, I must continue to think critically about how I apply it because it’s intangible and given different sets of circumstances/facts there may need to be an update to my understanding of the idea.
This is why I don’t begrudge Theistic Faith completely or claim to be an atheist. There are many examples of Christians who evolve there understanding of God as factual evidence presents itself. Facts that the Biblical Writers probably didn’t have. For instance, the understanding of human sexuality and biology would have been incredibly limited in Biblical times in light of what we know today. Being born intersex at that time (having variations of both male and female reproductive organs at birth), probably meant subjugation to all sorts of marginalization in light of religious beliefs that the sexes are strictly binary in physical presentation (male or female). Science has helped us understand that this isn’t true, but that’s only if you allow news facts to impact the story you have about life. Rigid faith ideas don’t allow that sort of malleable paradigm. In fundamental religious circles, that’s seen as a sort of betrayal of the faith, rather than the humility to admit that maybe former beliefs in certain ideas about God could be incorrect, especially when observed evidence breaks stride with past patterns.
For me to respond to the question ‘Do I believe in God?’, whether biblical or not, the person asking the question has to define ‘God’ and depending on the definition I might be in agreement with the truth of the idea. But, like my friend above doesn’t call a Mortgage, debt, I don’t have to call your ideas, God.
Have you ever had a disagreement with someone about the language (maybe the specific words) they were using to describe a situation/person/place/thing etc. ? Did you find yourself bewildered at the fact that they didn’t understand you and vice/versa? What words in the conversation could have possibly held nuanced differences in meaning that led to the disagreement? Go explore this with that person, please.
Share thoughts/questions in the comments.