“Belief is where we all start, but it’s important to keep in mind that we are on a journey, a walk that continues beyond our beliefs and transforms into a relationship.”
I like to avoid, best I can, saying that I believe Jesus loves me.
This is not because I am ashamed of it (as if its simplicity were beneath me), quite to the contrary, I am filled with overwhelmed joy at the thought of it.
So then why do I avoid saying it? Because, to cut to the point: I don’t believe. I know.
The difference is gigantic, even if at first we don’t realize it.
To say we believe in something is to essentially say that we can explain why we do so. It turns the issue from a matter of the heart into a matter of the mind.
To say that I believe Jesus loves me, is to say that I can show you the reason why I believe this, as if all I have to do is to point to a verse in the Bible.
And can’t I? The answer for me is no.
The situation is best understood by taking a good look at the famous childhood hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” According to the song, we know “Jesus loves me” because “the Bible tells me so.”
This was succinctly true when I sang it at the age of eight…
it is no longer even remotely true at the age of twenty-six.
While it is obvious that anyone can come to “believe” in God from reading the Bible, no one can come to “know” God from simply reading words on a page.
No. To know God, one must live in a relationship with him, to walk daily as if with a friend. This is why we make a distinction between the Word as written on the page and the living Word that inspired it and gives it the life it has.
Rather succinctly then, I do not believe Jesus loves me because the Bible told me so…
I know he loves me and when I look to the Bible I see affirmation of what I have come to learn from life experience and my walk with God.
I see in the Bible the testimonies of others and their experiences, slowly discovering that my own story (failures and victories) is but an extension of their collective voice.
So what’s the real difference? A belief can be explained (and possibly explained away). Knowledge, specifically intimate knowledge of a person, can’t.
This is best grasped when the person in question is changed from the untouchable God to that of someone far more tangible: my mother for example.
If someone asks me whether I believe my mother is trustworthy, the question already rings false. It is not a belief. It’s a fact of life.
Why do I trust my mother? There’s no one answer. Nor is there a dozen or a hundred. It was something that was understood by daily living and growing into a relationship with her over the course of my life.
There is no way now to untangle what I ‘know’ her. I simply know it. I can’t prove to you that it’s true. All I can do is tell you to try walking with her in life and see if the same happens for you.
The same is true for love. If someone asks you to explain why you love your girlfriend, partner or wife, there is no right answer. You can possibly give some explanations, but none of them will either sound right or actually explain things.
Everything that applies to my mother or the girl I love also applies to a discussion of God. When we talk about living daily in Christ or growing our relationship with Jesus, it is saying that we have moved beyond mere belief and come to sense in a mysterious and unexplainable way the heart and character of God.
Something that profound cannot be explained, only experienced. It can only be lived.
This is why discussions about the Christian walk tend to go in circles with those who have never experienced it. It’s why debating such things is never truly helpful.
But what if you haven’t yet experienced this? What if you feel that “belief” is a better word to describe where you’re at. Is this bad? Honestly, no.
Though I’ve drawn a dramatic line between belief and knowledge, in truth, one does requires the other. You have to believe something exists before you can consciously know that you exist with it.
The divide between these two statements is not one of opposites, as if they contradict one another, but of distance. The point is, you are still walking with God, still on that journey that leaves it’s mark on all who walk it, trying to sense the hand wrapped around your own, the one guiding you to a place unknown.
And honestly, it’s the perfect place to be.
Belief is where we all start, but it’s important to keep in mind that we are on a journey, a walk that continues beyond our beliefs and transforms into a relationship.
So, again, for myself, where I am on my own journey, I don’t believe Jesus loves me because my Bible told me…
I know because He’s shown me.
The secret to the journey? All you have to do is keep walking, even if you don’t sense the hand at times wrapped around your own.
Matthew J. Korpman is a minister-in-training, Young Adult novelist and published researcher in Biblical Studies. A graduating quadruple major at the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, completing degrees in fields such as Religious Studies, Philosophy and Archaeology, he is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church whose research interests include everything from the Apocrypha to the Apocalypse.