Can we learn to believe in God?

This was the question asked on the Op-Ed page of a recent edition of the NY Times. I didn’t read the article. The question itself was enough to get me pondering a personal response.

Short answer? Sure, we can learn to believe in God the same way we can gain strength by subjecting our muscles to repeated exertion, or our brains to recalling letters of the alphabet. This is what regular worship and Sunday School can accomplish.

But is this the goal? Is this what we should want? Because it starts sounding an awful lot like rote memory, like what can happen when we say or hear something often enough- we just might start internalizing it, believing it. Not necessarily because it’s true in some absolute or cosmic way, but because it’s what we’ve come to know and grown familiar with. We’ve invested time and energy, after all.  And people in positions of authority are telling me it’s true, so it must mean something.

Learning to believe in God sounds somehow suspect to me. It infers too much process and a level of discipline that leaves no room for pure revelation. One could argue that revelation is the fruit of discipline, but that starts sounding like works righteousness to me- like you have to put in your time before you gain access to the really important information.

I betray my own misgivings. I envision belief in God as something more mysterious, ethereal, personal, and spiritual than simple muscle memory or extended periods of time with like-minded people, the product of some sort of not-so-benign group think that helps us get through the day.

No doubt we come to faith by different means. We profess belief in God in a kairos moment of clarity or surrender. Or maybe we say we believe when we’re not really sure.

Faith is neither rational nor logical. Faith is living without all the answers, including never knowing with certainty that there is a God in heaven who loves us.

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