Last Sunday’s Gospel reading included these familiar words from John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
The priest spoke about how this passage seems to be over-used, with “John 3:16” plastered on bumper stickers and billboards without any context.
It is often used as a lead-in to prostletyzing: “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
The priest brought up the difficulty of yes/no questions that are framed so that either answer is not satisfactory–the classic example being, “Sir, have you stopped beating your wife?”
He said that “Do you believe in God?” bothers him, because it seems to give power to the state of our own believing or unbelieving, while God’s existence is unaffected by our doubt or disbelief. He explained that a more relevant question is “Do you have a relationship with God (or Jesus)?”
The sermon didn’t phase me much because I do believe in God and I feel like I do have a relationship with Him, so neither question bothers me. I also know that my Dad believed in God, and his strong faith was very much a part of my upbringing.
The next day, though, another yes/no question came to me, that his sermon helped me see in a different light: “Do you believe in life after death?”
(The Cross and Crown seal of the Christian Science Church)
Since my Dad died, I have been dealing with the differences between our faith traditions. He was a Christian Scientist, and I have been an Episcopalian since my early 20’s. While the Book of Common Prayer that we use in my church has several beautiful “burial” services, the Christian Science Church does not do funerals. We, of course, will honor my Dad’s wishes, but I was (and still am) feeling a bit “adrift” without a service, ceremony or ritual to mark his untimely passing.
But when the yes/no question came to me, I saw it in the bothersome way that my Dad might have. Christian Scientists don’t mark death because they don’t believe in death. Life is eternal, and the material trappings of this life that are not eternal are not real. I know I am oversimplifying things, but that is enough of an understanding for me to make peace with my Dad’s wishes.
Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in life after death?
Do you want fries with that? 😉