Opinion Columns & Blogs

The seeker and the believer

It’s so easy to confuse the two. For example, when I’m discussing the resurrection of Jesus with my friend, Bob and I’m wearing my seeker hat and Bob’s wearing his believer hat, we’re not communicating. I’m looking for clues; he doesn’t need any clues. It may seem to an outsider we’re discussing the same thing. We’re not.

For Bob, St. Paul and the gospels are sufficient. Even though Paul describes a spiritual resurrection and the gospels go to great pains to make it a physical one, believers can synthesize all the textual contradictions, smooth out all the inconsistencies, and simply believe it. Bob can do that. Bob doesn’t need facts or data or witnesses; he uses stories or parables or metaphors to describe the details of his belief. All my believer friends do this, including the gospel writers.

But the seeker examines every clue. I remember when my professor, Dr. Pat Skehan, told us about the Dead Sea Scrolls. He had slides that showed the caves in the Qumran mountain side where the Essene monks had hidden the scrolls in the year 70 CE., and then had waited patiently for the Roman troops to pass them by. But the troops slaughtered them, and the scrolls lay hidden in copper jars until Dr. Skehan and a few other archeologists dug them up in 1956.

That story was difficult to believe. Almost 2,000 years had passed, and I was supposed to believe the scrolls were still there! But then a few weeks later, Dr. Skehan brought one of the fragments to class. It was in a small clear plastic container, and he placed it on the desk in front of us. I picked it up and I could easily read the Hebrew letters. I was holding a document that had been written sometime before the birth of Jesus; no need for faith anymore. I had the truth.

Both the seeker and the believer talk about truth. But here again, there’s a huge difference. The seeker will couch his truth in doubt and uncertainty because he’s always looking for more, but the believer shuns doubt like the plague and claims his truth is complete because revelation is now closed. The seeker, like Dr. Skehan, accepts the data at face value but he doubts this is all there is. The believer, like Bob, claims he has the total truth; there can’t be any more.

I understand. When Bob says, “Jesus was born of a virgin to fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah 7:14,” I don’t argue. He believes it because he read it in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Two hundred years ago, scripture scholars began to disclose that Isaiah was talking about a pregnant girl (ha almah) in the King’s court, not a virgin (bethulah), and Matthew’s “prophesy” was just one of five Old Testament stories Matthew uses to highlight the importance of Jesus. But for believers like Bob, this historical research is irrelevant; he has the faith.

There’s nothing wrong with faith. All of us grew up believing our parents and pastors and teachers. We didn’t need proof until we grew older and began to realize that these pillars of truth in our early lives were not infallible. At this point, we had a choice. We could:

▪  Believe without proof. Two billion believers: Christians, Jews, Muslim, Baha’i, etc., adopt this kind of blind faith.

<bullet> Quit believing. Over a billion people were believers who gave up after simply trying to find reasonable and logical answers to their questions.

<bullet> Believe while continuing to seek. More and more progressive seekers are joining hands in their search for legitimate historical facts which enrich their faith and allow it to grow.

This is the core of the problem: Is faith static or can it grow and change? For example, archeologists have uncovered several more gospels than the four in our Bible; should we discard them? Are we satisfied we have all of revelation and we don’t need any of the 114 “Jesus-sayings” in the gospel of Thomas? The Council of Nicaea may satisfy you. Not me.