In a past season of my life, I regularly made the almost 12-hour, night, bus ride between Nairobi and Kampala. As we approached Kampala in the morning hours with our stomachs rumbling and eager for breakfast, the bus would stop by some roadside markets – and you if you know anything about Uganda, you know that food is not their main problem. The markets were a sight for our hungry stomachs. The racks were laden with yellow bananas, pineapples -bigger and juicier than anything you have ever seen; roasted bananas (ngoja) and grilled chicken fresh off the charcoal grills. The beauty of it is that you did not have to get off the bus – the roasted chicken and bananas were held up on one end of a long stick to one’s eye level through the bus window, and you could easily choose the most succulent looking one. The entire transaction would take place, through the bus window, from the comfort of your seat.
One day, I am with a bunch of Kenyans and was rather surprised by their nonchalant attitude when we arrived at that stop. They were completely unmoved by the barbeque smells wafting through the bus and the excitement of the other passengers as they secured their breakfast. Upon enquiring why their lack of interest, one of them asked, “how can I know its chicken?” Meaning it could be anything. Every so often Kenyan airwaves are astir with news of donkey meat ‘beef’ that has been sold by unscrupulous butchers. Allegedly cat meat has also been used to stuff the delicious beef samosas we so love. Makes you understand the suspicion with which my fellow travelers treated those roadside sellers – right?
This then leads to the question; how can we trust anything? Normally we ask for proof like say a scientific experiment. Apparently, there is a place called Antarctica. I have never been there and I don’t know anyone, who even knows anyone, who has ever been there. And I suspect, neither have you! You have not conducted any scientific experiment either – and yet you confidently believe its existence. For me or you to distrust the existence of Antarctica would mean distrusting our news suppliers, atlases, and very many other relationships.
On any given day we make all kinds of decisions to trust different people. We have to trust in order to live. Every day we put our lives into peoples’ hands. We expect that the bus driver is licensed, the food in the restaurant or the market is not poisoned, and the doctor knows what he is saying when he recommends a certain medication or course of treatment. We believe based on relational testimony and trust.
It is therefore paradoxical that when Christians mention faith it is often interpreted to mean irrational and dismissed because of lack of proof. This notwithstanding that the bible comes to us with the same sort of evidence that we use day to day in evaluating things and people.
If religious belief were only a matter of whether to, or not to, buy the chicken offered through the bus window then it would not matter. The stakes are very low – one could well have packed their sandwich for the journey and anyway the final destination was only an hour further along.
There are other high-stakes decisions where the choice really matters. For example, the gospels – the authoritative records of Jesus’s existence; make wide-sweeping conclusive claims that one can either accept or reject – but certainly one cannot claim not to care without consequences.
John, one of the gospel writers, says that he writes about the word of God, who came down from heaven to tell us who God is.
The truth of this can be known, not so much by logically proving with mathematical formulae or scientific experiments – after all, we can hardly prove many things that are important to us (such as our mothers’ love). The bigger question is whether or not we want to find out.
Of course, trust can be betrayed – ask a Kenyan who hesitates to buy roadside meat or someone whose doctor has misdiagnosed them. But if a piece of writing makes such a foundational claim as this one does;
These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
Then it’s not a matter of preference, but life and death.
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