That wasn’t a slip of the tongue. I didn’t mean to ask, “Do you believe in God?” Admittedly, that is the more common question. But I want you to consider this one instead.
Does God believe in you?
My reason for asking this question is simple. A distressing number of people labor under the misimpression that God does not believe in us unless and until we believe in him.
They think that God is just assessing whether or not to believe in us. Deciding whether or not our behavior and our beliefs warrant heaven or hell, divine blessing or neglect, answered prayers or wasted breath.
The message God sends us in Jesus is precisely the opposite. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us that God believes in us because that’s who God is, not because of what we’ve done or might do.
That’s precisely what Jesus teaches us in his debate with the Sadducees. The Sadducees want to show Jesus just how wrong he is about the resurrection of the body. But Jesus quickly shows us—even if he doesn’t convince the Sadducees—that the real issue is their, and our, concept of God.
Let’s briefly recall the exchange. The Sadducees present what philosophers call an argument ad absurdum. If you believe something that leads to an absurdity, then what you believe is itself absurd. In their view, the resurrection is just such an absurdity.
Here’s how they argued. The Old Testament law required a brother to marry his brother’s childless widow. Now imagine that a man died and his brother did his duty, marrying his brother’s widow. This brother in turn dies, so his brother marries the woman. And this gets repeated four more times.
Does the woman have seven husbands in heaven? Of course not, they argue. It’s absurd. And the same thing goes for the idea that leads to such an absurd conclusion. So, the Sadducees conclude, there cannot be a resurrection of the body.
Jesus initially points out that resurrection life is an entirely different order of being. Since you can’t die, you don’t need to have children, so marriage as we know it doesn’t apply. But that’s just his initial response. Jesus is just warming up.
The central argument revolves around the identity and character of God himself. Jesus reminds his listeners of God’s conversation with Moses from the burning bush. When Moses asks God what he should tell the Hebrews in Egypt, God says, “Tell them I sent you.”
God gives his name this way, “Tell them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sent me.” Now these patriarchs were long dead by Jesus’ day. But in some fundamental way, they are still living. They are living because of who God is.
Jesus said, “He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” (Luke 20:38; emphasis added)
Or, to put it in the terms we’re considering today. God believes in them, just like he believes in you and me. And that makes all the difference.
Let me explain.
When Jesus says that God is the God of the living, he isn’t saying that God will believe in you and me as long as our hearts are beating.
Neither does he mean that God will believe in us as long as we prove ourselves with virtuous living or rigorous piety or unquestioning adherence to a specific set of doctrines.
Our beliefs are always a response to something or someone. Our beliefs are true if and only if they match how things already are. But God’s ways are not our ways.
When God believes, his believing makes something true. God’s belief in us is what brings us into existence in the first place. Before we could do anything to warrant such belief. He believed us out of nothing into life.
We usually say that we believe in others because of what they’ve routinely accomplished in the past or what we see as their unrealized but observable potential.
For instance, down by four with under two minutes to play, I’m happy to have the football in Drew Brees’ hands. I’ve seen what he can do. I believe in him.
Or to take another example, the postulants we are training for ordained ministry haven’t served as ordained persons yet, but I believe in what they will do in our Diocese. Along with their congregation, the Commission on Ministry, and the Standing Committee, I see an exciting potential in them.
We believe in people because of what they have done or have the potential to do. By contrast, God believes and we come into being. “Let there be Pete! And there is Pete.” “Let there be Cindy! And there is Cindy!”
And just in case you wonder if God puts a conditional tag on Pete and Cindy and all the rest, in case you think that God brings us into existence just to make us prove our worth or else be discarded as a mistake, I have to tell you a couple of other things.
Remember the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, discovered their nakedness, and covered up with fig leaves. Yes, God sent them from the Garden, but consider this.
Before they left the Garden, God gave them a new set of clothes. Instead of flimsy leaves, God gave his wayward children more durable clothes made of animal skins. He believed in them. He gave them a new life because of who he is: The God of the living.
After Adam and Eve, the whole creation went haywire. Instead of peace we have chosen violence. We seem to prefer competition over cooperation. We grab for ourselves before sharing with others, even though everything we have is a gift from the God who just keeps on giving. We treat God’s abundance like scarcity. Contempt vies with compassion to govern our hearts.
And what does God do? He believes in us. He doesn’t assume that we will draw on our better nature and turn things around on our own. Instead, he draws from deep within himself. In Jesus, he lays down on the cross and say, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He dies so that we can have new life.
God believes in us because he has completely invested himself in us, not because we have convinced him that we are a good investment.
Listen again to what God actually tells Moses from the burning bush. When Moses wants to know what to say to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, God says, “Tell them I sent you. Use my name.”
You may remember the famous name: I am that I am. But God also calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He identifies himself so completely with us that we become part of his name.
It’s like when I say I’m Joy’s husband or Patrick, Meredith, and Andrew’s dad. These aren’t accidental, dispensable things about myself, like wearing a blue shirt or black shoes.
I change my shirt and kick off my shoes and nothing really changes about me. No matter what happens to Joy or my daughter or my sons, who they are definitively shapes who I am. I can’t just shed them.
God won’t shed us. He won’t let us go. He believes in us. That is why Jesus believes in the resurrection of the body.
God creates us to be in relationship with us, a relationship appropriate to who God is. God is eternal. His love for us is everlasting. He therefore creates relationships that will endure for all of eternity.
Death does not shatter our relationship with God. Let me be clear. If we were all on our own, death would be the end. Full stop. But Jesus entered into our death and brought a new kind of life with him. In his son Jesus God believes us from death into resurrection life. A life beyond death, beyond sorrow, beyond suffering once and for all.
I suspect plenty of you answered yes to our guiding question. You know not only in your mind but in your heart that God believes in you. Now go into the world as proof of God’s belief in everybody.
Don’t just do it with your lips. Do it with your life. Insist on believing in those who give you precious little to believe in. Believe in them because God believes in them.
Forgive the cussed. Befriend the unfriendly. Show generosity to the selfish. Give a second chance to those who should have known better. Assume that everybody deserves food and shelter and medical care regardless of the size of their paycheck.
God believes in them. And when you reflect his belief in someone else, that person might just come to believe in God through you.
This sermon was preached at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Opelousas, Louisiana.