I Don’t Want to Be Known By What I Believe Anymore: A Lesson From Africa

March 5, 2014

As bloggers, we make a hobby of telling people what we think.56 WH

It’s really a natural extension of my everyday life, I suppose. In school, we learned how to think about math or biology. In college, I learned how to think about design. In seminary, I learned how to think about the Bible.

And now I spend my days teaching my own students how to think. And you probably tell your own children what you think of their behavior or their grades or the mess they’ve made at least once a day. And if we run into a rude cashier at the store or an incompetent driver, we will probably tell them what we think of them, through words or gestures.

Yes, we believe that it is what we think that gives us identity. It is what we believe that gives us unity. It is a very “Descartes-ian” idea, that we think, and therefore we are.

Is it not funny that I had to go all the way to Africa to meet some other Americans who would prove to me that everything I have thought about thinking would be entirely wrong?

The Test Of Identity

You can find no shortage of bloggers who will talk to no end about theology. Pick your poison. If you want end-times theology, go for it. If you want to go down a rabbit trail with predestination or spiritual gifts, have at it.  The internet thrives on this.  We call this the “conversation.”

For being a “conversation,” it gets pretty heated though.

It’s not always civil. You do not have to go far to find Christians who will say in public that another Christian is not really a Christian. Presumably, the self-proclaimed Christian is a phony because of what he or she thinks. He or she does not think correctly about this doctrine or that social issue. And so the litmus test of identity, once again, is how we think. So egalitarians or complimentarieans, free will or predestination, whomever it is are not real Christians.

The First Time I Have Not Cared About Beliefs

A month ago, I got on a plane and met a bunch of people I did not know.

And through our time together, we talked a great deal. I heard about work experiences. A few opinions were dropped here and there about current events.

And from these conversations, I could piece together where people were on the spectrum of theology, of politics, of social issues. I could tell that my personal opinions and beliefs were on some issues were vastly different from some people in our group.  I could tell our politics differed.  I could tell our beliefs on some social issues and current events were different. I realized that if I expressed my opinions, there would likely be disagreement.

And for the first time that I can remember, I did not care.

I was not offended by the beliefs of these new friends. I did not identify them by their politics or theology. In fact, I found it impossible to brand them, to dismiss them, to caricature them in any way based on how they thought for one far surpassing reason…

…that reason was their love.

For one of the few times in my life, I saw a group of people whose primary identity was their love and care for people. I watched people, not united by geography, by creed or blood, but by love for impoverished people. There is no doctrine of love that can be argued with. Love never needs retraction, debate or apology.

For the first time in my life, I thought to myself that whatever beliefs, whatever theology, whatever politics, would compel people to love strangers this much, simply cannot be argued with. Whatever those new friends think is okay with me.

Please See Past My Beliefs

Meanwhile, back in the world of endless divisions, we talk about “compassion fatigue” as if that’s a clinical disease. (I wonder if starving people get “starvation fatigue.”)  Meanwhile, Jesus said that his followers would be known primarily by their love, and I feel like I’m surely in trouble here. I have realized that as much as I learned in seminary about how to think, I never learned how to love. I learned how to identify myself by every divisive doctrine imaginable and to believe that I was always right. But I never learned how to let people look past my beliefs.

Just last week, World Help launched a new campaign to help fund more orphan rescue homes.  Now, you can buy prints of the art that we painted with orphans at Destiny Villages of Hope.  The original art disappeared from one of our flights, but it exists digitally and can be yours for any donation at all.  I hope you will check it out at World Help.  I have already got my print!


And in the meantime, I will try to not hang my hat on what I think.  Loving people is never wrong.

What about you? Have you had an experience recently with an especially loving person?  Someone whose compassion was so inspiring, it honestly did not matter if they disagreed with you on everything?

5 responses to I Don’t Want to Be Known By What I Believe Anymore: A Lesson From Africa

  1. I don’t mind if people disagree with me; everyone has the right to be wrong. 😉

    But love is also good.
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  2. Matt, this was beautiful and spoke to me right where I was at on my journey this morning. Thank you for allowing God to use you, and to use your experiences to lead us closer to him!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Matt. Ever since we adopted I have felt the same. I have tried to write about it, but you have done a much better job than me.

    It is much easier to believe and to discuss and to argue and to know than it is to love. I don’t think people followed Jesus because of what he taught. I think they followed him because he was different. Because he showed us God and he showed us how much God loves us.

  4. Thanks for speaking the truth on this. I am really over what people think and pretty much over them saying it, I am only interested in what they are doing. Actions speak louder than words has never been more true for me than in the world I live in now (orphan care in China). The rest? pfft.

  5. Rich Henderson March 11, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I agree that love is very important – in our hearts, and in our actions. But the ultimate goal, as in Jesus’ life, was to let that love bring us to truth and life. I get that we are sometimes put in a diverse belief group and we have to show the world that we are His by our love. It is not either/or, though. It is both/and. I would like people to know me by my love AND my true beliefs, and be able to lead them gently into Truth by the love I show.