Our culture has a notion that ‘belief’ is something we do with our mind. That it is intellectual assent to certain propositions and declarations about God. I blame the Enlightenment for this, with its fetish for Greek philosophy and hubristic view that the mind can encompass everything.
Convinced (in their own mind) that the only thing important in life is Pure Reason, Enlightenment philosophers denigrated everything else because it was “unreasonable.” This process became part of the move to consider religion as irrational, private, and thus the province of those most irrational of creatures: women. Science on the other hand (whose name comes from the Latin scientia “knowledge”) was thus rational, public and manly. Yes, it really was that sexist.
Then we picked up the idea that doubt was somehow unfaithful, the notion that a motto like faith seeking understanding was Just Wrong. We looked down on people who waffled and were unsure. People whose prayers seemed to bounce “off the brazen heavens” were considered weak. The church in short, took to shooting our wounded. So yes, we have some wacky ideas about what Jesus’ direction to “believe” means. But the act of believing is about trusting the other person. It’s that famous moment in all those movies where the person reaches out their hand and says “do you trust me?”
The whole of chapters 14-17 are part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples before he’s carted off to the cross. He knows that there are a load of things coming up that the disciples will not understand, that will lead to them being afraid and confused. So he’s trying to lay out enough things for them to hold onto that they will remain trusting him through it all. As he put it “I am telling you this now before it happens in order that whatever happens you might trust.” (Personal translation).
In other words, he knows that life is something of a trust fall: an ongoing testing of our ability to close our eyes, lean back, and fall into his arms. And knowing that falling in trust is difficult, he provides two things, guidance and peace.
The guidance is simply pointing out what is about to happen, indicating that no matter how crazy scary it may be, what happens is expected. Like a jump instructor walking us through or parent explaining about taking off the band-aid, by telling it ahead of time Jesus is highlighting that he actually knows what is happening. He is showing that this scary, unexpected thing is actually quite well expected and OK if not fun and happy.
The peace is even more fun because the verb translated “leave” afiemi is the same one used for ‘abandon, drop,’ and ‘forgive’ it means that Jesus is dropping peace into our lap and leaving it there. This is not the way the cosmos gives peace because the peace we experience in the world around us (the cosmos) is often just an absence. There’s peace as the absence of war and the peace of the grave. The peace where everyone else is sleeping and the peace of an empty To Do list, but all of these kinds of peace are, again, ones that come from absence.
The peace of Christ is a peace of presence, the peace of a kitty in a sunbeam, a contented child in our lap, or a drowsy lover resting beside us. It is a peace that is full and close and sensuous and intimate. It is a peace that fills up the spaces with golden light, touching every corner and cranny of who we are. And it is a peace that stays. Jesus drops it, leaves it in us, and does it again and again as we live one day at a time.
He drops that peace without checking to see if we are using it well, without taking it back when we ignore it or misuse it. He lets it go in his own trust fall into us. That’s the other side of trust, just as Jesus invites us to trust fall into his arms, he trusts us enough to fall into us day after day. So he gives peace, trusts us enough to fall into our lives continuously and invites us to do the same.