I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I know that time moves only in one direction—toward the future. I know that I am born once and die once. When I use the word, Know, I am referring to the situations that are certain, or that can be verified scientifically.
But what about the word, Believe?
John says, I believe God exists. Tom says, I don’t believe God exists. Who is right? John or Tom? Nobody came back from death to report on his finding about God. We really don’t know. John can be right and Tom can be wrong. Or Tom can be right and John can be wrong. We just believe.
Thus when I say, “I believe,” I am also admitting, “I don’t know.” When I say, “I don’t believe,” I am also admitting, “I don’t know.” Since believing and not knowing go hand in hand, I don’t want to be critical of and ridicule the faith of other people.
I am a Christian. Kim is a Buddhist. Moniem is Muslim. I wish Kim well. I wish Moneim well. I hope that their faiths will help them to lead happy, healthy, and responsible lives as I hope the same for myself.
But what happens when one equates believing with knowing?
Henry says, “I know that God of Jesus Christ is the only true God.” Moniem says, “I know that God of Mohammad is the only true God.” Who is right? Henry or Moniem? We can either say both Henry and Moniem are men of great faith or both of them are self-righteous.
There is danger when one turns believing into knowing. It breeds self-righteousness, and self-righteousness leads to discord. Discord can lead to fighting, torture or killing. Pharisees crucified Jesus because they were sure their faith was the right one. They equated their faith – believing – with knowing.
When it comes to religion, we are dealing with the unknown. Because it is unknown, we believe. If we understand that believing and not knowing go hand in hand, we become humble and respect other’s religion as we respect our own.
Then why do we believe when we don’t know what we believe?
Because when we believe in our abilities, we can become the best that we can be. For those who believe in themselves, their faiths give them meaning for their existence. Their faiths give them power to accomplish feats that often boggles our minds. Olympic champions and athletes are good examples of what their faiths in their abilities can produce.
Jackie Robinson believed in his God-given talent as an athlete. He believed that he could be as good as or better than White baseball players. He was alone. When playing in the south, he could not go to a restaurant with white teammates. He had to use colored only restrooms. His team-mates did not invite him to social gatherings. He was threatened by the white players and spectators. Some opposing team members refused to play the Brooklyn Dodgers with him playing. But he never lost his focus on the baseball. He became the rookie of the year in 1947, the MVP in the National league in 1949, and won the world series in 1955. Through believing in his ability and willing to risk his life, he broke the racial barrier in sports in America.
Dianah Nyad believed. Four times she tried to swim 100 miles of shark infested sea from Cuba to Florida and failed. But she believed that she could do it. Thirty five years later, at age 64, she tried again. Her fifth try. And she made it. It took 53 hours. Her motto: Never give up. Never too old to chase your dream.
Now why do we believe in God whom no one has ever seen? We don’t know whether God exists or not. Why do we believe Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, who was crucified on the cross for our sins, who rose from the dead for our salvation, and who ascended into heaven in glory?
We believe because our faith in God through Jesus Christ gives us the meaning for our existence and strength to march on through the pathway of our lives – especially when we walk through the dark tunnel of despair and distress.
Let me share with you the story of my mother: The life of my mother was suffering upon suffering. Yet her absolute faith in God gave her the strength to lead her children with love and wisdom through her trials and tribulations. She prayed in the morning. She prayed in the evening. I found her praying in the dark of the night while everyone was fast asleep. She prayed, sometimes with her eyes drenched in tears.
Mother married a Christian minister in the land of Buddhists and Confucianists in the early 1900s. She bore ten children. Three of her ten children died before they could walk and talk. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and ruled the country for 35 years until the end of WWII on August, 1945. During that period, the Japanese forbade us from using Korean alphabet. They forbade us from speaking Korean in public. They gave us Japanese names and told us to go to the Shinto temple and respectfully bow down to the picture of their emperor. My father, who was a Christian minister, refused. Father recited the scripture, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
One day the Japanese police came and took Father to prison while my mother helplessly watched her husband taken away. Mother prayed that the angels protect him from the fury of the prison guard. Mother prayed that he would get enough food, enough drink, and a place to lie down in reasonable comfort.
While Father was in prison, Hi-Seung, his 15 year old son, volunteered to join the Japanese military with the hope of having his father released from the prison. After Hi-Seung left, Father had a stroke in prison and was brought home under house arrest. Mother took care of him under the watchful eyes of the Japanese police.
The war came to an end in 1945, and Hi-Seung returned home. He left home as a young 15 year old boy full of energy. He returned home as a worn-out, injured 18 year old man. He died a year later from his injury.
At the end of WWII, Korea became two Koreas: Communist North Korea and Democratic South Korea where we lived. My eldest brother became a Communist in the democratic south. The police arrested him and put him in prison. Some of my father’s church members became disenchanted. “How can a minister who has a non-Christian communist son preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to us?” They asked. “He may also be a Communist in preacher’s garb.” During that period, Father lost his strength. His hair turned gray.
Then in 1950, the Korean War broke out. The North Korean army entered Seoul where we lived. One day two North Korean officers came and took my father away because he was a Christian minister. He never came back.
How did my mother survive through those ordeals? How was she able to take care us while taking care of her sick husband who was under house arrest during the Japanese control? How was she able to maintain peace at home with her anti-communist Christian minster husband and her anti-Christian Communist son living under one roof? How was she able to lead us onward after her husband was taken away by the North Korean Communists?
The only answer that I have is that she had total faith in God, and she prayed without ceasing. To Mother God was not some being high in heaven looking down on us, but God was next to her twenty four hours a day. She prayed when she was happy. She prayed when she was sad. She read the bible in the morning. She read the bible in the evening. She believed that her trials on this earth were only temporary. She believed that God would welcome her and embrace her when she left this earth.
Do I believe that God would welcome my mother? I don’t know. But I am glad that my mother believed, and her faith gave her the strength to march through the dark tunnel of despair and distress. If she did not believe, she would most likely have ended in a mental hospital unable to cope with her life’s travails.