“I’m sorry. I tried.”
I couldn’t quite focus on the TV through my watery eyes, but I didn’t need to see her to recognize the desolation in Teresa’s voice. I couldn’t tell if my flushed cheeks were inspired by the flames of the fictional apocalypse or my own smitten conscience. “The Death Cure” was a cruel irony of a title, I decided, having watched this woman work tirelessly—for the ostensibly wrong side—to bring about the end of the terrible disease that was wiping out humankind. She had gambled with morality and lost, realizing too late that her passionate dedication to the survival of humanity had blinded her to the horrors she had committed. When confronted with the ends brought about by her means, she could no longer justify her actions.
Teresa looked into the eyes of her wronged would-be lover, perhaps seeking absolution. She found not forgiveness but fleeting understanding—and then a few moments later she was gone, falling into the collapsing world she had hoped to save, and I was left to wonder if her final sacrifice could balance out what she had committed in the name of belief.
Each passing day brings new voices instructing how, why, and in what we should believe. As children we believe that monsters lurk in shadowy closets, waiting to pounce the moment the lights are turned off. Years pass, and we begin to slowly identify other things in which to believe: loved ones, political parties, and perhaps even ourselves. Our mantras may change as the years go by, but the structure, the desire to passionately believe in something remains, no matter how deeply it is buried or how jaded we become.
But what exactly do we mean by the word “believe”? Is it enough to feel something deeply, or is action necessary? If so, what sort of action must be taken to bolster the object of our belief? Many of the greatest atrocities in human history have been committed by humans who firmly believed that they were doing the right thing. Is the worth of our beliefs judged by the glories (or horrors) we may experience because we adhere to something—or is there another way to measure belief? And who gets to judge whether the results of our beliefs are right or wrong?
And then there’s the problem that we don’t know what to believe.
We try believing in ourselves until we crash to rock bottom again. We can’t control our health, relationships, work, or even our thoughts, and if we’re not in control, how could we possibly be expected to handle getting out of bed each day? And what of the things outside our control: the weather, the economy, the freak accidents that occur without warning and change our lives forever? How can we be expected to handle the unknown if we cannot even control what we do know of ourselves?
We try believing in love until our relationships fizzle and break (if not flat out die), and we’re left writing off everything from dating to attending the next family reunion. Love, we find, has to have an object; the lover needs a beloved, and we have yet to find an object that we can fully love and that can fully love us in return.
We try believing in more abstract concepts: justice (always out of reach), happiness (never fully defined), and self-improvement (with more definitions than a dictionary), only to find that we can never truly grasp which standards should be accepted and which should be rejected.
We try believing in more abstract concepts: justice, happiness, and self-improvement, only to find that we can never truly grasp which standards should be accepted and which should be rejected.
Frustrated, perhaps we decide to focus on our own sincerity. Surely if we are true to our inner compass, we will arrive at the correct destination. And so we try—or at least, sometimes we do. Sometimes we give up entirely, choosing to believe in the void instead of the failed objects. When death—physical, mental, or emotional—comes calling, no one escapes by adhering to platitudes.
Belief implies an object, but belief has a subjective element, too. After all, individuals hold beliefs. Most worldviews tend to err on the side of subjectivity, often by focusing on the believer instead of the object of belief—unless one is instructed to believe in oneself, in which case the distinction between object and subject are summarily blurred. Individuals, however, believe in something.
Christianity is unique in that it offers not subject or object, but Subject and Object in the incarnation of the Son of God who is both an objective Truth and a subjective Person, fully God and fully Man. The Object became the Subject. Our focus is not our own subjective sincerity or actions, but those of Christ, whose perfect life, actions, and assent to the will of the Father are credited to us by grace. Our eyes are prone to wander to the stars or to ourselves to find an object worthy of our passion, but in Christ’s passion, He chose to come down to us. When our world was collapsing, when we were dead in our sins, Jesus willingly made our sins His own. By His historical, verifiable life, death, and resurrection, He has made us His own.
In the end, the sincerity of our belief is not what matters. If it were, we could never be sure that we were indeed, fully, eternally sincere. The cost of belief is one that we could not pay, our most pious wishes blood-soaked rags that could never scrub our consciences clean (Is. 64:6).
And so the sacrifice God demands, He chose to fulfill. Creator became Redeemer, Priest became Offering, so that we might have life eternal. “I believe,” the father of the demon-possessed boy cried to his Savior, “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). And the Father does by sending His Son who perfectly lived, died covered in our sins, and rose victorious over death on the third day. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the Object of belief through the Holy Scriptures: the Objective Subject, Christ Himself.
At the end of our lives, we need not utter a hollow, “I’m sorry. I tried.” Because of what has been done for us, we can say confidently, “Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again for me”—not a tearful excuse for a life ill-lived, but a confident proclamation of the certainty of belief that is ours by grace alone.