Why we believe what we believe is a very complex question. It is not simply that we explore our belief system options and say, “I choose to believe in this.” Even when we choose a belief system we carry competing beliefs within it. What we say we believe versus what we implicitly believe are not in perfect alignment. That is why it is important to examine our beliefs not only from an intellectual perspective but from a behavioral perspective. The way we behave reveals more about our fundamental beliefs than what we explicitly say we believe.
For example, if a person says that they are a follower of Christ, but does not treat others lovingly, then there is a misalignment of explicit and implicit beliefs. They believe in Christ’s teachings explicitly to love others as Christ loved his disciples. But implicitly we may show that what we really believe is that we love people who are like us or that we love people only if they give us what we want (preferential love or conditional love, rather than universal and unconditional love). We may not even be conscious of this belief, but we can see it in action in our lives all the time.
So how does this happen?
Underneath all of our explicit beliefs is the basis of all our beliefs and it is fairly well-formed before we can walk. It is found in our answers to two questions: 1) Am I worthy of being loved? 2) Can I trust others to take care of me? The answers to these questions shape the way we relate to others, ourselves, and ultimately to God. The way we are responded to in our earliest relationships shape both our relationship (attachment) style and our theology (what we believe about God).
Are you worthy of being loved? When we are infants we are incapable of doing anything for ourselves. Our survival depends wholly on our caregivers, usually mom and dad. The one thing we can do is signal to our caregivers when we need something. Crying is our go-to signal for hunger or wetness, but a baby will also use eye contact, smiles, and giggles to signal a need for relationship, a fundamental human need as well. How our parents respond to these signals shapes our answer to this first question. If they respond without much delay and in a loving manner, then we are more likely to answer “yes”. Our sense of worth is formed and validated with each loving response. If there is no response or the response is angry or with no emotional affect, then the answer will lean towards “no” or “I’m not sure”.
The second question is related to the same parental responses. Can you trust others to take care of you? If parents don’t respond to your needs then you will begin to believe you will have to take care of yourself, which on some level is what parents want from their children, but it cannot be expected of babies. Our development to become a person who knows how to take care of themselves comes out of being lovingly cared for. It is the thing that forms what is called secure attachment. Secure attachment gives us a sense of safety and support that enables us to grow, learn, and mature. Ultimately, it gives us the ability to have healthy relationships in which we can give and receive love.
So what does this have to do with our beliefs about God? Everything. Yes, there are things about God that we learn in our religious educations, but what we implicitly, deep down, believe about God has everything to do with what we believe about ourselves and others. Do we believe we are worthy of God’s love? (Aside: God does not love us becomes of anything we have done. God loves us because we are God’s children, just as we love our children because they are our children) Do we believe God as trustworthy to provide for us and love us for who we are? Or do we spend all of our energy trying to prove ourselves acceptable to God? Or do we even reject the notion of a loving God because it is not within our realm of experience?
You may be thinking, “But we have no control of how our parents responded to us when we were babies. How can I change any of that?” Our beliefs are formed in relationship and they can also be reformed in relationships. The relationships we have either confirm our beliefs or reshape them. They confirm them when the people we choose to attach ourselves to treat us, in the same way, we were treated (ie. abused, neglected, love based on transaction, or even just having a parent who was dealing with depression or anxiety). But when people come into our lives and respond to us as if we were worthy of being loved and prove themselves to be trustworthy in loving, our implicit belief system about ourselves and others begin to change. It then begins to change the way we see God and God’s love for us or opens up the door for God to reveal himself to us as loving. We struggle to see what we do not believe.
We may have explicitly believed these things about God for years, but still found ourselves struggling to love others as God loves us. Or you may have struggled to believe in the existence of a loving God for lack of evidence of such love. But as we experience God’s love of us through people that God sends into our lives or leads us to, then we will begin to live in the reality of our beliefs. Our beliefs will become our beliefs in the core of our being and behavior and not just something we are aiming for.
Soul Metrics provides coaching and coach training designed to create a safe and loving conversation leading to transformation in our ability to have healthy relationships with God, self, and others, the basis of spiritual health. If your belief system is not leading to transformation in your ability to love, then it is a good time for examination.
To begin to examine the true state of your spiritual life, the belief system you are operating out of, take the GPS Spiritual Inventory and schedule a debrief session with me to discuss your results and a development plan.
For more information about becoming a GPS Spiritual Inventory© Certified Practitioner email us at email@example.com. Registration is open for our November training cohort.