- Religion and Philosophy
Faith - Believing What Ain't So?
So the legend goes. A Sunday School teacher asked her class, "What is faith?" It's the freckled, red-haired impish kid on the 3rd row who shouts out, "It's believing what ain't so!" I've never heard what the teacher said next.
Makes for a nice smile. Many a preacher has used it as in introduction to his sermon on faith. It used to be that the laugh came out of a common awareness that the boy is just dead wrong. Not any more. These days what the boy answered is heralded by skeptics as dead on right. That might be expected. But what troubles me is that many sincere Christians truly believe what the boy answered. Of course they wouldn't put it so baldly.
The notion takes the form of assuming there are two kinds of truth: what can be proven scientifically and everything else which must be taken on faith. Since we believe Christianity is revealed truth, as opposed to scientifically discovered fact, of course faith is required to accept it.
Trust anyone - hope it works! Not faith
Wrong on both counts
Science does not produce conclusions that are as certain as some would have us believe. I would think that the plethora of contradictory "scientific" studies on everything from global warming to weight control would be a sufficient caution.
The Christian faith, on the other hand, is never an irrational act. I know, cynics loudly shout that it is. Faith is believing what one may reasonably hold to be true and reliable. And it is always focused on a person. You believe in someone.
Allow me another old preacher illustration. A high wire artist walked across a deep ravine on a tight rope to the cheers of crowds on both sides. He then walked back across pushing a wheel barrow. There was dead silence as the audience held its breath. But the act was not yet finished. Taking a bull horn he bellowed out so that folks could hear him on both sides. "Who believes that I can push this wheel barrow back across the tight rope with a man in it?" Several hands went up. But none volunteered to hop into the wheel barrow.
Evidence was presented before their very eyes. The man had proven he could do what he invited them to try. Had someone taken him up on the offer he would have been exercising faith analogous to what the Bible calls faith. That no one did shows why Christian faith has been so misunderstood. A lot of Christians affirm the proper truths, but their lives are no different from those who don't.
Evidence that makes the Christain faith reasonable
Yes reasonable, not certain. I hold that the Christian faith is reasonable, as opposed to certain, not because Christianity is uncertain, but because my ability to grasp God's truth accurately is uncertain. But reasonableness is sufficient to give me peace today and hope for the future.
The Bible is the standard source of Christian truth. When the Bible urges faith it is never a call to a mindless leap in the dark. God gave Moses the ability to perform certain miracles so that Israel would be convinced God had sent him. While biblical miracles blessed some, blessing was not their purpose. Rather it was the authentication of the performer as a spokesman for God. People witnessed the miracles and concluded, "This is someone we need to listen to." Once the authenticity of particular prophet or apostle was established it was not longer necessary to do miracles.
When Jesus came asserting that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, people would have been right to think that he was out of his mind... except for the string of miracles he performed. John reports that only a fraction of all Jesus' miracles are recorded in Scripture. "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)
My point here is not that you must believe the Bible. I'm asking you to understand what it says. The faith called for in the Scriptures is one that rests on evidence. It is not a leap in the dark.
Jesus and faith
One day Jesus warned his disciples, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." His disciples failed to grasp that he was referring to the Pharisees' teaching rather than real leavened bread. The disciples discussed what they would since they had no bread. Hearing their quandary Jesus rebuked them. "O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?" (Matthew 16:8,9)
See how Jesus expected his disciples to reason to themselves, "He provided for 5000 and then again for 4000. He'll find a way to feed us." He expected them to have a rational faith in Him. Since they didn't, they were rebuked, "O you of little faith." No leap in the dark. Just see and remember what God has done.
On another occasion Jesus commended the faith of a centurion saying "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith." (Matthew 8:10) What had the centurion done to elicit such praise from the Savior? He had ask Jesus to heal his servant simply by saying he word. He reasoned that if he, an officer in the Roman army, could order his men to do his bidding, certainly Jesus the Lord could issue a command and his servant would be healed. Matthew reports that Jesus marveled.
The disciples failed to use their heads and were accused of having little faith. The centurion reasoned through the situation and was commended for his faith. True Christian faith is a reasoned conclusion on which we act.
Many will regard the evidence for faith to be insufficient. It is their right to draw such a conclusion. Even in biblical times when Jesus and his disciples where performing miracles on a fairly regular basis there were sceptics. Jesus was ultimately crucified by them, but it wasn't for lack of evidence. Rather he threatened their long-held assumptions and dearly held positions.
While Christian faith is reasonable there is something about it that transcends reason. In other words, evidence alone does not generate Christian faith. There is an internal transformation that takes place so that the cynic becomes a believer. That internal transformation is what the Scriptures call being born again. And just as none of us had a hand in our physical birth, no believer caused his own rebirth. It was a gift of God.
Few Christians seem to understand this. If they did they would be far more tolerant and accepting of those who do not share their faith and far more humble about their own.