Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.

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