What is Faith?


Photo Credit:  Dmitry Protsenko

Too often, Christians link faith with blind adherence to a prescribed set of claims.  This is one of the facets of the “religion” part of Christianity that I find to be overwhelmingly detrimental both to adherents and to non-believers.

“Just believe it.  It’s right there in the Bible.  Yes, there are many that disagree with my interpretation, but if you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit, you’ll see that I’m right.  I know that it seems contradictory with other teachings in the Bible, but believing is seeing.  Once you believe, you’ll see that the contradictions melt away, because God can’t contradict Himself.”  The emotional pressure to assent is unrelenting.

So what is meant by faith?  Is it pledging assent to an unsupported claim?  It could be.  But I think that sort of faith is foolish.  Personally, I’m a fan of skepticism.  By skepticism, I mean having a healthy distrust of any claim that is not backed by evidence.  We should be slow to latch onto statements that require commitment to an unsupported proposition.  If I’ve never heard of you, and if when I meet you for the first time you tell me that you are the CEO of the world’s fastest-growing startup, I won’t call you a liar.  But neither will I invest my life savings in your company until I do some research to verify your claim.

Don’t take this to mean that I am anti-faith.  I would contend that all of us—the religious, the skeptics, the atheists—all of us live by faith to some extent.

For example, suppose I told you that the sun is not going to rise tomorrow.  There is a planet-sized asteroid travelling hundreds of thousands of miles per hour headed for the center of our solar system, and it is projected to impact the sun tomorrow around 3:00 am.  Eastern Standard Time.  The resulting explosion will certainly destroy the earth.  My proposition is that you empty your retirement account and come to Vegas with me, and we’ll spend our last moments of existence having a grand time.

“What’s your evidence?” you might ask.

“What’s your proof that the sun will rise tomorrow?” I counter.

As you consider the question, you realize that you can never prove to me that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.  But the fact remains, that from the dawn of recorded history, people have reported that the sun has risen.  The fact that life on earth has been sustained for at least thousands of years is evidence that the sun has faithfully risen to warm the earth, allowing plants, animals, and people to live another day.  Every day of your life has been marked by a sunrise.  In the absence of credible information to the contrary, you know that there is no reason to believe that the sun is not going to rise again tomorrow.  You might even say that you’ve moved from a point of faith to a point of knowledge.  We might debate the nuances of that statement, but at the end of the day, you elect to leave your retirement account untouched, and continue to live your life in a reasonable manner.  If I’m a very persuasive talker, you might open one eye around 2:50 am; but if you’re confident in your knowledge, you’ll probably close your eye around 2:51 and sleep until sunrise.  You have an unshakeable faith in the continuity of the solar system—at least until credible evidence to the contrary enters the equation.  It’s possible that some heretofore unseen phenomenon might extinguish our sun at any time, but anyone with a modicum of intelligence will “stake their life” on their faith in tomorrow.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, touches on this subject.  While encouraging followers of Jesus to be unified and mature, he warns them against gullibly following every “wind of doctrine” that is floated by schemers.

I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus.  Jesus claimed to be divine and not merely divine in a pantheistic sense—a pretty outrageous claim for any man.  His followers made some pretty outrageous claims about him—the most impressive of which is that he came back to life after being killed.  I accept these claims because the evidence supporting them is, in my mind, credible and sufficient.  Many people who subscribe to a purely naturalistic worldview reject these claims outright.  I think that a careful examination of the evidence leads to the reasonable conclusion that there is a spiritual or supernatural component to the universe, and Jesus was who He claimed to be.

There is no need to feel threatened by those who argue against this view.  Nor is there a need to pressure people to accept it.   The truth stands on its own and will ultimately be evident.

There is one other point worth considering.  Everyone has a different view of how much evidence is “reasonable.”   Some people accept a little bit.  Some require more.  God understands this.  He doesn’t love us less if we ask too many questions.  Nor does He love us less if we don’t ask enough questions.  The amount of faith that one has is not the deciding factor in whether or not one will be “saved.”  Reconciliation was Jesus’ primary mission on this earth.  The accomplishing of this mission is His alone.  This doesn’t mean that He forces reconciliation on us.  I think He simply made it feasible and offers it to us.  Jesus encouraged faith, even if metaphorically speaking, it were as small as a tiny seed.  When questioned by doubters, however, He always offered evidence.

We would do well to understand that God does not require blind faith from us.  He created us with the ability to reason.  He expects us to use our abilities to the extent that we are able and makes allowances for our shortcomings.

When experiencing doubt, do you look for evidence?  When confronted by doubters, do you offer evidence or do you demand more faith?


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