Entry for 4 Controversies Contest - Round VII (3,277 words)
Belief and Trust
Bible teachers often quote the story of the Great Blondin1 to illustrate what it means to have faith. Blondin was a tightrope walker whose greatest stunt was walking on a tightrope across the raging Niagara Falls pushing a wheelbarrow. Before he began his wheelbarrow stunt, when he asked the watching crowd if they believed he could do it, they all roared ‘Yes’. After the stunt when he asked them if anyone would sit in the wheelbarrow as he pushed it along the tightrope, nobody said a word.
Belief that _____ is different than belief in _____. We can believe things without investigation that are either true or false. If we don’t take any action then we have not moved from belief that to belief in the claim. A child who puts her tooth under the pillow has belief in the tooth fairy even though the claim that the tooth fairy exists is false. We can believe that something is true based on evidence that we have gathered; for example: “exercise is good for health.” It’s one thing to believe that exercise is healthy; it’s quite another to work out on the treadmill every day. Maybe my belief that Blondin can get safely across the Niagara while pushing the wheelbarrow is based on rumours about his skill (unexamined belief) or perhaps I watched him do it at least once (evidential). To believe in Blondin, to have faith in him, means to trust him and get in that wheelbarrow.
The person who has belief that something is true may base this simply on what was read or heard, or may base it on evidence. People believe a lot of claims without examination; these may be true or false. Some beliefs are often based on things other than evidence, including things that are illogical, such as self-refuting statements . 2 Whether the belief has been examined or not, it is still only belief "that" it is true . Moving from belief "that" to belief "in" requires action; this demonstrates trust and faith.
We make decisions and take actions based on trust which is based on evidence. But how much evidence is sufficient? Why is it that our standard for certainty is 100% when it comes to religious claims, yet, our standard for trying serious criminal cases or simply going through our day is always less than that? We can never have 100% certainty about anything. We can have either strong or weak evidence for most things. Whatever level of uncertainty we have about something, our commitment is either 0% or 100%. Either we take action (100%) or we don’t (0%). There is no middle-ground. We often make a 100% commitment by taking some action where we cannot be 100% certain of the outcome. We may have plenty of evidence but we never have complete certainty.
When I stumble, half-asleep into the kitchen after the alarm yanks me out of some intense dream, I flip the switch, expecting the light to come on. If the bulb died of old age during the night, I’d be in the dark. I made a commitment to my belief that the kitchen would light up when I took the action of pushing up the switch on the wall. Months of mornings when the light came on provided strong cumulative evidence but not complete certainty. We get into our cars trusting that turning the ignition will not incinerate us. We walk into the pharmacy trusting that a robbery won’t happen while we’re checking our blood-pressure. We send our children to school in the morning trusting that they’ll not be killed in a school shooting or kidnapped on the way home. Many of us get on planes (100% commitment) when we have less than complete certainty that we’ll get safely to our destination and even less certainty that our luggage will arrive when and where we do. Some of us will not get on the plane at all; this would be 0% commitment. Trust in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as:
assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
dependence on something future or contingent
to rely on the truthfulness or accuracy of
to commit or place in one's care or keeping
The standard for “sufficient” evidence that we accept in daily life and which our courts use in the most serious cases is not beyond a possible doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt. 3 Anything is possible but not everything is reasonable.
There are two types of evidence: direct and indirect. Direct evidence is eye-witness evidence; indirect evidence is every other source. Both have equal weight in a court of lacw. Indirect evidence comes from observation and logic; from gathering information and coming to conclusions by making logical connections between the pieces of data. If you read a message in the sky, you conclude that a person wrote it; you wouldn’t assume that the clouds just happened to form in the shape of those words. A message implies an intelligent source.
Disbelief and Doubt
There are three reasons people reject a truth claim about something: intellectual, emotional or volitional (refusal to believe regardless of evidence). 4 In the case of intellectual disbelief, the person is open to the possibility of the claim being true but he or she either thinks that there is not enough evidence or thinks that the evidence points to an opposite conclusion. In the case of emotional disbelief, perhaps the person doesn’t trust the person or organization that is making the claim or has reasons for rejecting the claim that have nothing to do with evidence, reason or logic. For example, a person addicted to marijuana might reject any claims that it is harmful. In the case of volitional disbelief, the person may reject a claim because, to accept it would require a change of behaviour. For example, a person may reject claims about climate change because he or she doesn’t want to stop using bottled water.
People can doubt “toward skepticism”; this would be someone with philosophical presuppositions against faith in God. 5 People could also doubt “toward faith”; this would be someone with only intellectual disbelief. This type of person is rare because there is usually emotional and/or volitional doubt mixed in; otherwise they would be actively pursuing the truth, not “resting in” or “celebrating” their doubt.
Faith and Reason
I understand why so many unbelievers consider Christians to be naive or downright foolish. The more devoted ones among us live a very counter-cultural lifestyle and the majority of Christians make little effort to study their faith and have even less inclination to defend it. I’ve encountered three kinds of faith among fellow-believers in the 45 years I’ve been a Christian: blind faith, unreasonable faith and examined evidential faith. Christianity is a reasonable faith. It is based on sufficient evidence that allows for some questions remaining unanswered. Dictionary.com defines reason as:
a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event etc.
a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action
to think or argue in a logical manner
to form conclusions, judgments or inferences from facts or premises
This is belief without investigation that is based solely on trust in authority figures, usually parents. Sometimes the religious system they operate in is dysfunctional and forbids asking questions. A faith that has not been examined could be misplaced. People clinging to this type of faith will be unable to defend it in any rational way when they are challenged to explain why they believe in God.
This is belief contrary to the evidence. I first encountered this brand of “faith” during my early years as a Christian in the faith healing movement. We were instructed to believe we were healed regardless of the symptoms we were experiencing. “True faith is independent of the evidence,” we were told. To a lesser extent, I encountered this type of faith among the “Prosperity Gospel” movement who preached a “name it and claim it” theology.
This type of faith is based on strong evidence even though it doesn’t provide answers to every question. This is the kind of faith we see advocated in the Bible. God does not expect us to believe without evidence as we see in the following examples:
-- When God called Moses to confront the Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he did two miracles.
-- When the angel told Mary she would be the mother of God, she asked how it would happen and was given an answer.
-- Jesus predicted his own death by crucifixion and predicted his resurrection. Both of these events have plenty of historical support.
-- Thomas refused to believe without seeing the marks of the crucifixion on Jesus’ body and Jesus granted his request to “verify” the evidence.
It is reasonable to believe in the unseen based on what has been seen. Many martyrs of the first century were either eyewitnesses to the resurrection (500 at the ascension) or were close associates with these eyewitnesses.
Faith is never below reason; that is superstition. Rather, faith transcends reason; it both includes reason and goes beyond it. When considering whether or not to marry someone, you use reason when you consider what you know about the person; such as whether or not your values and goals are compatible. You go beyond reason when you “experience” the person. You come to love them for reasons that often have nothing whatever to do with the reasoning process.
It is reasonable to believe in God based on logic.6 The laws of logic are self-evident, have always existed and provide the necessary rational boundaries for any intelligent discussion. We need the laws of logic to examine truth claims and to determine when someone is using faulty reasoning.
Dictionary.com defines logic as:
a particular method of reasoning or argumentation
the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study
convincing forcefulness; inexorable truth or persuasiveness
Faith in God
Evidence for the existence of God include:
Laws come from a “Law-giver”, from an intelligent mind. Both the laws of logic and the moral law7 within us transcend humanity.
The Ontological Argument8 states that it is possible that God could exist means that God does exist.
We have all the things that animals have yet they are content and we hunger for something “more”. Hunger proves the reality of food and, in a similar manner, our desire for God is evidence of His existence.
Science’s first basic assumption is that creation is intelligible; we can make sense of it because it is orderly and predictable.
The Cosmological Argument 9 states that, since the universe had a beginning, it had a creator.
The complex design and fine-tuning of creation indicates a highly intelligent and powerful designer. 10
General and Special Revelation
God reveals His existence in general revelation. This type of revelation is accessible to anyone who is not pre-disposed to reject Him for intellectual, emotional or volitional reasons. It includes creation, conscience and laws of logic through which we can discover Him through the evidence that He provides.
God reveals His character and plan through special revelation to those people whom He has chosen at different times in history. This revelation is recorded in the Bible which chronicles salvation history from creation to our final destiny. He tells us what He intended, what went wrong and the remedy that He has provided. “Science can tell us how we are but it cannot tell us what is wrong with how we are.” —Jerry Foder
What I Believe
I believe in the Big Bang and, as I’ve heard someone say, I also believe in the Big Banger. God is a Person with intelligence, character and intention. His nature is reflected in the three transcendent things: truth, goodness and beauty, in the laws of logic and morality, and in the complexity and order of creation. He sustains creation but does not inhabit as pantheists believe.
God has revealed things about Himself that he has reliably passed on to us. God has so much love that He created the universe just for us to live, enjoy and discover. He loves every person He created with deep personal unconditional love. He created human beings perfect and our first parents ruined everything. Instead of discarding us, He provided a way for us to realize the destiny He originally intended when He created us.
He wants intimacy with us and provided a way for that to be possible if we choose Him and participate actively in a relationship with Him. If we ask Him, He will dwell within our soul; He will be faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to Him. There is life after death and He wants us to spend eternity with Him in a loving relationship of child to Father.
He wants us to love Him and to express that love through trusting Him by obeying His commandments. The Bible is like a manufacturer’s instruction manual. If each instruction is carefully followed, all goes well with the product; if not, things go either moderately or drastically wrong. God’s commandments are for our benefit, not to make our lives difficult or less enjoyable. We only have to look at the history of the last century to see what happens when society violates God’s laws. If you’re old enough to remember what life was in like the 1950s or even the 1970s, compare that memory with what we see today. Technology has advanced but can we say the same for society? Christianity has benefitted civilization in a variety of ways throughout history. 11
God knows what is best for us and He will either do, or He will allow that which is for our ultimate good. That doesn’t include what feels good to us. For example, consider a very young child who needs a painful procedure to save his life. He won’t understand why his parents are letting these strangers hurt him and his parents grieve more about the child’s feeling of betrayal than about his physical suffering.
I believe that God is good, that He loves me and wants the best for me. We live in a broken world, something that was not God’s doing. Painful things will happen to me and when they do, I know that He is not the one that makes them happen. Bad stuff is not evidence that He is punishing me.
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, that He died to restore our relationship. The best evidence is that He predicted how he would die and that He would rise again. There is secular historical evidence 12 for the resurrection 13 for anyone who cares to investigate it with a mind open to the supernatural. Anyone who predicts that he will rise again and pulls it off is more worth listening to than any other voice in our world.
I believe that Jesus is everything He says He is and that He did everything the Scripture says He did. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is my life.
The Impact of Faith in My Life
My faith is not just a set of beliefs that I hold which makes no actual difference in my life. It is an actual personal relationship that forms the foundation for how I think and what I do every day. What I know in the depths of my being to be true about God, my heavenly Father who created me, about Jesus, His divine incarnate Son who redeemed me is the very foundation of my life.
Because I committed and surrendered my life to Jesus, I am God’s adopted child and a member of His family. Therefore I have a sense of belonging and an identity far more significant than the one I get from my family of origin, from the other people in my life or from the work that I do, the things I accomplish or even my failures.
Because God knew me since before I was born and loved me enough to create me, I have value and I am precious to Him. I am not some mixed up collection of chemicals or a cosmic accident. I am intricately designed in God’s image with intellect, memory, emotions and with a unique combination of personality traits and talents. My nature is far beyond that of any animal. Therefore I value myself despite what anyone thinks of me.
Because I was placed on earth during this era to fulfill a role that I was specifically designed for with accompanying temperament, abilities and background, I know that I am part of a larger story, that who I am and what I do matters. This gives me joy and a sense of fulfillment.
Because God lives within me and I live my daily life in loving friendship with Him, I am never alone. I enter within myself to be with Him when I pray. I take care of my body because, although it is His gift to me, it ultimately belongs to Him. It is His “temple”, so to speak.
I don’t live with anxiety because I trust Him completely to either protect me from difficult things or to give me His strength to go through it with Him. Death is not at all frightening for me because it means that I’ll finally be with Jesus “face-to-face” and enjoy Him forever. The suffering that He allows in my life has value; this is a deep mystery but it is a topic for another essay.
The things which I do daily, weekly and monthly that maintain and deepen my love relationship with Jesus give a structure and direction to my life. I use my time well and I am never bored. I am free from the tyranny of what others think of me, free from fear of the future, and free from guilt about my past.
Beliefs have consequences. Believing that human beings are chance productions of nature leads to believing they can be exploited or eliminated. Believing that there is no ultimate moral code or that if it feels right, then it’s something you should do leads to school shootings and other acts of violence. Believing that “tolerance” means agreeing with every worldview, regardless of how they contradict each other, leads to chaos and confusion. Believing what the culture tells you without examination is not what intelligent and thoughtful people do.
I have made the effort to study and examine my beliefs. I therefore joyfully live a rational faith in Jesus who loves me, who created and redeemed me and who dwells in my soul. I know who I am and why He put me here.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Do you know why you believe what you do?
2. Do you believe because it makes rational sense or because it appeals to you?
3. Does it appeal to you because it makes no moral demands on you? How did you come to hold the beliefs you live by now? Who or what influenced these beliefs?
4. How willing are you to carefully examine both the beliefs you hold and their opposite?
5. Does your worldview provide hope for the future or the prospect of healing for your past?
6. Does your set of beliefs give a satisfying answer the question of what you are on earth for?