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Faith or Gullibility?
Noted British philosopher and humanist Bertrand Russell had this to say of the practice of “faith”:
“Where there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith’. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”
Allaboutreligion.org defines Biblical Faith this way:
Faith is acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts… For Christians, believing is not seeing… Why do we believe, because the Bible tells us so. We were not there when Jesus was crucified, yet we believe. We were not there when Jesus rose again, yet we believe.
Too many people want physical proof. Even Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, said he would not believe unless he saw Jesus. What was Jesus’ answer to him when he saw Jesus? “Because you have seen me you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). This is the theological virtue known as faith, believing what we did not see because we know it in our hearts to be true.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this definition of Faith: Firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.
The overwhelming majority of people, both religious and irreligious, define faith as a blind belief in something based on intuitive feelings or emotional conviction. As many of the critics of religion point out, basing one’s entire life on a belief derived solely from emotion without any undergirding evidential support has its problems.
The question becomes, is this the definition of faith given by scripture? If it is, and a Christian relies on the Bible as the sole basis of their beliefs, then they are forced to choose between blind religious trust or intellectual skepticism in opposition to scripture. They either believe or they disobey. Asking questions and seeking support for their beliefs becomes a form of doubt and is seen as a weakness, and, indeed, this is the way that many Christians operate.
The classic teaching on the subject of faith in the Bible comes from the book of Hebrews, and specifically chapter 11 which begins with this definition of faith:
Many take this as support to the “belief without evidence” definition of faith.
Among the potential problems with this view of faith is the way it impacts the process Biblical interpretation itself. If faith is, indeed, a spiritual conviction that defies evidential support, then one is free to interpret scriptural passages based on what they feel the passage means. When someone challenges them to back their interpretation up with such tools as cross-referencing or contextual support, that person is asking for evidence, defying their faith and insulting their spiritual conviction. This is exactly the trap that one falls into if one reads Hebrews 11:1 without considering the context in which it is given.
The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish believers as an apologetic for Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. The author meticulously wades through the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, showing in each case how these passages support Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.
In essence, the author of Hebrews was providing evidential support of Jesus’ station as the promised fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and of the Prophets. If the author truly defined faith as an unreasoned belief, there would be no necessity to reconcile Old and New Testaments. The author would simply appeal to his audience to search the conviction of their hearts and to believe.
The author shows an intense interest in the evidence presented in the Old Testament, and how this evidence leads convincingly to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord, and the author also assumes that his intended readers should be interested in these facts as well. This being the case, what is Hebrews 11:1 actually saying?
Apologist J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, writes in his essay on Hebrews 11:1:
The context of Hebrews 11:1, following Hebrews 10, is essential in understand what the writer of Hebrews is referring to in this passage concerning faith. In Chapter 10, the author ends the section encouraging his readers to continue in their faith and to “endure” (verse 36) in spite of “reproaches” and “tribulations” they may have experienced or observed. He finishes by saying, “…we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” In the very next line (the passage we are considering at 11:1) the author says that faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
What Wallace is pointing out is that, when taken in context, Hebrews 11:1 is an encouragement to believers who are suffering persecution. What the author is saying is that, in light of the evidence he has supplied that Jesus is, in fact, Messiah, it is possible to endure sufferings with the assurance undergirded by the weight of the evidence that there is hope for salvation and eternal life. Or, in other words, given the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, one can have assurance in the promise he has made for the future (hope), and trust God because He has proven trustworthy (conviction).
By this definition, faith is the assurance of the specific promises that God has made for the future based on the evidence He has provided of His power.
In fact, the definition of faith as being “blind” flies in the face of scriptural passages that contrast false prophecies with true ones:
1 John 4:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 Beloved ones, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Blind Faith does not make much sense in the scheme of scripture. Blind faith in what? The teachings of the Bible? How did those teachings arise, and how does one know that they have selected the correct teachings in which to invest their blind faith? John instructs his readers to test the spirits. This implies that there is a standard of evidence higher than simple emotion against which to test them.
In Hebrews 11:6, the author makes the statement:
Hebrews 11:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that is the rewarder of those seeking him.
However, the author proceeds this statement by giving several examples of the faith of Old Testament characters, how that faith was applied, and how it was rewarded. Once again, the author applies evidence to his statement by sighting examples.
Real Faith forms your relationship with God
The great reformer, Martin Luther, spent many years as an Augustinian Monk attempting to work himself into God’s favor. He attempted pilgrimages, fasts, self-flagellation, prayers, sleeping on hard floors, and many other forms of self-denial and self-punishment in order to earn righteousness in the sight of God. The more he worked, the more despair that Luther found. Nothing he did could justify him in the sight of a Holy God.
While studying the book of Galatians, Luther stumbled across this verse:
Galatians 3:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Now that no one is justified by the law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
It became clear to Luther that the reason he was unable to please God with his works was that his faith was misplaced. He was investing his faith in himself and his ability to earn righteousness when, in fact, he had no such ability.
Like Luther, many of the religious place their faith in themselves to put God in their debt by virtue of their own good deeds. This is the essence of unthinking faith, a willful blindness to one’s own corruption and inability to achieve perfection.
However, as Galatians 3:11 says, no one is justified before God by the law (obedience, good deeds). Rather it says that righteousness comes through faith. In the context of Galatians 3, the faith to which Paul is referring is faith in Jesus Christ, and specifically in his saving power.
In addition, what is the evidence of this saving power? In his tenure on earth, Christ is credited with many miracles. However, there is only one miracle that is sited by the epistles as evidence of God’s power to save: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. More than any other act of Christ’s, his resurrection is argued for throughout the New Testament. The writers of these books support his resurrection through eyewitness accounts and through Old Testament prophecy. It is evidently very important to them to supply evidence that this in fact, did happen. As Paul puts it:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel which I proclaimed to you, which you have also received, in which you also stand, 2 by which you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the message I proclaimed to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Paul states in this passage that by their belief in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, they are being saved. This, then, is the fact upon which faith for salvation rests. If this is true, then God really can forgive sins. If Christ is raised, then he has conquered death, and all people can be raised in him. It is no longer in vain self-righteousness that one attempts to find a relationship with God, but rather trust in His saving power as the one who raised Christ from the dead.
Moreover, this is the essence of a faith-based relationship with God. When a person stops trusting in their own abilities, which have proven to be untrustworthy, and places their trust in God, who has proven Himself to be trustworthy, then that person is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6). Faith becomes the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.
by Joel Furches