Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DAY 1 (cont): So Here We Go … How to Define “Faith?”

First of all, please let me assert (in response to a veiled criticism leveled on my wall) that what I have to say is probably NOT going to be “new” information to anyone. If it was, I would actually suggest cause to doubt its veracity. New things are rarely true things. So, if you’re looking for something new, you can probably stop reading here and spend your valuable time elsewhere.

That said … the debate on my Facebook wall began when one individual (understandably) objected because he thought I was talking about “faith” as many in our contemporary society seem to understand it. To wit, according to the second of eight definitions which comes up on www.dictionary.com, faith is:
belief that is not based on proof: “He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.”
Many express this more clearly by using the phrase “blind faith.” But in general, this is just one definition for faith, and not a good one, in my opinion. I don’t believe this is primarily the kind of faith that God is looking for or that the Bible is talking about. Rather, the first definition offered by Dictionary.com I feel more accurately portrays the kind of faith the Bible is talking about:
confidence or trust in a person or thing: “faith in another's ability.”
That was the point of the Courson quote on my wall. That’s the kind of faith that we exercise (usually without a lot of forethought) in our doctor who writes a prescription, or in the pharmacist who fulfills it. We trust them, because of their credentials, because of their reputation (the testimony of others we trust), because of our participation in a system which hasn’t yet let us down, and because of personal experience (they haven’t let us down yet). We trust them for any one or a combination of good reasons.

My first friend objected that, in my analogy, he could always go and check out his doctor’s credentials, proving whether or not they were valid. He implied he didn’t have this ability when it comes to God. But my point about faith wasn’t that he could … it was that he doesn’t. How many of us have ever researched our doctor’s diplomas?

Moreover, I think you can (and should) investigate God’s credentials. I think that’s the whole point of apologetics. Do God’s claims make sense? Are they internally and externally consistent? Non-theists and skeptics from time immemorial have launched journeys to do this, seeking to disprove the validity of God’s claims, and have wound up believers instead. My favorite example, of course, is C. S. Lewis.
For the skeptic, I think one of the most revealing verses in all the Bible is found in the 29th chapter of Jeremiah:
10 This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."
God is speaking specifically to the Hebrews who have been exiled to Babylon. But I think verse 13 (which is echoed elsewhere in Scripture) is a key, universal principle that applies to everyone. God is available to be found by all who seek him with their whole heart. All honest and ardent seekers, searchers after the truth, will be rewarded by discovering the divine, according to this promise.

Back to the Courson quote: I think this wouldn’t be so powerful (to me) if the person of God, as the Bible testifies to it and as those who have sought him and found him have experienced, were not so much more trustworthy than the person of our doctor or our pharmacist. The quote made me wonder why we (why I) struggle to trust and obey God, when I have much less of a struggle trusting and obeying my physician (who is, in my reasoned opinion, in reality much less trust-worthy).

Tomorrow: The real reason I think we find faith so difficult.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Grattan said...

The issue with this is that it begs the question. The Hebrews begin their story telling with notion of "god/s" and move from that concept throughout.

While this works in having the discussion with fellow theists, it really does nothing to bolster an argument that the non theist could have "faith" in that god as well.

All it can really do is say something to the effect of:

"Joe has faith in his doctor"
"Sam has faith in his wife."
"Larry has faith in his god."
"Sally has faith in the Easter Bunny."

All of these have "proven" themselves to the person. But what does that mean really? Because Sally has trust in the bunny because eggs show up in a basket in the morning. Okay. "Faith" gets defined. But Joe and Sam are not going to start trying to look through Sally's lens without some additional evidence the Easter Bunny exists and it isn't just mom or dad.

Sure, that is all well and good. But it isn't doing anymore than saying people have faith in things.