Christian Faith: Not Rational or Existential

The Thinker, Legion of Honor

When I say that the Christian faith is not rational, I do not mean that it is irrational for the Christian worldview is one which, in my view, aligns most agreeably with reason.  What I mean here is that Christian faith is not purely rational.  I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists.  I cannot prove the reality of the parting of the Red Sea.  My point is that belief, in order to be belief, must be belief.  There must be an element of the unknown in order for faith to exist.  I do not have to believe in the existence of the sun because I observe it every day.  What is seen, known, and experienced does not have to be believed.

As modern science pokes and prods the breadth and depth of the universe, very little belief is required.  Once was a day that we had to believe that the earth was rotating around the sun, but now every child knows this objectively.  Believing that man could fly, that metal boats wouldn’t sink, that a tiny atom could explode, or that people could walk on planets and fly faster than sound was once par for the course, but now these have been observed and do not need to be believed in the same way as before.  To this point, I have dealt with natural phenomena that loosely parallel my point here.   My argument is that we inherently distaste the idea of belief.  We want everything to be observed and rational.  I think Dawkins makes this point well.  When asked what he would say if he met God in the afterlife, he replied, “Why did you hide yourself so?”  The need for belief frustrates us and bothers us.

In a culture where belief is passé, most do not realize that belief is a necessary part of being human.  We may suppress this or misconstrue this, but we really do have an innate need to believe.  To quote a line from the movie I saw last week, “we all believe in something” (The Three Musketeers).  We believe in people.  We believe that they are honest or dishonest.  We believe that they really care for us and are not trying to take advantage of us.  We believe in the character of others.  We believe in love.  We can’t see it, but we marry for it, write about it, promote it, and so on.  We believe in institutions.  We believe in our favorite football teams. We believe that our banks will safely hold our money (or that our governments will ensure it).  We believe in the unknown and unknowable because we believe in people and the organizations and things they make.  To believe makes us human because humans demand relationships with other persons.

So we return to the idea of Christian faith.  Why does it bother us that theism demands belief?  It bothers us because we expect a god to work within the confines of the natural universe.  We expect that our scientists should be able to dissect it and tell us that it exists.  We expect someone to be able to take a photograph of it.  We expect it to do some sort of grand violation of the laws of physics in order to prove itself to us.  We expect it to be something less than us, something completely knowable, and something less than God.  We expect it to be a thing and not a Person.

Persons are unknowable.  Persons demand faith.  I know people who have been married for 50 years and they still don’t know everything they can know about their spouses.  They still have to believe.  They still exercise faith.  I don’t expect things to be very different with God.  As a Person, He must be believed implicitly.  He must be trusted.  As God, He cannot be understood like we can a rock.  I don’t expect my belief to be rational.  If it were then I would have cause for concern, because my faith would be in a thing and not a Person and in an idol and not the God of the Universe.

Someone reading my post so far is probably thinking that because Christian faith works outside the confines of reason that it must, then, be existential.  Christian faith must be a step into the dark or a leap of blind faith.  This idea is at the heart of existentialism.  The idea that we have no proof or evidence of faith drives this sort of response.  I would reply that faith is not a leap in the dark, but a leap into the light.  Faith is not blind, but it looks at the evidence before jumping.  What I’m saying is that God has not given us the answers to every question (so as to eliminate His Personhood and Deity), but that he has enough evidence for us those who care to look.

 The grand example of evidence of faith is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christianity itself is testimony to the accuracy of the resurrection.  No other reason exists to explain the rise of Christianity from a small band of men with no formal education following a man crucified as a common criminal to a faith that millions from every corner of the globe ascribe to and would die for.  History and reason testify to the resurrection of Christ.

In the resurrection alone we have enough evidence that we are not jumping into the dark.  We have a reason for belief and a hope for a future.  We don’t take a blind leap as followers of the Christian faith, but we make a jump into the light.  I cannot rationalize faith on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is not unreasonable.

12 thoughts on “Christian Faith: Not Rational or Existential”

  1. Faith is a concept that operates on the principle of believing God. Man reasons with his mind, believing is done in the heart. They are mutually exclusive. The principles of faith are counter-intuitive to reason usually considered foolishness with man, going in the opposite direction.

    1. Thanks for your comment New Genesis! I would agree with you to an extent (as I argued in the first half of my post); however, I do believe that our faith is not a leap in the dark. In other words, God has given us reasons to believe, but ultimately we must step out in faith because reason cannot take us all the way. If we totally dismiss reason, we end up at existentialism (i.e., I have no reason for my faith) and I’m not quite comfortable with that position. I feel that there is a fine balance between reason and belief that must be maintained. What do you think? Am I overstating my case here?

      1. To move according to the concept of faith is not to leap into the dark. You are first propositioned by God with a commitment of his word which stirs this faith. You are not leaping into the dark, you are leaping into the light of God’s presence by this word. Reason is only helpful to the extent it helps us to identify the origin of this proposition in God. Hebrews 5:14—But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (what the will of God is). Proceeding beyond identifying whether this proposition is Gods will, reason is inadequate….. lean not unto your understanding, but trust in the Lord with all your heart. Your leaning is in the spirit. Your mind is a gate which allows or disallows word of God into your spirit. From that part onward, the spirit is engaged where the mind cannot go because faith is the language of the spirit. Operating in the Spirit is a paradigm shift from the bio-physiological function of an organ with which you are endowed to navigate the terrestrial plane of existence.

        The eye, ear, taste, touch, smell sense cannot navigate the place to which your spirit is now called: Hebrews 12:22-24—But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect , 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

      2. I’m pretty sure we’re talking past each other here. I agree that man’s wisdom alone is not sufficient to arrive at faith. On the other hand, God still gives us evidence along the way in order to lead us towards faith. And even after faith, the mind still plays a role. I think its important to be whole man Christians. In other words, God doesn’t just deserve my emotions and my actions, but He also deserves my mind. God saved all of me and He wants all of me in worship of Him. Jesus says that He expects us to worship in spirit (right belief) and in truth (right knowledge). Christianity is not a mere experience where we shut off our minds and just go through the motions, but neither is it a sort of intellectual exercise, a math where we know all the answers to all the equations. Christian faith is a fine balance between those two extremes. Would you not agree?

      3. It might be helpful for me if you would elaborate or clarify your meaning of talking past each other; I’d prefer not to be left to my assumption as to your meaning of it. I do challenge your allusion to truth as meaning “right knowledge”; more than right knowledge, is that lives.

        It is not for no reason that God removes from his company: the judge, prudent, the prophet, the ancient, the honorable, the mighty man, the man of war, the mighty man, the captain of fifty, the eloquent orator, and the cunning artist and replaces them with a child who is not known for the power of their reason. They that are removed, are the embodiment of the “beautiful mind” which cannot know God and would not know God. You have no idea how many Atheists of exceeding superior intellect I’ve met who cannot know God with their brilliant gift of reason. Isaiah 11:2-3—And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick {(living) understanding} in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

        My understanding and as I experience it, the spirit usually connotes emotion, in this case not just emotion but wisdom,; while the mind is the product of our cerebral, analytical and sensory function. When a man dies, his senses die along with him; as do his thoughts. Thoughts are a result of chemicals in the brain generating electric impulses like a battery does; these impulses fire up the sensory functions to crawl the environment for relevant survival information. Who is like my servant hearing many things, yet is deaf, seeing many things but is blind. The spirit needs none of these function to see, hear, know.

        Contrary to the notion that the mind is so indispensable to the process, I say the spirit is an upgrade to the mind. He is so superior to the mind as no comparison could be relevant. This is living intelligence that supersede the “line upon line, precept upon precept” . You will be standing there by the dead person, and your mind is going to tell you; call the undertaker, plan the wake, burry the man. That’s what the mind knows; the spirit who receives the dead back to life calls to the dead and the man lives again.

      4. What I mean is that we both seem to be misunderstanding each other. Try condensing your responses into shorter sections. Instead of the long paragraphs, just condense to a simple statement. I’m struggling to understand your train of thought.

      5. Your clarification is much appreciated.

        Reason has a place but it’s never going to rise to the challenge that we have to meet as sons so God.

        It will never allow you to do what God asks of sons.

      6. What kind of short answer was that? C’mon, put up your dukes! You’re not gett’n out of this so easy. Where’s that irrepressible fighter in you? Believe me you’ll live to fight another day.

        I don’t agree with everything Martin Luther said but I think he got it right when he said reason is the enemy of faith.

        I know, I know…….You’re right.

      7. I agree with you that reason has a place. Reason is a function of the mind. Jesus commanded His followers to love God with all their minds; therefore, the mind has a role to play in the Christian faith. God created man with the unique ability to reason and I understand this to be part of the image of God; therefore, reason itself is a gift of God for a specific purpose.

        I agree with you that it is not the answer to our need of sanctification (my understanding of “rise to the challenge that we have to meet as sons [of] God’ and doing “what God asks of sons”). Sanctification is a work of the Gospel in my life as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. Sanctification cannot be accomplished by mere mental exercise, but requires the work of the Holy Spirit to affect change in me.

        Given that I agree here, I don’t see the need to fight out the nuances. As for Luther, I don’t agree with everything that he said either, but I tend to think he’s likely referring to the abuse of reason. For instance, he indicates elsewhere: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures. He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them.” Clearly he sees reason as a good gift of God as it was originally intended.

  2. Our heavenly father indeed has given us “reason”….everything that we hold is due to him…BUT, there is a difference between man, and GOD(I know this is common sense), and a key difference is the “All Knowing” aspect. Faith is our bridge to holding onto our father with a rational/levelheaded mind…yet never fully understanding the complete story of him, eternity, heaven, our existence. And Phillip, I agree, dismiss all reason, and we will take the pendulum ride to the otherside to Existentialism…

    1. Great points Thomas. I would be inclined to say that simply the fact that we have the ability to reason demonstrates several things: (1) reason is unique to the human race and thus appears to be part of the image of God in man, (2) reason, used aright, points to its Originator, and (3) reason, like the image of God, has been marred and is not a sufficient sole source of guidance. Thank God for His self-revelation!

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