Tag Archives: Christianity

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.

Blind Spots

What Sounds Smart Today May Look Stupid Tomorrow

This morning my pastor quoted Matthew Henry’s commentary on James 2:1-4, where the great Christian writer stated as follows:

But we must be careful not to apply what is here said to the common assemblies for worship; for in these certainly there may be appointed different places of persons according to their rank and circumstances, without sin.

Interestingly enough, the passage is speaking to exactly that same issue, but Henry is blinded by the culture of his day and perceives the established tradition to be acceptable.  Its easy to throw stones at Matthew Henry, but I realized that I need to take a moment to look at myself.  If a guy like Matthew Henry can study his Bible and invest his life in Christian service and still miss the mark in his life, I’m certain I’ve got some blind spots that I need to be on the lookout for.  This morning I took a few minutes to think of some ways to identify blind spots in my life.

  1. Pray for wisdom from God to recognize where I’m not living as I should.
  2. Listen to the Word of God and apply its light to all traditions, practices, and applications.  Nothing is off limits.
  3. Listen to critiques of Christianity by unbelievers.
  4. Listen to critiques of my Christian subculture by those who are not part of it.
  5. Listen to critiques of individual of other generations.
  6. Seek insight from Christian brothers I rub shoulders with.
  7. Repeat.
If you have any more ideas, please feel free to share!