Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Piece: Faith in Doubt



For today's Ticker we offer a guest piece by frequent reader and YT viewer Dante. Although veteran readers will not find this new, I want to feature it as an example of application in action --and also because, well, Dante is a good writer!

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We’ve heard stories before of how someone’s faith has been “tested” when they don’t get what they want, or when something bad happens. Maybe we even tell those stories ourselves. But why does it seem so easy to lose faith? To start with, what is the meaning of faith?

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

I had a discussion with a friend the other day regarding the word “faith” and what it means. This friend of mine is a seminary student studying for his Master of Christian Studies in a local seminary; without informing me of his own view, he told me that “faith is something we believe in without evidence; if we have solid evidence for it, then it doesn’t require faith,” according to his lecturer. I recall reading something similar in the book The Case for Christ written by Lee Strobel, in one of his interviews. Even Mark Twain, a famous American author from the late 19th century, said “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” 

Quite often, the phrase “blind faith” is thrown around. However, when we look at the use of the word faith in the Bible, it doesn’t match what has been described.

When the apostles preached the gospel, their primary appeal is to the resurrection, for which the evidence is the empty tomb. They did not merely tell the people to have faith in something they cannot see; they gave evidence for them to have faith!

The Greek word translated as faith in the New Testament is pistis, which is a technical rhetorical term for forensic proof. Note how Acts 17:31 is translated:
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Do you see the word faith in the passage? What if I told you that the word pistis is in the passage? Do you see it now? The resurrection of Christ is taken as proof that God will judge the world.

But what about Hebrews 11:1, where it says that faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”? Let’s look at the context; the passage proceeds to list out those who have been obedient to God and received His favour. These are mostly those who are in direct communication with God, so it makes no sense to say that they have no evidence to believe in God. So, in context, the “assurance about what we do not see” means that we can be certain that we will receive God’s favour if we obey Him, as exemplified by Noah and Abraham when they obeyed God even though Noah was “warned about things not yet seen” (v7) and Abraham obeyed God’s call to go “even though he did not know where he was going.” (v8) Therefore, “Faith…is the assurance about what we do not see”, not “What we do not see…is the assurance about faith”.

So, with the Word of God in mind, faith is loyalty or trust in God based on what has clearly been established and not blindly hoping for something.

Now then, having known what Biblical faith means, we turn to look at what we base our faith on. Some of us have been born into Christian families, so we don’t ask that many questions about why we believe. For those of us who weren’t born into Christian families, there are countless reasons why and how we have come to believe in Christ. But now we want to focus on what makes it easy for some of us to lose faith, so we shall scrutinize some of the lesser reasons.

Reason #1: “God loves you”

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

Do I deny that God loves us? No. Is it a bad reason to believe in God on the basis that God loves us? No. The problem is not in believing that God loves us; the problem is in how many have misunderstood the idea of love.

When we say that God loves us, what does it mean? That God will be like the doting daddy who spoils his children with wealth and gifts? That God will give us whatever we ask of Him? My answer to the above speculations is “No.”

But didn’t Jesus say “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:21, 22)?

Firstly, we have to consider that the use of hyperbole is common in the language of that era, and that “moving mountains” is a Jewish metaphor for accomplishing what’s difficult or virtually impossible. Then, with the meaning of faith, i.e. loyalty towards and trust in God, being understood, we shall then understand that a person who has faith will not ask for something that is not in the will of God. Therefore, the context immediately restricts whatever we ask for in prayer to whatever is in the will of God. How do we know the will of God? By reading the Bible and growing in spiritual maturity.

God loves us, not by giving us what we want, but what we desperately need, i.e. Salvation. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and we don’t deserve such kindness from God, that’s why the salvation that we receive is called the grace of God. God indeed loves us, but we must not take that too far and forget where we stand before God, even if we are to be called friends of God, because when the king calls you a friend and has invited you, and you fail to properly honour him, you will be tied hand and foot, thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 22:1-14) 

Reason #2: “Jesus can change your life”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2

Do I deny that becoming a Christian will change us? No. Is this a poor reason to become a Christian? Yes. The problem is that such a reason is too subjective, and I shall explain why in a moment.

I suppose this reason exists due to the current trend in evangelism, namely using personal testimony as a form of evangelism. Personal testimony is great and encouraging if shared among fellow believers, but when you use personal testimony to evangelize by citing your transformed life as a reason to believe in Christ, you’re actually doing more harm than good. 

First of all, doing so will lead to the idea that the truth of Christianity is determined by the behaviour of Christians. We cannot deny that as Christians even if we sin less than before we became Christians nonetheless we still sin, and sin is sin regardless of how much sin there is in our lives. And no matter how often we sin, even as believers, we cannot change the fact that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Believing in Christ removes our guilt, but not our sinful nature, as we are still living in the flesh. Believing in Christ does not automatically or forcefully change us, but it enables us to be transformed into Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18), if only we willingly look to God’s glory, i.e. the resurrection, as our basis for desiring God.

Conversely, this form of evangelism will lead some Christians to lose heart when they see other Christians falling from grace, or even as they are struggling with sin. It gives the false idea that if they continue to sin it is because Christianity is not real to them. It also frightens away those who cling onto their current lifestyle, unwilling to be forcefully changed, because they misunderstand that this sort of change happens only if the person wants the changes.

Perhaps, most dangerously, using personal testimony as a sort of evangelism allows all other religions to be “true” using the same basis. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have cited similar claims of a transformed life, but does that make their religion true? Many former Christians cited such changes in their lives when they became Muslims or Buddhists or even atheists, but obviously changes in a person’s life cannot validate or invalidate historical truth.

So, why do we say that God loves us? It is because God chose to save us even though we deserve absolutely nothing but His wrathful judgement because of our sin. Quite often most of us have forgotten our position as sinners before a Holy God, and we despair when we do not get what we prayed for. Even though we are saved as Christians, we are still sinful people; our salvation is from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us when we believe and have faith, not that we have become righteous ourselves. With that in mind, every positive thing that happens to us is due to the grace of God, and all the more thankful we should be; if we don’t receive what we prayed for, we should not lose faith, because we’re not deserving of anything but judgement, and our faith is based on the resurrection of Christ, the evidence for which is the empty tomb, and nothing that happens in our lives can ever change that fact.

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4 comments:

  1. Hey, thanks for featuring my essay! I'd just like to point out that "Dante" is my real name, so you don't have to put it in quote marks :D

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  2. This is good work - nothing spectacular but also brief. I see a strong closing paragraph with some quote-worthy material.

    Each week as I do my own writing and read the work of others connected to Tekton, I'm thinking what would help us all is simply for the right person to hear us. For someone with the right skills and influence to write a book - one that reaches right people and garnishes attention from publishers. One with the right tone and attitude so as not to insult...that people don't have to hunt down from obscure internet sites. JP's work is great and it pains me to think such writing can't get more attention.

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  3. @Maiorem: Fixed that then. Never knew that was the case!!! Good job.

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  4. @Jason: Well, it's not that bad -- writing for the Christian Research Journal regularly is much more than I ever expected back in '96 when I started!

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