Dan Popp
The lie we believe about faith
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By Dan Popp
February 16, 2015

In the musical The King and I, the King of Siam calls Moses a "fool" for writing that God created the world in only six days. The English governess replies, "Your Majesty, the Bible was not written by men of science, but by men of faith." This line encapsulates a popular misconception about faith. It's worse than a misconception; it's a superstition about faith coupled with another superstition about science.

Modern science, the scientific method, was invented by "men of faith." And women of faith. Without a belief in a rational order underlying all things, and a logical Cause for that order, science as we know it could not exist. Even today when discussing science, we must use phrases like "Do you believe in evolution?" or "This may shatter our faith in the Big Bang" because it isn't possible to know empirically what we can't observe. We must extrapolate from existing data to make inferences.

That is biblical faith.

I've read that Søren Kierkegaard didn't actually coin the phrase "leap of faith." But that expression has come to stand for the false notion of faith that I'm describing here. It's a desperate jump off a bridge in the dark – but again it's worse than that. It means to believe in God not only without any evidence, but in spite of contrary evidence. It is wishful thinking at its worst. You've probably run into disbelievers who hold this misperception: "You only believe that because you want to believe that." (Never mind that the same could be said about them: They have plenty of incentive to wish away their impending judgment by a righteous God.)

But the Bible knows nothing of this kind of fantasy faith.

Paul preached to the Athenians: [God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:31) The word assurance is the Greek word pistis, almost always translated "faith." Obviously in this context it means that, in Jesus' resurrection, God has given mankind a proof, or evidence, or a downpayment. We can know some things as tangible facts; and from these things we may deduce other things. In other words, we can act like scientists. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says about pistis, "All this stands in contrast to belief in its purely natural exercise, which consists of an opinion held in good 'faith' without necessary reference to its proof." So biblical faith is not a leap, unless we've seen others leap before and observed that God caught them in His arms. It is as scientific, rational, and reasonable as anything could be.

Think about our English word "faith." When we say that someone is "faithful," we mean that we can have faith in his actions. He is trustworthy, reliable. He is known to tell the truth. Because of his track record of doing what he said he would do, we can reasonably, rationally, and scientifically assume that he will do the same in the future. There can be no trust without the track record. God didn't command the Israelites to believe Him in a vacuum. He gave them ten miraculous signs before ever taking them out of Egypt. It was when they chose to disbelieve Him despite the signs that He called them stiff-necked and unbelieving. Before He presented His evidence, they had no basis for faith. Afterward, in refusing to believe, they were acting unscientifically.

So science consists of observing phenomena, compiling data, and then making inferences from those data. On the other hand, faith consists of observing phenomena, compiling data, and then making inferences from those data. Go ahead and read that again while I ponder the profound dichotomy between faith and science.

Faith is the assurance/substance/title-deed of things hoped for, the conviction/evidence of things not seen, as Hebrews tells us. This assurance isn't imaginary. This has zero to do with the "power of positive thinking." This faith-certainty comes from the known, established character of God. This faith-conviction is the only rational conclusion that could spring from observing His innumerable interventions in our world, and His seeming inability to lie.

© Dan Popp

 

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