I often see believers pointing to faith as the reason why they hold their religious beliefs. Would you say your beliefs are more based on evidence than in general?
As compared to the average believer I know, I’d say I’m unusual in the degree to which evidence plays a role in my faith. Maybe this is because I have more doubts than the average believer. I’m continually trying to learn about Christianity, and about what other people believe, as a way to test my faith to make sure it’s solid. I don’t want to live my life based on a lie.
If I may add one other thing: I’ve found there are a lot of misconceptions about the concept of faith, from believers and nonbelievers alike.
On the part of believers, it’s all too common to believe simply because that’s how one was raised. In my view, too many Christians don’t think they need to examine their faith or understand it, which leads to a shallow faith.
On the nonbeliever side, the biggest misconception I run into (and I see it all the time) is an assumption that “faith” means believing in something for which there is no evidence. That’s actually “blind faith” and not at all what Christianity teaches or requires. Not to get too nerdy on you, but the view of faith as taught in the Christian scriptures comes from the Latin word “fides”, meaning trust or confidence.
Jesus himself said, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” I find it amazing that last word was added. We’re not required to leave our intellect at the door. Just the opposite, in fact. The apostle Peter tells us to “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
A common analogy used to describe this kind of faith is the act of sitting in a chair. One can look at a chair before they sit in it to find evidence about whether not it will support them. Are the legs sturdy enough? Is the chair in good repair? Does it wobble when wiggled? Has someone else successfully sat in it? At some point, they gain enough confidence, based on the available evidence, that they come to believe the chair will support them. This, despite the fact that there is not 100% proof that the chair won’t collapse under their weight. Maybe there’s a loose bolt or cracked leg they can’t see. Maybe they weigh more then they think! The Christian idea of faith is when the person puts their trust and confidence in the chair by actually sitting down and placing their full weight on it.
You’re trusting the chair not to collapse under your weight. What would be something you trust God to do or not do and how do you know afterwards whether he did or not did do it? It would be nice if you could use an example that’s as specific as the chair example.
Hi Frank. This is one of the most challenging questions I’ve been asked by a non-believer for two reasons: (1.) It forced me to go deep in order to answer it honestly. (2.) I felt it was asked sincerely. Unfortunately, I’m not wise enough to give you a nice short answer! In thinking it through I realized that on the surface I can say I trust God for things like provision and my children’s health, but am I just saying I trust God and then accepting whatever fate or chance happens to deal out and retroactively attributing it to God’s will?
As I started working through this issue I began to realize it was going to be very difficult to provide an answer that would resonate with you, as a non-believer. The chair analogy is a concrete physical example, so the results of the decision to trust the chair are physical in nature and manifest themselves in real time. (i.e. You sit down and the chair supports you…or not!) On the other hand, when one trusts God it happens largely on a non-material level, and therefore many of the results are experiential and non-material in nature. And they typically occur over time, rather than instantly.
However, the results are very real and include things like peace, joy, patience, strength, and forgiveness. But I recognize that to someone whose worldview includes no provision for the existence of a metaphysical level of reality, this type of result is typically dismissed as the delusional attribution of emotional experiences to a non-existent deity. So, while I have personally experienced these types of results and believe the source to be God, I didn’t want to present you with this as my answer.
The metaphysical results described above do also manifest themselves in noticeable behavioral changes, which might be a more relevant level on which to answer your question. A life that is dramatically and instantly transformed is strong evidence for the way God works on a spiritual level to affect change that is observable on the physical level. However, here again, we run into a worldview problem. When viewed by someone who does not believe God exists, the list of acceptable explanations for a transformed life will be typically constrained to personal volition or coincidence.
So, in a sense, explaining trust in God is a matter of “insider baseball”. From the outside, as seen by someone for whom God does not exist, trusting God is little more than attributing the natural results of Cause and Effect to a non-existent deity. From the inside, as understood by someone who has come to a belief in God and has experienced Him, trusting God is the stuff of daily existence.
The truth is that Christianity is not a religion at all. Mankind has tried to turn it into a religion with rules and dogma and denominations, but in reality, the teachings of Jesus are about relationship, not religion. In fact, Jesus’ harshest words were aimed at religious leaders, calling them hypocrites, vipers and white-washed tombs with nothing inside but dead bones. Following rules and mindlessly reciting words is not what Christianity is about. It’s about living in a daily relationship with Jesus, and that can only happen when one actively trusts Him. In other words, they don’t merely believe the proverbial chair will hold them, they actually sit down in it.
I say all this as a way to explain that when you, as a non-believer, asked me what I trust God to do or not do, the answer I initially looked for was different than what I would say to a fellow believer who asked the same question. But maybe that’s the best way to answer your question after all.
I trust God to make beauty out of the ashes of my life, and the lives of those around me. I trust Him to give my life meaning and to make sense of the pain and struggle in my life, and in the world. I trust Him to give me the strength to walk through hard times, and that He will never leave me or forsake me. I trust Him daily that I am forgiven for the wrong things I’ve done, and to give me the strength and the will to stop doing those things. I trust Him with my future, knowing that He has an unbounded view of reality while my scope of knowledge is severely limited. I may be trying to get from Point A to Point Z in life, but God is only showing me the path from Point A to Point B today. So I trust him to get me to Point B today, and all the way to Point Z one day. And I also trust Him for what Point Z will be when I get there. Because I trust Him that I am here for a reason, that my life has a purpose, and that if I submit myself to His will He will lead me into that purpose.
I also trust God to give me love for unlovable people, to give me peace in turbulent circumstances, to give me patience to treat other people kindly who are being unkind to me, to give me the strength to forgive people who have hurt me. He has done all these things in my life and continues to do so.
I trust that He loves me right where I am, flaws and ugliness and all and that He loves me too much to leave me here. So I trust Him to lead me in small steps, on a daily basis, toward goodness and righteousness; toward making better decisions, toward loving people more, toward making a positive difference in my small part of the world. And He is doing all this as well.
I ask Him for physical needs and outcomes; protection, provision, safety, health, etc. I don’t expect that He will automatically provide them as I see fit, but rather that He will provide (or withhold) them as He sees fit, and I trust He will be with me through it all. He is in charge, not me, and while I may not want to be poor or sick or suffer tragedy, I yield to His will knowing He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
I trust Him that, in the end, there will be justice so I don’t need to seek my own revenge for wrongs. I trust Him for the next breath I take, knowing that it is not a given. I have also been trusting Him for this answer to your question, so I hope you found something of value somewhere in all my rambling.
I asked, “What would be something you trust God to do or not do and how do you know afterward whether he did or not did do it?”. You gave lots of examples of what you trust God to do. But, and forgive me if I missed it, it seems you didn’t answer the second part of the question. Let’s pick one of your examples and see if we can find out how you know (or maybe don’t know) whether God did something that you trusted him to do. You said you trusted God to help you with your answer. Now that you’ve sent your answer, how would you determine whether he actually helped you with it or not?
Hmm…that’s another good question. The example you picked may not yield the kind of answer you’re looking for, but let me give it a shot.
In one sense I know He helped me with the answer because we talked a lot while I was arriving at it. He dropped some of the ideas into my head, and He helped me sort through some of the concepts I was struggling with; first to get them clear in my own mind, and then to make sure they squared with reality and His word. Pursuing God and truth is part of the journey of being a Christian (sanctification) and I was learning as I was working on the answer to your question. I came to realize that God was using you to challenge and grow my faith. So, in that sense, I knew He had helped me at the time I clicked SEND to post my response.
A more concrete example would be a period of my life in the beginning of 2015 when I was in the middle of a perfect storm of financial, personal and professional turmoil. Circumstances were forcing me to consider pursuing a corporate job after 20 years of being self-employed. I got to the point where I finally surrendered my will to God and began applying for jobs while still trying to drum up freelance work, trusting Him with the outcome. At the time I was trusting Him for provision, and that, if He wanted me to go the corporate route (an option I dreaded!) He would give me the strength and grace handle it.
I applied for 60 jobs. One of them was with a small, hip software development firm. It seemed like a really cool place to work and I was a good fit for the position. I tried hard to land the job, staying in regular contact and even talking my way into an interview with the owner, but an offer never came. Meanwhile, another job I applied for was in the healthcare industry (boring!) with a huge national company (lame!). Yet that’s the only offer I got, so I swallowed my pride and took the job, trusting God for the strength and grace to handle being a small cog in a big corporate wheel. I felt like a worker bee on my first day walking in. Fast-forward 16 months and I am still there and loving it. Boy was I wrong about the job! It’s the perfect fit for my skill set and personality, and its brought peace to more areas of my life than I realized needed peace; my finances, my marriage, my sense of identity, etc. It’s also opened up some exciting opportunities I never expected or would have known about. Had I followed my desires and trusted my own instincts I never would have considered applying for the job. But today I am reaping the rewards of trusting God through that season. (I wrote a blog all about it in June.)
I hope some of this answer was helpful.
Thanks for the extensive answer. I’ll stick to the first example (you trusting God to help you with answering my question) because it’s nice and simple. To summarize, and correct me if I got it wrong: you trusted God to help you with your answer and afterwards, you know God did indeed help you because he dropped ideas in your head and helped you organize your thoughts. I’m curious, how do you distinguish ideas that pop up because your own brain thinks them up from ideas dropped by God?
I have to tell you, Frank, you really rocked my world this week. Your questions have forced me to challenge some of my deeply held convictions, which is a very uncomfortable feeling. They made me hop up out of my proverbial Chair of Faith and kick the legs to make sure it’s not going to collapse under me. This, in turn, connected a few new dots for me and has brought me to a deeper understanding of why I believe what I believe. So, thanks. I owe you a steak dinner.
The short answer to your most recent question is, yes, you summed it up correctly. How do I distinguish between my own ideas and thoughts that I believe God has dropped in my head? I don’t always know. And in a sense, it doesn’t matter. But when I do try to analyze it, I find it’s a spiritual sense, as well as a lack of “tracks” leading up to the idea. Meaning the idea didn’t seem to naturally flow from a chain of thought I was having, rather it dropped into my mind unbidden and unexpected.
But here I owe you an apology because in working through your question I realized I may have led the conversation astray with the analogy about the chair. The analogy is a good one in principle, but it can only be pressed so far before the analogous relationship breaks down. It tends to suggest a one-to-one relationship as if God is a vending machine where you put in X and get back Y. But that’s not the case at all. Let me refer back to something I wrote to you previously.
“So, in a sense, explaining trust in God is a matter of “insider baseball”. From the outside, as seen by someone for whom God does not exist, trusting God is little more than attributing the natural results of Cause and Effect to a non-existent deity. From the inside, as understood by someone who has come to a belief in God and has experienced Him, trusting God is the stuff of daily existence.”
Rather than a chair, a better analogy might be the foundation of a house, though that analogy will only hold so far, as well. What one trusts the foundation for is holding up the house, thereby supporting all the activities and life that happen inside the house. One builds one’s life on the foundation, so to speak.
In that sense I trust God for everything: to make sense of the universe, to give meaning to life, to guide me into His will, to give me the faith to believe in Him, to work all things out for His ultimate purpose, for my next breath, for my identity, for my purpose. And I don’t really ask myself if He “did it or didn’t do it”, because the nature of the relationship with Him is so fundamental and intimate. It’s not the one-to-one exchange of a vending machine. It’s the extant, living, complex interaction of two persons in a relationship.
So from within that relationship, I see His handiwork everywhere; in my thoughts and ideas, in my search for a job, in my marriage, in “chance” meetings and “coincidences”, in my relationships with other people, in the starry sky above and the moral law within.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” —C.S. Lewis
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