Do-it-yourself faith

(Heb 11:1 KJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Faith comes from God, but God has His own timetable. What can we do if we get impatient? This article describes how one might make faith on their own, and what the result might look like.

Christian theology states that mankind is is sinful, fallen, and generally not to be trusted to do anything good. But surely there are nice, caring, conscientious, altruistic, ethical, sensitive, kind and generous people who aren’t adherents to the Christian religion. Apart from anything God might inspire, such a person could look at the story of Jesus and be attracted to his ethical teaching, his loving relationships, and his self-giving way of life and that person might be emotionally touched by Jesus’ death on behalf of his friends. Such a person might want to be a Christian as part of a program of self-betterment. This person whom God has not (yet) called and in whom God has not worked the gift of faith does not know for himself what faith looks and feels like and when this person decides to “join up” he has to rely on his own resources to get some faith. While real faith is created ex nihilo (from nothing) by God, human beings (lacking this God-like creative ability) have to create things out of other things.

Faith from Emotion

Emotions are indisputable, tangible things. There is certainly no shortage of emotional situations in our churches — stories from the pulpit of pleas from dying mothers and tragic accidents. Someone looking for an emotional experience will be supplied with one with nothing more required than staying awake. The emotional crisis, or the warm fuzzy feeling, or the burning in the bosom are real enough and these can be appropriated as a basis for faith and a proof of God’s action in the person’s life. The do-it-yourself Christian says “I know that God loves me because of my own, personal experience.”

A weakness of this particular faith technique is that when emotions go flat, or go negative, the do-it-yourself Christian may be left confused and in doubt.

Faith from Reason

Faith from Reason has a venerable history. Attempts at proving God using logical argument date back thousands of years. There is the “argument from design (blind watchmaker)”, the “ontological argument” or the “argument from first cause” plus many others. One can believe in the deity of Christ through the “lord, liar, lunatic” argument. One can become convinced that one or more of these arguments positively and indisputably prove the existence of God and validity of the Christian message about Jesus. One might conclude the truth of the Christian faith from historical evidence. This unshakable conviction is called faith by them. In practice, persons who get faith in this way prove quite defensive about the logical arguments they use.

A weakness of this particular faith technique is that usually there is someone else who has a more clever argument, and when a logical fallacy is pointed out or the evidence is criticized, what is left to support the faith?

Faith from Good Fortune

I have written elsewhere about the addictive nature of tying good fortune to our activities to try to please God. If one “joins up” with Jesus and then has a stroke of good luck (finds a wife, gets a job, has a remission of their cancer, inherits some money) one might see this as proof of the love of God and the validity of the Christian religion. There are more than enough TV preachers (not all of them in jail) who preach such things.

A weakness of this particular faith technique is that usually something goes wrong, and and we ask: Has God abandoned us? Was it was all a lie?

Faith from the Miracles

Apart from simple good fortune, there is a widespread belief in miracles. There are appearances of the Virgin Mary either in visions or on the side of rusty water towers, weeping icons, blood that mystically liquefies, healings and other such things. One might accept the truth of one of these miracles and then declare God proved by an event which could have come about in no other way. People who create faith based on these supernatural events seem to be defensive about the validity of the miracles, soaking up accounts of their truth and regarding with disdain “logical explanations” for them.

A weakness here is that at least in some cases, such miracles are outright frauds, and when they are conclusively exposed, the person whose faith is based on them is in jeopardy. A negative side effect is that the repeated filtering of evidence that may be needed to accept false miracles, leaves the person with a weakened judgment in other matters.

Faith from the Bible

[First, a word of explanation: The Christian’s faith does not exist apart from the written word of God in scripture. It is this word, along with the grace of God, through which God creates faith. However, one may try to create faith using scripture alone (without any help from God). It is this do-it-yourself version that I discuss here.]

Those who create faith from scripture must first regard scripture as a miraculous book. So in a sense, this technique is merely an extension of Faith from Miracles above; however, since the technique is so widely used, I think it deserves separate treatment.

One approach to creating faith from the Bible is the circular argument based on scripture’s own claim of inspiration. (2 Tim 3:16a KJV) “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…”. The Bible is true because it says it is. While such a circular argument presented in such minimal terms is obviously a fallacy, it is widely believed when presented dressed up and embellished.

The other approach is to attribute things to scripture which could not be true unless God wrote it. Statements such as: “no other book, written over a period of 4,000 years, is perfect and without error.” Recently, jump-space letter searches of the Bible have been used to “find” predictions of historical events. The characteristics of those who create faith in this way is to put scripture in a place of nearly ultimate regard, and like those who base faith on miracles, tend to have a very selective way of looking at the evidence for and against their claims. Such persons are more likely to view scripture as inerrant–both in matters of religion and natural science. In extreme cases, the inerrancy of translations is asserted.

People who base their faith on claims about what the Bible is may get hurt when they learn the facts about the Bible’s history (such as the many variant New Testament manuscripts) or when they hit a contradiction they cannot resolve.

Faith from Science

I heard a quotation attributed to Einstein which said “do not put God into the dark areas of science”. Nevertheless, using God to explain things in nature which science cannot, is one way to create faith. For example, one person I came across was so certain that the living cell was such an impossible event that he was willing to say that he would give up believing in God if scientists could create a living cell (“give me a cell and I will give up God”). (Indeed I know those who said that man would never walk on the moon, and when it happened, they didn’t believe it.)

In addition to the miracles of the universe, another technique is to link science with the Bible in order to show the miraculous nature of the Bible. Here we get into Creation Science and other disciplines which use the Bible as an assumption in the exploration of nature. In either case, the miracle of nature, or of scripture gives proof of God. When scripture is proved, then one has the added advantage of not just proving God, but of proving the Christian God.

And then there are those who find secret messages in the Hebrew Bible by taking equally-spaces letters (the so-called “Bible Code”), essentially a statistical argument.

Apart from crackpot schemes such as Creation Science, there are more legitimate applications of scientific fact to the proof of God which are gaining in popularity. These include the “anthropic principle” which states that the laws of the universe are uniquely suited to the support of life, the big bang and other discoveries in physics and cosmology, and Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box.

However, when science explains the rainbow, demonstrates the age of the universe, or perhaps one day creates a living cell, those who base their faith on these things will have problems.

Observations

In all of the examples I cited above, faith is primarily faith in something in nature, whether it is emotion or good fortunate or miraculous event. All of them are not fully trustworthy, and require intellectual effort to maintain. All of the bases for faith mentioned above can fail given the right circumstances.

(Mat 7:27 NRSV) The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!”

They must all then be regarded as temporary. Faith in God, created by God, is however permanent, relying on nothing but God himself. Faith itself is the thing which has been created from nothing and faith itself is the evidence for the Christian’s hope.

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