Must Christians Take A Leap Of Faith?

Leaping manI have often heard Christians claiming that we should take a leap of faith in the gospel.  One blog I read stated,

You could say Peter took a leap of Faith when he jumped out of the boat and began walking on water. Peter, an imperfect man, walked on water like Jesus did” (http://www.godswill-wellness.com/leap-of-faith.html).

Noted scientist and Christian Francis Collins said,

Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith.”

Another writes,

“The paradox lies in this,” he wrote. “We can experience presence—one could just as easily say grace—when art approximates the leap of faith, when it dares to place us directly inside an act of discovery. The risk of imagination, like the risk of faith, instills fear in those who believe we can only be saved by rational propositions. But the paradoxical truth is that unless we learn how to live in that risk-taking leap of faith, we will lose touch with the meaning of those propositions.”

His words (who was this guy?) mirrored what I believed and had been unable to explain: that my writing was an act of faith, that imagination itself was belief (http://bit.ly/1F0hOP5).

The web is loaded with sayings on a leap of faith, such as the following:

“Change requires taking a leap of faith.”

“Sometimes your only available means of transportation is a leap of faith”

“Sometimes the greatest distance between two points is a leap of faith.”

The notion of a leap of faith began with Soren Kierkegaard although he never used the phrase directly.  In one of his works, Kierkegaard notes,
When someone is to leap he must certainly do it alone and also be alone in properly understanding that it is an impossibility. … the leap is the decision. ….” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments).
Kierkegaard saw Christian faith as full of paradoxes through which one who places faith in the Christian God must take a leap to embrace.  However, is faith really what he and many other Christians attempt to affirm?

If we consult the Christian’s authority on faith, the Bible, I believe we come to a very different conclusion.  The Bible asserts that we do not take any sort of leap, but that our faith rests on content, evidence, reality, and an object as rock solid as the world in which we live.  Faith cannot be called biblical faith when divorced from any of these.

Biblical faith requires content.  Faith stands on substance and not simply nothing.  There is no leap into some darkness or void.  Rather, the Bible claims that faith requires substance,
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…” (Hebrews 11:1)
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews identifies that substance is hope.  Such hope rests on the word of God He speaks in the past, present, and future.  It is for this reason that we read in the letter to the Hebrews,

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Creation occurred in the distant past prior eyewitnesses.  Faith believes the word of God that brought about creation.  It accepts the reality of God speaking and that all that exist did not arise without Him as atheism claims.  Events that occurred because of God’s word took faith on the part of those who lived later.  God’s spoken word then gave those who trusted Him confidence that His word stands firm and gives hope.

As we work our way through Hebrews 11, we discover how the author weaves substance and evidence together.  God’s past actions give assurance of future hope.  Noah lived righteously based on what he knew of God’s activity in the past both in creation and His dealings with his ancestors.  God had long faithfulness.  He complied with God’s direction to construct an ark, for he knew that God would fulfill His promise of deliverance.  God appeared to Abraham and gave him a son.  These events led him to conclude that another “city” existed for him and his family (11:9-10).  Moses also waited for the Messiah according to the same faith.  The prophets knew God’s faithfulness to them and drew confidence in His deliverance.

Faith rested in the God of hope in a future reality.  It was not faith in some nebulous nothingness.  God acting space and time is evidence for faith.  From creation to providence, God strengthened the earliest believers as well as those today.  It is not blind or divorced from the real world or teachings without foundation such as what exists in Eastern religions as Buddhism and Confucianism.  Faith does not rest in philosophical words that have no relationship to reality, such as platitudes or sayings divorced from the real world.  In fact, that which does not exists is not part of reality.  It could not come to mind and be conceptualized.  Those who take faith as simply isolated from what exists rely on presumption and ignorance.  It has its trust in one’s imagination or subjectivity and not in that which exists external to the person.  God exists apart from the imagination and the fantasies one conjures up in the mind.  He is distinct from the individual and not one with a person.  That is pantheism or panentheism, that is God is everything or in everything.

Such a notion makes gods of men and makes no distinction between God and humanity.  For this reason, the God who exists apart from the created order and humanity itself can act apart individuals.  His acts in creation gives substance for what He promises.  Faith relies on this reality and not in the fantasy of finite gods as integrated in creation or one with it.  As the object of Christian faith, God fulfills in reality, in space and time, what He promises.  Presumption is opposite such fulfillment, because it is reliance on the imagination apart from the word of God.  For this reason, biblical faith is not a leap of faith, which is impersonal, but trust in the personal God who acts to fulfill what He declares in reality.

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The Dones of Church

This morning I read an article from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed by Thom Schultz called “The Rise of the Dones.”

It highlighted that many leaders in the church are leaving for good.  Why? Schultz notes, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.
Schultz preceded the above remark with, “Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”
Interestingly enough, this interviewee did not seem like he wanted to play either unless that play centered around him.
I think when we contextualize the point of Schultz’s article, it boils down to what the churchmen said in Malachi’s time. Present congregationalists won’t admit to this, but the parallel is stunningly similar. Those leaders in Malachi’s time could also be saying, “I’ve heard it all. I have labored fruitlessly. I’m tired of being bashed by God. Been there, done that. God’s word is wearisome. So bye.”
Is it not a heart issue for the Dones also? Are they not really pointing their finger at God and saying, “What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance…?” The current crowd of the Dones may also be saying, “What profit is there in being a disciple and serving God in he church?” The cycle returns.
It seems that the issue always seems to find its way in the heart.  It is a sad commentary when people echo the churchmen in Malachi’s time,
“I left the church because I didn’t get anything out of it.  No recognition for my service.  No pat on the back or attaboy.  No since of control over programs.  It seems to boil down to, “What’s in it for me?”
Many want to attend the Church of Me and sit on the premises rather than stand on the promises (as Southern Baptists used to say).
One person replied,

Perhaps, it is a heart issue – but not the way you think.  It isn’t that it is useless to serve God – rather it is useless to continue to be part of a congregation where your role is to “plop pray and pay” and to provide hands (no brain necessary) for the leader’s vision…I understand why so many may be. … especially if their church changed under their feet leaving no opportunities.”

Hmm.  My reply is,

Malachi expressed that same sentiment about the “churchmen” in his day. “Ploppers” are not engaged in serving God. Of course, prayer is a gift. Samuel prayed for the people daily and even said, “God forbid that I should sin again Him in not praying for you.” But when we become exhausted in our prayers, God becomes a burden. Augustine’s mother, Monica, made it her life-long ministry to pray for her son daily. In God’s timing, God answered that one prayer, and look at what happened. Augustine became one of the most influential theologians in church history after leaving a life of debauchery. As for “paying,” that is turning God’s gift of giving into a “pay to play” situation. Many take that one by offering conditional gifts to the church.

God is the one who disburses His gifts in His church. Would He then allow those same gifts curl up and die? He also opens up opportunity. Faith sees those opportunities and steps out. Often, it is what we want and not what God wants of us. Opportunity always exists in the church to serve people. It is not always in the big stuff or before a large crowd to be seen. There is the coffee ministry, greeters, ushers and hushers, custodians, money counters, visiting the sick at their homes or in the hospital, or changing stinky diapers in the nursery while singing a lullaby. The last one does not need to be formalized. While doing these things, the opportunity to share the gospel one on one with new comers always exists. Nike’s motto is, “Just do it.”

Again, it is a matter of the heart and not the art of ministry. This past Sunday, my pastor brought up in teaching from Malachi that we should be taking an inventory of our heart. I like what Zig Ziglar once said, “Perform a check up from the neck up to prevent the hardening of the attitudes.”

Wise advice for all the Dones who are fed up from the neck up.”

Only a personal inventory and faith reveals true motives.  The challenge still remains, Who do we worship and serve – ourselves or God?  Isaiah’s response is very telling,

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of †unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

After God touched his lips and asked,

Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” (6:8)

The prophet’s reply was,

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (6:8)

Isaiah did not say, “I’m done” but “I’m undone.”  He chose the better response to which the LORD declared,

And He said, “Go…”

God determines the mission with the gift and the power.  Ours is to walk by faith by also declaring, “Here I am, send me!”

Atheism and Its Irrational Call for Proof of God

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”1

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Peter 3:15).1

Atheism frequently demands that those who believe in God give proof of His existence.  It claims the requirement of such proof before the willingness to believe God does exist.  The evidence for them is “proof.”  Apart from this demand for faith being a contradiction, atheism’s approach is a contradiction.  To demand perceived (or seen) proof for believing (faith is in the unseen) is an untenable demand.  Proof relies on the senses (the seen) but faith relies on the unseen.  While faith calls for evidence from unseen reality (Hebrews 11:1; i.e., promises), seen reality is limited and thereby not an adequate means for proof of God although seen reality offers substantial evidence for God.

A person has a right to their own opinion, but they do not have a right to define evidence or proof according to their own terms. Those who also demand proof fail to realize that irrefutable proof is not scientific. Therefore, atheism stands on an unscientific ground while claiming to hold to scientific methods. That which is held in theory is not necessarily held at proof.

Many theories and hypotheses do not stand on proof. Yet those who form them as well as those who work with them accept them without the same level of proof as atheism.  For if it did, theory and hypotheses could not be refutable. Theories over time have been refuted or struck down. For a theory to be struck down does not alarm those who hold to the theology of atheism. When someone in the scientific field establishes a theory, atheism does not demand an ill-defined level of proof they demand for God’s existence.

Proof and evidence are not the same although one may call for the other. They are different, otherwise they would not be different words with different meanings.  Their use depends on the particular discipline in which they are used.  For example, the field of mathematics seeks proof in equations for solving a mathematical problem while in the field of law, jurists, judges, and attorneys seek evidence.  Evidence does not necessarily “prove” a case, but it can erase doubt.

Evidence can be used for proof.  However, it does not necessarily guarantee it or make anything certain.  What if certain evidence omits a fact?  That fact can have a substantial bearing for the proof of something.  We live in a world full of limitations.  Such limitations easily lend to the omission of facts for establishing evidence or at most the certainty of something.  Even if we have an overwhelming amount of evidence toward substantiating a thing or theory, our limitations are giant variables that stand in the way of any proof.  Consequently, the demand of proof for God is an absurd demand.  For one, it requires material world proof for God who is not of the material world.  That material world proof at the least is in the imagination as in the case of an atheist who while demanding proof for God imagines for what the atheist demands proof.

The person demanding such proof has not adequately worked through the necessary argumentative processes and limitations that stand in the way of yielding any evidence lending to a proof.  Furthermore, the person making the demand ignores the disciplines in which proof and evidence are called for and applied.  It is a demand without meaning because, it is one in which the one making the demand does not consider that not even atheism can produce the proof against God’s existence.  Atheism cannot even imagine non-existence the non-existence of God (See Anselm’s Proslogium, Chapter Three).  Yet atheism demands proof for what it imagines to be God.  An atheist may say, “Since I do not believe God exist, I do not imagine God.”  However, the the atheist speaks of God, he or she has already imagined and shaped one’s conception of God.  To that, the atheist may reply, “I can imagine that which is false or fictitious.”  Indeed, anyone can imagine fiction, and the creators of fiction do this.  However, they do not call everything they imagine God.  If God did not exist, they could not even speak of God, for He would not arise in their imagination.  This is a very different point than imagining fiction.  One can imagine fictitious beings because they extrapolate such fictitious things from what already exist.

This returns us to the previous statement that a person cannot imagine or even speak of that which does not exist.  For if something does not exist, it cannot be imagined.  Therefore, it takes far more faith to believe in that which one cannot even imagine or of what one cannot speak (that is, the non-existence of God) than it does to place one’s faith in that which one can imagine.  Atheists claim no God and thereby no faith.  In one way this is correct while in another it is incorrect.  It is correct in that faith in the non-existence of God is a giant leap of faith, which is no more than irrational presumption.  For it is a naked presumption and not genuine faith to imagine non-existence of God, which is an impossibility.  In this sense, it takes faith divorced from reason and the entire realm of reality.  For that which does not exist is not part of reality.

Then why does atheism demand proof of God’s existence? Because atheists have already reached conclusion for themselves that He does not exist. They have done that because they reject God as authority over their lives and in doing so place themselves in the precarious position of an autonomous person independent of God.  They do so while being dependent on many other invisible, unknown, or currently unknowable things in the created material universe.

The most common method of rejection is denial.  Denial is not a reply on the merits for any position, especially for the non-existence of God.  It is simply positing a naked declaration stripped of reason.  This stance is a contradiction and irrational position for atheism because it never demands proof for all of the invisible components of the material world’s existence as well as those things that threaten existence. Yet atheism demands proof for something they imagine, that is, their conception of God.  Atheism or those who hold to atheism have already entertained that for which they demand proof while denying the very thing for which they demand proof.  This is a contradiction.

That is, atheism’s demand for proof depends on what an atheist imagines about God and not on reality or what another position may hold.  Consequently, atheism often calls for proof for a straw man god, one it imagines or alleges Christians hold.  For when atheism demands proof, those who are atheists already entertain a god for which they demand proof. The very fact that they imagine the divine gives evidence that God exist, because as noted in a previous article, one could not even imagine God if He did not exist. That goes for any sense of divinity.

By establishing an imagined god and demanding proof for it, atheism alleges victory by asserting that no one has presented proof for the god of the atheist’s imagination. Atheism does not outwardly define the god of whom it demands proof while holding to that which it demands proof.  Many atheists also do not refer to the sacred writings of those who follow the God of those writings such as the Christian Bible.  Many atheists also refuse to read the very book Christians claim presents the real God unless they read it for citations to use against Christians to present a god who is unjust or a tyrant or another straw man. Rather they reject the Bible. In doing so, they fail to entertain knowledge that offers them evidence of God and then claim without having read it as it should be read, according to common reading skills, that its contents are fantasy.  They claim this without offering any refutable scholastic evidence.

This is irrational, for it rejects the knowledge they do not have and refuse to entertain. It is also irrational to demand proof for an imagined god.  This places atheism in a very precarious position in its refusal to entertain knowledge while demanding “proof” of God’s existence when the evidence of such proof could lie in the knowledge they do not possess and not so much in the imagination of the atheist.  It is one thing to demand a defense from another concerning that person’s theology, but it is quite another matter to offer one’s own defense for a held theology.  Quite frequently, atheism’s defense of its theology is demanding proof from theists for the existence of their God.  This demand is not an adequate defense of a position.

Atheism technically is a theology in the proper sense of the term.  A denial that it is not leads to a redefinition of terms like “theology.”  Atheism is a theology of the non-existence of God (or any gods, but particularly the Christian God).  Atheism rests on faith in both the non-existence of God and concerning the invisible things of the material world. By claiming that God does not exist, their faith rest on that proposition, that is, on the non-existence of God, for atheism cannot provide evidence of God’s non-existence. Therefore, they simply must believe.  Atheism also rests on faith concerning the things they do not see as well as on things of which they have no knowledge, the invisible things of the created material world of which there are many.  Any denial atheists make that the must have faith is a redefinition of faith to escape from beleiving they must have faith.

One person does not have knowledge of everything – physics and all other sciences. Yet, atheism demands proof of God while not demanding the same level of proof for the things of which they have no knowledge.  It also fails to consider the context and discipline of which proof is required (such as mathematics versus the legal profession). They believe in those who do have that knowledge (scientists, their teachers, parents, and so on) while pointing to Christians as foolish for believing in those who wrote the Bible and disclose God in it. This is still another contradiction. The glaring part of this contradiction is that many atheists engage in ridicule of Christians for believing God and the Bible while being accepting of many unseen realities for which there is no proof or may not be proof.

Again, ridicule is not a defense for one’s position.  Rather, it is an irrational response.  In doing so, atheism not only dismisses any argument theists put forward, but it offers no evidence for atheism.  In essence, atheism exercises similar belief by believing in those who have more knowledge than they concerning the material world, which holds many unseen and unknown realities.  This is also a contradiction of atheism.

What then should be the Christian reply to those who refuse to believe God?  It should be the same as it would be for anyone else.  Present Christ.  Of course, such presentation requires more discussion than a two word sentence.  It is important to first determine the seriousness of the one to whom we present Christ and the gospel.  The backlash of ridicule or scoffing shows no seriousness for engaging prolonged discussion on a peer to peer basis.  To attempt to give an answer to someone who holds the position of ridicule for the God of the Bible with the gospel would be futile.  This does not mean that we withhold the gospel message.  We give warning of the rejection of God in a similar manner Jesus gave to Nicodemus (John 3:19-20).

As Christians, we have three tools God has given us for encountering those who do not know or yet believe in God and His salvation through Christ: the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and God’s gift of reason.  The Bible is God’s disclosure of Himself.  He really wants people to know Him.  However, two major barriers stand in the way: one’s alienation from Him and separate realms.  We are of the material (temporal) realm, and God is of the divine realm, and He alone exists there.  To know God, He must reveal Himself.  God does so through revelation.  God revealed Himself to us through His word found in the Bible.  Not only this, but He comes up beside His word through the Holy Spirit to not only enable us to understand God but also to relate to Him.  God actually crossed the vast barrier between the divine realm and the material realm in the form of a man, Jesus Christ.

God has also gifted us with the capacity to reason toward comprehension of His word and its disclosure of how to relate to Him through the revelation of Jesus Christ.  We can use these tools for communicating to those who have never heard of the gospel and who do not know God.  The Holy Spirit, then, works within the individual to give understanding just as He did in us.  Only God can penetrate the mind and conscience of individuals to receive His message and place faith in Jesus Christ.  Only the Holy Spirit can change resistance and ridicule to faith and worship.

Both the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter explain how Christians engage reason in sharing their faith.  Paul states that we use persuasion (2 Corinthians 5:11).  That is, we engage reason to call people to faith in God.  He also writes that we meet reason with reason (2 Corinthians 10:5).  The advantage of the reason we use is that it points to God, receives aid from the Holy Spirit, and involves the knowledge of God as opposed to the knowledge of worldly philosophy.  It breaches the barrier of the material world and calls upon people to reject reasoning that excludes God but rather focuses on that which is eternal.

Peter writes that we give a defense for our hope.  We have the only hope available in light of the hopelessness of the present postmodern self-reliant age.  Such defense engages our minds for presenting the claims of the gospel.  Since we serve and relate to the God of hope, we call all people to it, but not by ourselves but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is in this power, which resides in the gospel, where our confidence and hope dwells.  Atheism has no hope, which is a fatalistic theology, because it is self-reliant and seeks autonomy.  This is a position of fantasy and not reality.  All need the gospel message of Jesus Christ for life.  Without it, one faces destruction whereas eternal life waits for all who believe the gospel.

Copyright (c) 2014 Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Cannot be used in any form without expressed written permission from Action Faith Books Press

1 Nelson, Thomas (2009-02-18). Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) (p. 1165). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. Use by permission.

An Atheist Theological Position and Faith

I recently engaged some atheists concerning their claims about how they see the God of Christians.  One claim an atheist author made was that the Christian god is simply one of the imagination.  This god exists because Christian believe this god’s existence.  The actual statement is, “they [gods] exist because you make them exist” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014/10/24/god-does-exist-2).  The author goes on to state,

You were likely taught from your youngest days to believe in this entity, and some of you have spent a lifetime cultivating a way of thinking about and perceiving a world which includes this Being in the midst of it. You were taught to listen to the thoughts and feelings in your own head and consider that some of them may very well be this Person communicating with you, telling you things you should know. You’ve spent many years reading a text which you were told represents the right way to think about this person, and if you’ve had as long as I had, you were able to internalize its vocabulary and its thought forms until they became second nature to you. In short, you do experience this person as if he were a real person, and it won’t do you any good for me to stand here and tell you he does not exist. That’s simply incorrect. He exists because you make him exist.”

In other words, God is not a matter of epistemology, belief system, or even reality, but simply of one’s imagination.  I posed a challenge to this claim (and a claim it is) that it is no more than the logical fallacy called a straw man or even a false attribution.  It is also an epistemological one for the one making the claim.  Let us examine the claim from these perspectives.

First, let us look at the logical fallacy.  A straw man argument is positing a position to someone that the person does not hold.  The person doing this sets up what is known as a straw man, that is, a false position.  Then the person making the claim begins either attacking the straw man or making statements about it rather than addressing the real position the other person actually holds.  Another logical fallacy could also be applied to this type of claim called false attribution.  A false attribution is falsely attributing a position to another the other person does not hold or one that is irrelevant or biased to support one’s claim.  In neither case does the one making the claim present an argument on the merit.  That is, the claimant fails to address the other person’s position at all through evidence or reasoning.  All this atheist could do is make the claim and use a work of fiction to support it without any further support other than repetition of the premise:  it is all in the mind or imagination.

After a brief interchange when I brought up this atheist’s straw man, he replied with other logical fallacies:

1. That I missed his intent, which was “to explain to other atheists something they may not be getting about believers.”

2.  That his experience as a former Christian and seminary graduate supported his claim

The first argument simply affirmed the false attribution logical fallacy or a lie by continuing to attribute a false position to Christians.  The second argument was another logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.”  Appeal to authority is an attempt to sidetrack the discussion from the claim through appealing either to another authority (“So and so says…”) or oneself as an authority rather than address an argument that supports the claim (or an argument on the merits).  That is neither one supports a person’s claim.  One is using what is false while the other sidetracks from a claim by going elsewhere.

I then addressed the claim altogether with another argument: “If God did not exist, people would not have any thought of the existence of God.”  They could not imagine God or even think or discuss any kind of divinity.  The first atheist dropped out of the discussion while a few others entered it. One atheist tried to counter this by claiming that we imagine certain fictional science fiction characters, and they do not exist: i.e., Superman, Buck Rodgers, etc.  Fiction writers create fictitious characters from what they know in the material created order.  To refer to them by name is simply an action of assigning a name to things that exist.  Fiction writers know about human beings or other types of beings within the created order.  They then dress them up in a certain garb or identity and name them.  This action does not address what one does not know or the non-existence of something or God.

For example, God asked Adam to name the animals.  If animals were not of the material world, Adam would not have the foggiest idea about animals.  Nothing could come to mind.  Their existence and the knowledge of that existence comes before naming them.  Some may ask, “What about the unicorn?”  The unicorn is a horse with a horn.  Horses exists, and animals with horns exists.  People see what is in existence, integrate these existing things, and assign a name to it in the same way Adam did.  The atheists in the discussion continued to bring up these examples with different other fictional characters, claiming that they did not exist except in the imagination.  However, regardless how many examples one gives, the same argument applies.  These fictional characters are representations of what already exists.

That returns us to the original claim – if God did not exist, no thought of divinity apart from the created material world could be imagined or entertained in our thoughts.  Furthermore, atheists could not even make the claim that God does not exist.  If He did not exist, why do they continue to make the claim that He does not exist?  It is a claim without meaning.  They would not be making any claim at all, because they could not entertain what does not exist in their thoughts.  All their claims about the non-existence of God amounts to no more than a personal attack on those who hold that God exists.  Nothing more.

Atheism is actually a theology that requires faith as much as Christian theology also requires faith.  All of us must have faith whether that faith is in humanity (humanism), other religions (pluralism), or any other kind of -ism in the world.  Too many unseen elements exist in the material world and beyond it to simply rely on empiricism or related approaches.  Our finiteness prohibits us from an all out claim or disclaim of God.  Atheists must believe God (or gods as they put it) does not exist.  They cannot provide evidence from the material world or anything beyond finite knowledge to make a claim of the non-existence of God.  Inasmuch as atheists make claims for the non-existence of God, no scientific method can prove such non-existence or even offer evidence at the very least.  They must accept such non-existence on faith that their theology of no God is feasible.

Consequently, atheism offers no more than a comparative faith.  It is far less tenable to believe in the non-existence of something than in the claim of what exists.  It is also more difficult to develop a theology around non-existence than existence.  I would rather place my faith in the God of the Bible than in faith in a non-existence of the Divine.  The biblical God gives far more substance and evidence, for it has the backing of history and creation.  These will be explored in future posts.

Tension Between Faith and Unbelief

Shortly after our first parents decided to walk their own road not taken, their two sons struck out on divergent paths.  Both lived in the same household.  Both observed their parents.  One killed the other.  What happened?

The Scriptures give us very little about their motives and the forces that motivated them.  Most of what we receive came from oral tradition since those who wrote of them were not their contemporaries.  What we do know is telling about both of them.  One statement about Abel gives us great insight about his motivations.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews states,

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

Abel acted out of faith, and Cain behaved from unbelief.  If we follow the author’s argument carefully, we gain valuable information about both.  Before entering into observations of the events surrounding the two brothers, we must consider the context of the original circumstances.  Afterwards, we can review what other biblical authors write of them.  We can make several observations from the above text:

  1. Abel offered to God
  2. Abel’s offering arose out of faith
  3. The offering Abel made was superior to Cain’s
  4. Witness testified of the superiority of Abel’s sacrifice
  5. Abel’s offering showed his righteousness
  6. He left a legacy of faith as its first martyr

Some of these observations are puzzling.  First, we do not know what made Abel’s offering “a more excellent sacrifice.”  However, we have hints throughout this passage.  The first hint, which the author intentionally places, is faith.  If we consider the entire context of Hebrews 11, we understand that the author emphasizes faith.  The author also sets out to support the main point: faith has as its grounds substance and evidence (Hebrews 11:1).  The substance of faith is hope.  Its evidence is unseen realities.  The dominant unseen reality behind creation is God.  The chapter places stress on God as the Creator to emphasize that the visible did not create the visible.The author provides a number of examples to support this primary point.  The earliest example is creation itself, a time when no one lived.  It takes faith to understand that all that exists comes from God.

He then moves to the offspring of our first parents.  Abel was the very first man of whom God gave witness to his righteous standing before Him by faith.  Abel was also the first martyr for his faith.  Cain took out his fierce anger toward God by murdering his brother whom God accounted as righteous not so much because of the gift he offered God but because of his faith expressed through the gift.  Abel’s faith pleased God.  We know this truth by what the author subsequently informs us about faith,

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6).

God is more interested in faith than in material things offered to Him.  Cain failed to honor God, and God saw through his gifts to his heart.  Cain’s response to God’s rebuke showed that faith did not dwell with him.  Rather, Cain became furious toward God rather than showing faith from receiving God’s rebuke.  With the nature of the gift placed momentarily aside, we can come to terms with God’s rejection of Cain’s offering.  Although his response resulted from God’s rejection of his gift and subsequently confronting his wrath, that wrath toward God already existed.  It simply had opportunity to express itself upon God’s rejection of his gift.  We can see from his behavior that faith was not in Cain’s gift to God.  Because of his unbelief, Cain showed dishonor toward God.  God therefore rejected both the gift and the dishonor that arose from unbelief.

Sometimes unbelief and rebellion fester in the heart before it later presents itself.  An unbelieving heart is one of rebellion against God, and it fails to please Him (11:6).  The conclusion the Hebrews author draws about genuine faith follows immediately from the Cain and Abel episode.  Abel’s faith preceded his gift while Cain’s unbelief preceded his.  Cain receives no mention in Hebrews 11 because the author intended to give examples of those who pleased God through faith.  Cain failed to make the list.  Cain’s heart caused him to withhold a pleasing  sacrifice to God.  That was the first expression of his unbelief.  A viewing audience may not perceive anything negative in either gift these two men offered.  They both presented gifts from their respective occupations.  Consequently, the bystander may be surprised by God’s pronouncements.  However, as the story unfolds, the second expression of Cain’s unbelief rushes with violence from his heart.  He rages against God and sought an opportunity to murder his own flesh and blood.  God sees what individuals cannot.

We can quibble to the end of time about the sacrifices and their meanings each man brought to God.  Scholars have done so and will continue to do so.  However, one thing seems clear about the Genesis account of Cain and Abel and the Scriptural witness of each of them.  Cain voluntarily left God’s presence (Genesis 4:16).  He was unrighteous from the outset.  His leaving was the ultimate act of unrighteousness.  The Hebrews passage makes clear that faith played a dominant role with Abel for God to give witness to him as righteous.  Cain’s omission in Hebrews 11 speaks loudly about his unbelief and the results.  Jude compares false teachers to the “way of Cain,” warning about their participation in Cain’s sin and unbelief (Jude 11).

In the account of Cain and Abel, we observe the tension between faith and unbelief.  That tension continues to exist along with their respective fruits.  A life of biblical faith in Christ pleases God.  A life of unbelief calls for God’s wrath.  The way of Cain is the way of falsehood arising from unbelief.  Faith seeks after God and honors Him.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  This article cannot be used for any purpose without expressed written permission of Action Faith Books Press.

Biblical Faith and False Faith

One of the major distinctions between the faith about which the Bible speaks and all other faiths is that biblical faith is rooted in historical reality.  Some may lay claim that history does not matter.  Rather, it is the “idea” on which faith focuses that makes it genuine.  From this perspective arises myth.  Myth, legend, and fable have the aura of the story, moral didactic, and speculation.  These elements are more important than actual history to those who embrace myth, legend, and fable.  They feed the imagination for carrying forth specific culture, ethnic claims, or national identity through time.

The 18th century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher once stated,

Our faith in Christ and our living fellowship with him would be the same even if we had no knowledge of any such transcendent fact [as the Holy Trinity] and even if the fact itself were different.” (Schleiermacher, Friedrich in Toon, Peter, “Ways of Describing the Holy Trinity,” Reformation and Revival, Volume 10:3 (Summer 2001): 108.)

While he addresses the Trinity as possible myth, he points to the core of Christian faith – the triune God.  If we follow his logic to its conclusion, we could say the same thing about God, the coming of Jesus in the form of man, or any number of other biblical truths.  In other words, truth does not have to express truth to be the grounds for faith.  This assessment of the Christian faith goes counter to genuine biblical faith. It establishes faith in a god unknown to the biblical authors and denies the core distinctiveness of the God the Scriptures uphold. Schleiermacher undercuts the historical, source, word, and foundation of faith by dismissing God and history and making faith a leap into a vacuum – no object and no connection with reality (history).

Often, the myth or legend changes or evolves to capture the minds and hearts of the current generation for prolonging the myth within a cultural backdrop.  Most of the world religions have their basis in myth through both oral tradition and sacred writings.

For example, Buddhism had its source in Siddhartha Gautama.  According to myth, Siddhartha meditated under the Bodhi tree and received enlightenment.  Rather than perpetuating leaders in the way of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama designated the Dharma (or teachings and doctrine) as the “leader.”  His own words and sayings were part of the Dharma.  Therefore, his words in fact are the leadership for furthering disciples.  Additionally, they were means of enlightenment and not so much sources of historical reality.  Consequently, Buddhist faith found its roots in the sayings, teachings, and doctrines for communal living and social order.  It had its rules and disciplines for leading to enlightenment from self effort and personal insight.  Ideas and not history dominates Buddhist enlightenment through one’s own efforts and meditation (contemplation).  Concerns about what was (history) is a distraction to wise thinking.  Enlightenment takes the path beyond such concerns to Nirvana through a speculative philosophy, the place of no attachment or desire.  Such enlightenment differs according to the philosophical school.

Other Eastern and Western religions and philosophies take a similar approach – history is irrelevant.  As such, it can undergo revision or be replaced or modified as myth.  It becomes divorced from the here and now in terms of meaning and application.  Rather the myth of an event or person, regardless if it is true, take precedence over historical reality.

In the episode of Star Trek “Rightful Heir,” Worf travels to a Klingon planet to engage in religious ceremony ushering the second coming of Kahless.  He prays for several days until during his prayers, Kahless appears before him.  Doubt rises within him as he questions Kahless about past battles and Kahless fails to deliver the correct answers.  Later, Worf discovers that the religious leaders of the planet had cloned Kahless for Worf’s benefit, which causes a crisis of faith for him.  When he returned to the USS Enterprise, Worf has a conversation with Data who shares about a crises of faith he also had as a machine desiring to be human.  He informed Worf that he chose to believe that he was a person instead of a machine.  He informed Worf that he took a leap of faith.  It did not matter that Data believed a lie about himself.  A leap of faith helped him to dismiss the lie.  Worf concluded from the conversation that the actual existence of Kahless was unimportant for his faith.  Rather it was the idea (or the myth) that counted as the basis for faith.  This enabled Worf to resolve his crises of faith.  To him, the historical reality of Kahless and his leadership in returning the glory of the Klingon Empire was irrelevant to his faith.  For him, faith can have a lie for its foundation.  The idea or myth replaced historical reality according to the philosophy of Star Trek.

The problem with this philosophy is having faith depending on myth or a lie.  Faith in that which is fiction is faith in falsehood.  As Worf discovered, it required a leap of faith.  Such a leap is groundless, for it has no basis in reality.  Biblical faith teaches a very different kind.  It is faith grounded in the reality of history.  Accordingly, God created the heavens and earth, including humanity.  He gave us purpose and direction for living and communicated them to us through His word in the Bible.

Humanity’s rebellion alienated us from Him and that purpose and direction so that all of our searches lead us to meaninglessness, or according to postmodern philosophy nihilism.  As we attempt to ground ourselves in material existence, our grounding slips through our fingers like jello.  Human philosophy provides no meaning in itself for covering all humanity.   Rather, it is grounded in a million opinions about human existence, the past, and the future.  Experience fails, because, again, everyone has a unique experience and an interpretation of it.  Experience reduces truth to “my truth may not be the same as your truth,” cancelling any resemblance to a universal truth from which even people in a similar culture could receive direction.  Human philosophy has too many wrinkles and scars resulting from violence, mistrust, warfare, and interpretations and responses to these events.  Each generation has a different take on the importance of behavior, events, and priorities.  Each builds it own monuments and icons to venerate something meaningful or someone of importance for attempting to give life significance and purpose.  However, through the decades and centuries, those monuments crumble and return to dust as does every man and woman.

However, because God created us in time and history, we engage history as we pass and live through it.  Not only do we engage history, but God has revealed Himself to us in it.  He came to us in history to deliver us from our state of alienation and purposeless existence due to the rebellion we exhibit toward Him, others, and our environment.  The Bible calls this rebellion sin.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to Himself from the strained separation we have had with Him throughout the days, years, and decades of our lives.  Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin dealt a blow to the decay, disease, violence, and death we face regularly in our cultures, societies, governments, communities, and environments.

Jesus came in real time and history so that our faith rests on actual historical events and not on myth or legend.  He broke through space and time in the form of a baby and grew into adulthood as we do.  His coming, death, and resurrection were facts.  That makes our faith based on reality and not fiction, thereby making that faith genuine and with foundation.  In Jesus’ coming to us in the form of a man, He showed us God the Father and the richness of what it means to relate to Him.  He loves, gives, cares, and desires us.  These are not fictitious characteristics found in a novel but real actions toward us from a real God.  Unseen as He is, He revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus informed one of His disciples, Philip, when Philip asked to show them the Father,

“Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father'” (John 14:9)?

Jesus reveals God to us.

God Himself makes the distinction between true biblical faith and false faiths.  We do not define real and genuine faith.  God does.  He imparts to us what it means to trust  and love Him as well as how to trust and love other people.  He is the only one who can, because we are such a distance from the truth about real faith that we cannot know it or God without His disclosure.  In human terms, faith takes a different turn of meaning – lacking in substance and evidence and dependent on what one sees.

God gives faith substance.  It is not in something ethereal, mystical, or mythical.  Biblical faith is from above, from the one who created us and loves us.  He showed that love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  This act of God in sending His Son into the world in time and history turns faith away from being a leap, because God took the initiative to come to us.  We could not leap over the gap from the created world to the realm of God.  God did this through revelation of Himself and His initiative to cross the barrier between Himself and the material world.

Why, then, does faith seem or feel like a leap for us?  The Bible gives us a very clear answer.  We do not see God.  One of Jesus’ other disciples, John, informs us,

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:14).

We cannot even see our own spirit or soul, and for that reason many claim these do not exist.  However, they do exist, because God breathed spirit into us, and we became living beings (Genesis 2:7).  We are spiritual being clothed in material substance of skin, muscle, and bones.  Since this existence is true of us, it is difficult for us to think in terms of spirit, especially of God who is spirit.  We are more familiar with what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and touch with our hands.  Invisible realities leave us with doubt of their existence.

Therefore, when any thought of God enters our minds, we question whether any such being exists.  Yet, there He is in the thoughts we think as muddled as our thoughts make Him, so much so that we concoct other gods to replace Him in our thoughts.  We would not even conceive of God if He did not exist just like we cannot and do not conceive of the non-existent.  One might ask, “What about science fiction?  People have never seen all of those creatures people imagine.”  Yes they have – in the form of themselves or other creatures mixed together much like the Greek and Roman gods mingled human and animal and formed them out of sticks and stones.  All such elements for God rises from the seen things of creation as distortions of the unseen God.  Although the thought of God enters our minds, our alienation from God completely distorts Him as we attempt to make Him into something from the created order.

For us, coming to grips with the unseen God and unseen realities calls for what we define as a leap of faith.  We call it a leap because we cannot grasp it.  Therefore, like Data in Star Trek, we leap into belief to overcome the crisis of having a God consciousness and not “seeing” or “feeling” this God.

This is where God enters the picture.  He recognizes our limitations, finiteness, and alienated state from Him and how these characteristics place us in a situation of grasping for what seems to slips through our fingers like the wind.  God then must come to us and wake us up from our spiritual deadness.  He imparts faith in us for grasping His revelation of Himself in His word in the Bible and recognizing His Son Jesus Christ.

We do not have to be like Pontius Pilate whom Jesus faced at the end of His life who asked Jesus, “What is truth?”  We do not need to seek love or goodness in all the wrong places, because God showed us real love in real time – in history.  He also distinguished false love and goodness from real love and goodness through His activity in time in the person of Jesus.  He showed them to us in Jesus.  Real and genuine faith finds its grounds in the God of history.  Have you discovered that God?

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.