Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Faith (again)

I guess not many people were reading this blog last week. At least my old friend Chris responded... (where were the rest of you? I know of at least three other regular lurkers, why didn't you comment?)

Chris said this of faith:

'My short definition would be: "dependent trust".'

He then went on to give a longer illustration relating to abseiling:

'It occurred to me that when you are stood at the bottom of the rock face looking up, you can have absolute confidence that the rope holding the [abseiler] above will hold. There is no question in your mind that he will fall. But it is not until it is your turn to take the rope and lean back over the cliff edge that your confidence becomes faith.'

This is pretty much my understanding of faith too, its basically trust in action.

However, it is clear to me that most outside observers of Christianity (and, indeed, other religions) view faith as being the mechanism by which somebody can believe the unbelievable.

Obviously I can't speak for all people everywhere with faith, but my faith in God is more-or-less my belief that God will behave in the future in the same ways that he has behaved in the past. If he promised something and person X (in the past) received the outcome of that promise then I have faith that, in similar circumstances, person Y (in the future) will receive the same outcome. I have faith that if he has answered a certain kind of prayer in a certain kind of way in the past that he will answer the same sort of prayer in the same sort of way in the future.

My faith relates entirely to what God will do.

I can't approach faith as a way of 'rubber stamping' a given statement. The "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." way of thinking kind of annoys me. For a start, how can we be sure that God said it, whatever it was? I don't have faith that the set of compiled documents that we call the bible is the infallible word of God, as I've explained in this blog. So, for a given 'it', I need to question if God said it at all, before I can believe it. And as for settling it, well, there are some apparent contradictions and some things that God said which were only relating to specific circumstances, so no, that wouldn't even settle it...

The point in all this is to defend faith. Not blind faith - that is no faith at all in my opinion. But it is possible and justifiable to have a reasoned and reasonable faith in God and to live by it.


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Ricky, If God has said it, then for me, that does settle it. For one thing God has shown to every generation since Adam is that he is utterly true to his word. It is impossible that God should lie.

You are right to identify that the battleground for faith then becomes: "Is this the word of God?" If it is, then it is utterly dependable and we can lean out with it over any "cliff-face" in confidence. But if it is not, then it is no more likely to come true than anything else.

This is why the enemy's first line of attack is to undermine our belief in what we accept as the word of God - Just as he did to Eve: "Did God really say?"

Ricky Carvel said...

Chris, there are plenty of things in the bible that God apparently said that Christians today no longer adhere to. For example, wearing cloth made from mixed fibres or marrying someone from another country.

The sequence of questions must be longer than simply "did God say it?", I think we need to go through a much longer sequence:

1. Did God say it?
2. Who did he say it to and was it just for them?
3. If it was for more than one person, does it apply for all time or was it just for the people long ago?
4. How does it apply to me today?

While I agree that it is impossible for God to lie (given that truth is defined relative to God and not the other way about), that doesn't mean that everything God has ever said is for all people and for all time. Also, I believe that God's words were recorded by fallible people who may have misrepresented or obscured the meaning as they wrote.

So just because something is written in black & white, it doesn't mean that the meaning is clear cut for us today.

Anonymous said...

I think many confuse belief and faith. In my universe model, faith is a (spiritual) energy (or element) which we can create, and use, ourselves.

Suppose a "belief" is the ability to hold something in one's mind that one has no actual proof of. They may have various amounts of evidence which may or may not be only acceptable to them, but no actual scientific proof.

I posit that if one then takes an action based upon that belief, the two blend together and form "faith". A living faith, as it were.

Did Christ heal the woman who touched his robe? He claims that he did not; he specifically told her that her faith had made her whole. When we insist that this is some miracle that he performed, we are guilty of ignoring (and refuting) *his own words*. Any parent can attest to the tremendous healing power of a kiss applied to a toddler's "boo-boo". A child falls and scrapes his knee, wailing in agony, and a simple kiss *fixes it*. The pain obviously goes away, despite the abrasion which remains. Scientists call it the "placebo effect", but interestingly can't explain it. My theory explains it simply, and also washes away a good number of other issues.

Note how these defintions neatly resolve the "belief vs. works" arguments. The answer is both, salvation is via the synergistic combination of the two.

Speaking of "salvation", or, as I'd define it, survival of the physical death experience: If faith is necessary for salvation, and the above defintions are correct, you suddenly have an answer regarding why God doesn't prove his existence to us. Consider:

If you wake up anywhere else subsequent to your physical death, a rational person would immediately suspect that there was some heretofore unknown mechanism which allowed it to happen. What if faith (as defined above) was a required input into this mechanism, much the same that mass is required for a gravitational field? That, in order to survive physical death, you a) had to believe that you would, and b) that belief has caused you to act in ways that you might not otherwise.

If the above is the case, then God cannot, if he indeed loves us, prove his existence to us. Well, he could, but doing so would essentially condemn us. Belief is not requred when one has proof. By proving his existence, he eliminates the chance of us having a required precursor to faith, which itself is required for survival of the physical death experience.

Furthermore, if you can stretch yourself into considering that the infinite ability of God to forgive combined with an idea that technical errors in the precise way in which you worshipped or percieved God during your physical life can be easily corrected by further teaching in the so-called afterlife, it appears that this theory indicates that what religion you choose to follow is less important than the fact that you are actually following one.

Of course, that last bit goes against the conventional ideas of a "judgement day" occurring between your physical death and the afterlife, as well as the conventional notions of heaven being an instant arrival at perfection and hell being a place of eternal suffering from which forgivness is not possible. For me, blowing those suppositions out of the water poses no problem, as I believe that our common notion of Hell is poorly conceived and I charge that it is in conflict with the teachings of Christ (his references to it notwithstanding). And I likewise believe that our lives are a long progression, ultimately culminating in our perfection. Physical death to me is more akin to graduating kindergarden than anything else. I might have eternal life, but it's going to consume a *lot* of that "eternity" before the likes of me is as perfect as Christ has specifically said I needed to be.