Isaiah 6:10 is discussed in sec. V below.
These are simply the steps we would expect for a mature, reasonable faith in anything. And it is what the Bible teaches. The Bible does not support blind, shallow faith.
1 Realize our need, inadequacy: health, family, finance, friendships, depression, failure, shame, guilt, emptiness,... (“see with their eyes”) We cannot control our circumstances or other people, and most disturbing of all we discover we cannot even control ourselves. We keep doing things we ourselves consider shameful and wish we would not do, and we fail to perform as we believe we should.
2 Feel that there must be a God who is loving, wise, and powerful. He not only can give us all we need; He is all we need. This understanding is clearest if we have the opportunity to hear what the Bible tells us about God. (“hear with their ears”)
3 Find that there is evidence which confirms that the Bible is from God, true, and reliable. It is not only a human record of events, ideas, feelings, and hopes. (“understand with their hearts”)
4 Repent from our past way of life without God, and make a complete commitment to Him. Review the meaning of “believe” in section II. (“repent and be healed”)
1, 2, and 3 are not enough. This only gets us to the point of acknowledging that we are not God, and God exists, which is type-1 belief. Satan does this much, and that does not make him a believer. This is only the preparation for faith. Step 4 is faith.
Most Christians skip step 3 when they first believe. After steps 1 and 2, they try 4, and believe they can feel God changing and helping them. For many people, this is enough for them individually. For many others, it is sufficient at first but not in the long run. Unfortunately, this leads to conflict and criticism between the two types, which can be labeled as emotional and logical, for lack of better labels. Both labels are used pejoratively by the other type, but allow me to use them for now in a neutral, descriptive sense. I believe God created both types, and is prepared to meet the needs of both types. The logical ones are not entitled to criticize the emotional ones as irrational, gullible, or shallow-minded, though dependence on feelings alone can easily lead to those dangerous conditions. The emotional ones are not entitled to criticize the logical ones as being cold, impersonal, cerebral, skeptical, lacking in faith, unresponsive or ungrateful to God, though dependence on thinking alone can easily lead to those dangerous conditions. Both types must respect each other, trust the other’s stated good intentions, resist the temptation to be judgmental, and humbly confess that both can learn something from the other.
In earlier ages and simler societies, emotional and subjective confirmation of faith was sufficient because it was all that was available or needed. The most objective criterion they required was deliverance from direct or indirect demonic oppression, if they experienced it. One individual’s feelings cannot be shown to others, and cannot serve as the sole basis of their faith, though one person’s account can be a helpful guide to others. Each person must try it and experience it for him/herself. They found that the God of the Bible was totally suited to their circumstances and nature, and no other god or philosophy was; what more was there to ask or wish?
In principle this is all still true. But 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated students face 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated questions. These questions come both from other people and from their own heart and mind, as they face doubts of their own that must be answered in order to continue to believe. So they must back up and fill in step 3. The purpose of this book is to show that God has provided 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated answers. If He has chosen to provide them, who dares say they are unneeded?
We can only expect evidence to confirm, not absolutely prove, the authenticity of the Bible as a message from God. And evidence can only apply to some parts of the Bible’s contents; there are many aspects of the Bible’s teachings which we must simply take by faith as long as we are in this life. But it should be faith with a basis, not blind faith. This is the subject of IV. C, and also all of ch. 6 sec. III.
Some people complain that Christian faith is only motivated by selfish interest, gaining benefits now and heaven later, avoiding trials, and the fear of hell. This complaint is partly true; these motivations should not be all that our faith consists of. Our trust and goal should be in God Himself, not just what He does and gives. But faith must start somewhere, and it is better to start from a shallow motive than not to start at all. We do not complain about whether a person walked, ran, crawled, drove a car, rode a bus, was carried in an ambulance, or flew a helicopter to the hospital, as long as he got there.
Faith should grow with time as we learn more about God and His truth. If a person claims he has believed God for many years and still only cares about benefits and fears, his faith has not developed normally, and we cannot be sure whether he has any true faith at all. See also ch. 4, II, B, about God’s fairness, and ch. 6, IV, about believers’ experience.
What is wrong with believing God’s promises of blessing and love in return for a commitment of faith, and also His promises of unpleasant consequences otherwise? We do the same with our children and students. Is religion supposed to offer neither hope nor love? Believing God’s promises is a necessary and proper part of faith. As stated above, the correct question is “Is it true?”
Unfortunately, many people “trust Jesus” with the mistaken idea that He will give “peace of mind” by bringing only pleasant things and instantly solving all their problems. This indicates a major mistake in the way “trusting Jesus” and “peace of mind” was explained to them, and Christians must accept some of the responsibility for producing such a misunderstanding. Sometimes we are too anxious to package our message so it will look attractive. These new “believers” are very quickly disappointed with the results of their belief. While He does promise to bless us, solve problems, and give peace of mind, the Bible says that we have entered a war and a school, that we will have persecution from people and demons, and that God will teach and discipline us. We have peace of mind in the midst of problems, not in escaping them.
IV Logic, evidence and faith
Many people think that faith must be independent of logic and evidence, but it is not. Logic and evidence play at least five important roles in mature, balanced faith.
A Remove barriers
There is much misunderstanding and misinformation
about each type of religion. This raises unnecessary barriers, which should
be removed by correcting such errors. This is accomplished with logic and
evidence. However, this can only remove barriers on the road to faith in
God, but it cannot force anyone to believe. We can clear the road, but
we can’t push people along it. The Bible says that only God can give faith
in Him as revealed in the Bible.
This is stated in a number of places, including:
People who are not willing to obey the God of the Bible cannot even understand the facts about the Bible in step 3. Some places teaching this are:John 6:44
Ephesians 2:8, 9
This means that there are many people who have many questions about the Bible and Christian faith, but those questions are not the real reason they do not believe. Their questions are only excuses for a choice not to believe, and if those barriers are removed more will be found to replace them. The asking and answering of questions can go on indefinitely. Therefore before beginning to try to answer questions so as to remove unnecessary barriers, a Christian should ask his or her inquiring friend, “If I could answer all these questions, would you then believe?” If the answer is an honest “No,” then it will save everyone a lot of time not to bother.Romans 1:18
I Corinthians 1:18-25
II Corinthians 4:4
II Peter 3:1-5
B Prevent blind faith
On the other hand, many religious leaders and movements do contain dishonesty and contradiction. Examination of logic and evidence can avoid blind faith, deception, and superstition. If we find that a purported revelation contains mistakes in source, consistency, etc. that we can independently check (see C), then it loses credibility and we cannot believe that it is truly a message from God about things we cannot check. Examples are often mentioned in the news, and it is impossible to anticipate as I write what may be the latest noted instance at the time you read this. It is dangerous not to be careful about what we believe.
Some religions explicitly reject logic as a consideration in finding truth, and even boast of contradiction. This should be a warning flag of danger ahead.
C Provide a basis for faith in books and teachers who claim to give us messages from God.
Another reason many people resist the idea of a connection between faith and facts is that they have seen it misused. Some Christians try to use logic and science to argue with people, hoping to use proofs to force people to believe. This is of course unsuccessful. Proponents of other religions, and atheists, also use logic and facts in ways that seem convincing at first glance, so that many people cannot find a flaw in it but still reject the conclusion.
Unfortunately, they tend to overreact to all this, and conclude that logic is the wrong approach. Many Christians have a similar attitude, and feel we should “Just pray and preach, don’t try to argue and think.” But it is not a mistake to use logic; the problem is that logic is often misused, by both Christians and atheists. Both extremes are wrong; both overemphasis and neglect of logic are equally mistaken. Anything good can be misused. The solution is to use it properly. Section V shows that the Bible has much teaching in this regard, and the primary goal of this book is to attempt to use logic and facts correctly in relation to the issue of faith.
Many people object at this point, even including many Christians. There is a widespread opinion in Western educated society that “faith” and “basis” are mutually exclusive concepts. This is related to the emotional-logical conflict just mentioned. If there is logic and evidence, can you still call it faith? Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. Of course logic and evidence cannot totally replace faith, but neither should they be totally isolated from it. They can only give a basis for faith, but this is still very important. This protects us from blind faith, deception, and superstition (point C). When someone says he has a revelation from God, those who hear him cannot check whether it is correct about God, the future, etc., except by comparing it with previous revelation in the Bible. That is why a revelation is needed on these subjects. But they can check other aspects of a claimed revelation: its source, consistency, agreement with the Bible, and so on. If all these parts are true, this raises its credibility and gives them a basis for confidence in the rest (see ch. 6, III, why we believe the Bible is God’s word). Then they can believe the things that go far beyond logic and evidence, things we cannot prove now: heaven, hell, forgiveness of sins, God’s love and plan, and so on.
This is the way the Bible grew. The first writer, Moses, did not have previous written revelation with which to be evaluated, but the people did have the traditions passed down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and perhaps some documents still existed at that time as well. But Moses’ divine authority was attested by truly extraordinary miraculous confirmation. From that time on, the basis he laid was part of the standard for evaluation of further purported revelation. Moses specifically warned them that there would be both true and false prophets after him, and made this, conformity to his teaching about the nature of God, the criterion for discernment of genuineness, Deuteronomy 13:1-11; 18:18. If a professed prophet’s predictions are not fulfilled, he is false; but even if his predictions are fulfilled but he preaches another God, he is false.
Because of isolating faith and basis, much of current thinking also views “objective” and “believing” as two mutually exclusive categories. All belief is assumed to be blind baseless prejudice and tradition, and disbelief is the one true badge of objectivity and logic. This is blatantly illogical and self-contradictory, and those who believe it have no objective basis for their belief. Atheists’ protestations notwithstanding (this book spends more than enough time responding to them, mostly in ch. 4 through 6), there is no proof that all religious faith is false. If some of it might be true, then objective logic might lead to that truth. This possibility is not disproved, but simply inconceivable to many people. (See also ch. 5, V, B.)
D Find evidence of intervention in the natural world from outside
In ch. 2 we discussed the possibility that there is a realm of reality that is larger than the physical or natural realm which can be studied by science, and that that larger realm might occasionally produce effects, called miracles, inside the natural realm: a suddenly healed disease or injury, an extremely improbable “coincidence” with great significance in one or more people’s relationship with God, knowledge about matters in the future or inaccessible by any human means, and so on. If such events do occur, then research on them will lead to increasing confidence that they have no physical cause. This never gives certainty, or “proof,” of the existence of a supernatural realm; we can only say that a natural cause has not been found yet. We must be slow and cautious in labeling an event as a miracle. It is the frequent occurrence of hasty mistaken applications of that label that contributes to widespread ridicule of belief in miracles. But when all known physical causes fail to explain the event in question, and in fact its occurrence seems to violate known laws, then the degree of confidence that it is a miracle can approach very close to certainty. Notice that this is a conclusion after research, and further research is never forbidden, but is in fact welcomed. Later in this book, ch. 5 deals with philosophical objections to the possibility of miracles, and ch. 6 introduces evidence for the specific major ones on which Biblical faith is based. Ch. 6, IV also briefly discusses the legitimate role of miracles in Christian faith and life.
We must carefully qualify what we do not conclude from evidence for miracles. My focus at this point is to reply to those who deny that a reality beyond the natural world even exists. This of course does not mean that all that is supernatural is from the God of the Bible; see sec. VI. And it does not mean that we trust God if and only if we constantly experience miraculous health, wealth, and happiness. This attitude led to the “prosperity theology” disasters of some pastors and TV evangelists. True faith is not always asking “But what has He done for me today? And was it what I asked for?”
This point also reveals a perverse trait of human nature in both seeking and evading a confrontation with God. Many people object that God has not done enough, that there is not enough plain evidence of His existence or at least His concern and relevance to us and our world. They say that if He revealed Himself to them really clearly, they would believe; why does He seem to remain hidden and leave so many questions unanswered? Why does He not write a message in the clouds, speak in an audible voice, and so on? This is a very good question, with only an indirect answer for now. We could discuss the definition of faith; is inescapable assent faith? We must not be like the mockers who called on Jesus to jump off the cross so that they could believe Him. If He had jumped off, they would have been petrified, not converted. The Bible says that one day “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” but it will occur under circumstances of compulsion, too late to be a step of faith.
But there is another aspect to this question. It is interesting to observe that the Bible records many instances in which God did miracles, very observable striking interventions in our world. The outstanding series of such events is in the story of the Exodus, the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and their transit through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. They lived forty years with a visible cloud in the daytime and fire at night, and ate food that dropped from heaven. Their response is a matter of history; within days it all became routine and they were preoccupied with other wishes that were still unfulfilled. Everyday miracles soon became normal. Skeptics of course don’t believe the Exodus story anyway, but I reply with two questions. First, if such things happened to us now, would we react differently than the Israelites are recorded to have done? Can we really require such activity as a means of producing faith? Second, these skeptics are asking why God doesn’t do more extraordinary things to prove His existence, and they are also objecting that the Bible is full of such unbelievable stories that they can’t believe, so those stories are an obstacle to their faith. So do they or don’t they want God to do extraordinary actions? Must God prove Himself all over again directly to every individual on earth?
The other outstanding instance was Jesus’ many miracles, climaxed by His resurrection. His enemies responded not with faith but with attributing His miracles to the devil (Mt. 9:34; 12:24), bribing the guards at Jesus’ tomb to cover up the facts (Mt. 28:11-15), and persecuting the apostles for their preaching (Acts 4; 6:9-8:3; 9:1, 2;12). Miracles alone do not produce faith. Jesus said a wicked generation asks for miraculous signs as a prerequisite for believing (Mt. 12:38, 39; 16:4; Lk. 11:29), and in Lk. 16:31 He stated that for those who will not believe Moses and the prophets, they still will not believe even if someone returned from the dead. See ch. 6, IV, for further discussion of supernatural experiences and their role in the life of believers.
E Analyze and understand the contents
of the revelation God gives
Once we have chosen a trustworthy faith, and understand its basic concepts, there must be much more to learn. This requires study, and reasoning, among other things. As stated earlier, it is a relationship, and just as in our relationships with other people it requires thinking and study. Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders several times for not thinking clearly enough to see what the Bible was telling them. Paul admonished Timothy to study and think clearly, II Tim. 2:7, 15, etc. But as is always true in matters related to God and the spiritual realm, we must expect to face limitations. We must not expect to understand everything while we are in this life. As stated in B, 3 and 4, lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding.