A poll was done recently which suggests that when Christians use the word faith – Skeptics think they mean “believing something even though its not supported by the evidence.” Interesting result – because the poll ALSO shows that this is exactly NOT what the majority of Christians mean when they use the word “faith”!
You can see the poll here…
What is causing the confusion?
When I personally use the word “faith” – I do so in a particular set of circumstances. It is usually when I’m in a position where I cannot CONTROL the outcome – yet I have some EVIDENCE that has convinced me that I can PREDICT a good outcome.
Peter Boghossian, on the other hand, describes faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know.” And Peter seems to repeat Richard Dawkins’ aggressively anti-faith position. It was Dawkins who claimed that, “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any Religion.“
It seems odd to me to attack the activity of putting one’s faith in something or someone. Because we all do it whether we believe there’s a God or not. Of course what is really going on here is this. A caricature of religious faith is being rejected. Why? Because belief in God is being rejected.
Well – faith in God is no different to any other sort of faith. For faith to rise within us – there has to be a good reason for it. And two things are usually present.
1 – TRUST IN SPITE OF DIFFICULTY:
For example – I recently climbed aboard an aeroplane that was flying to Malawi in Africa, I had faith that I would reach the destination safely. Now – I guess I could substitute the word faith for the word confidence. But faith seems more appropriate to me. Why? Because even tho I faced difficulty and uncertainty – I stayed on the plane. What difficulty? Well a safe journey depends on the aeroplane being of sound mechanical construction and maintenance. I know nothing about these two disciplines – thats a problem. But I do not have to be an aeroplane engineer to have faith that the airline looks after their aircraft properly. My arrival in Malawi also demanded that the person flying the plane was an experienced pilot of large body aircraft. Now – I didn’t meet my captain. Frankly he had no interest in inviting me up to visit the cockpit. And I don’t think I would know a fully qualified pilot just by looking at him anyway! I know nothing about training to fly aircraft. But – I had faith that my captain was qualified, that he had many hundreds of successful flying hours under his belt.
I had faith – even tho I had no immediate way of checking these things as I sat in economy and waited for the wheels to leave the runway.
I use the word faith – when I trusting myself to something in spite of challenges or difficulties. In my flying example – the difficulty is that I can’t be 100 percent sure the aircraft is airworthy and the pilot is trained before we take off. In my Christianity example – it’s because I can’t sense God directly with my traditional senses.
2 – COMFORTED BY PAST EXPERIENCE:
And this leads to the next aspect of the use of the word faith. It is used when we are faced with uncertainty, but we are comforted by past experience.
Because of experience – or to put it another way – because I have evidence based on my past experience – I believe that this aircraft and this airline will get me to Malawi in one piece.
Today I have faith in the God of the Bible. I also have faith in air travel. But it wasn’t always that way.
The first time I ever climbed onto an aircraft, I was seven. And as soon as I saw the safety card talking about the escape procedure should the aircraft land in water – I began to wail and howl. I publicly humiliated my poor parents. “We’re all gonna die!” I confidently wailed. I had no faith in air travel at that point. I’d never done it before – and there was a great big picture of a crashed plane staring at me from the seat back in front of me. What’s a seven year old to think? Thankfully, my parents shared their experience with me. It’s ok Stuart. We have done this before. We will be fine! They injected faith into me at that moment. Of course, all they really wanted to do was to shut me up and stop me making an embarrassing noise. Rightly so.
My point is – faith starts with difficulty and uncertainty. And then faith flourishes with the injection of some evidence – either our own evidence, or evidence given to us from someone else.
So when I hear Boghossian confidently assert that faith in God is somewhere between lies and delusion….it sounds a little bit like 7 year old me in the plane. Wailing and shouting. “Christianity is evil – it’s based on an absence of evidence, etc.” What he’s actually saying is – I’ve never flown in a plane before and I don’t trust it!
Well – okay, I get your problem. But it is just possible that there is someone sitting in the seat next to you who is saying – its okay. I’ve got experience here. This works. It’s safe. You will be fine. Why not stop wailing and listen?
Today I have faith in air travel. And I also have faith in the God of the Bible. Because one day I experienced God’s love for me in a tangible and real way and I’ve never been the same since. Because in the years that have passed, God has proven Himself real and trustworthy to his words. And because He clearly has a purpose for my life that He is working out.
Try it. It’ll be alright – I promise.
“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” Hebrews 11:1, NLT