Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Case for Faith

I recently read a book called ‘The Case for Faith’ but there really is no case for faith. Making a case for faith misconstrues the whole nature of faith. Faith is a gift from God. Some people have faith and some people do not. No case made to help a Christian who is struggling with his or her faith will convince someone who doesn’t have faith in the first place.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk about our faith with those who don’t believe. And certainly doesn’t mean that we should avoid talking about our faith with those who are struggling to understand. It does mean that we should identify what we actually can do. We can’t prove God, we can’t prove faith, we can’t prove God doesn’t exist though we can certainly prove that some faith is misguided and in the wrong. We can talk about our beliefs. We can talk about our sense of call from God. We can talk about how our faith helps us personally get through the tough times.

There are times when religion is an opiate of the masses. That’s a statement that Marx made that is true, but on the other hand I find much of Marx faulty and Marxist-Leninist thought even more so. Marx ignored much of the society in which he lived even as he critiqued some of the worst aspects. Yet the tools we’ve been given by Marx are helpful at times in figuring out what is happening in our societies, especially in regard to the plight of the poor.

The faith of people can be seen over time and place. Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case for Faith’, that I mentioned earlier, begins with talking about someone who has displayed his faith for all to see. Those displays, and those of others, are convincing cases of displaying faith, but they don’t make a case that faith is necessary or something that one should have.

That faith that has been seen to start Crusades, to run airplanes into buildings, drive people to heal the sick in remote places, that has divided a continent among two super-powers in order to convert the heathens, and more has been shown to be good in some instances and evil in others. Faith that there was a way out is one of the few reasons I didn’t commit suicide while I was in depression. Faith has driven people, including myself, into both good and bad. But neither the good or bad aspects of faith make a case for or against faith.

Faith exists. Faith can be refined into beliefs. Faith can be in that there is no God or that there is a God. Most people who say that they’re making a case for faith are wrong. They’re not making a case for faith, but for a particular belief or set of beliefs. History clearly shows that people can have faith in many varieties of God. From the dualism to the polytheism to strict monotheism of Jews to the three-persons-in-one monotheism of the Christians there is a wide variety of God(s) in which to believe, in which people claim faith. The case for people having faith needs not be made. The case for the existence God cannot be made, but, then, neither can the case for having no God.

Faith is a challenge. It is to walk in trust that something exists that we cannot see or touch. Proof and disproof is for philosophy and science. But faith is in the realm of things unseen and voices not heard. And faith can be costly. One of the classic cases to believe is -

If we believe
If we don’t believe
If there is a God
We gain
We lose
If there is no God
We don’t lose or gain
We don’t lose or gain

Thus we should believe because we don’t gain or lose anything if there is no God, but we can lose or gain everything if there is a God. The problem with this is that if there is no God we lose the time we spend in worship, in tithing, or in both time and money. The problem with this is that we gain in certainty in facing tough situations; in acting decisively because we believe what we are doing is worth something and more. Faith is costly and may or may not be worth something.

I suspect by this point some people are thinking that I must be an atheist. Far from it. I actually think atheism is another belief system. It is a faith that God does not exist. My faith is in a God that loves and cares for me. I’m not an agnostic. I consider that the more intellectually honest alternative to belief in God. But I do believe in God, I understand myself to have experienced the presence of God. And though don’t use the terminology of being born again – I believe that I need be born again daily as I take up my cross – I have had an experience (or more than one) that corresponds with what most people who use the term ‘born again’ describe as being born again. Yet none of that proves God. The case for faith is about something different.

The case for faith is not about proof, but about trust. We experience God in ways that cannot be proved. We experience God in ways that change our lives. We experience God and change to do what we understand God to desire for our lives. But what we experience is unrepeatable no matter how many people have similar happenings. What we experience cannot be shown to another though the effects linger for the whole of our lives. What we experience is simply an experience that brings us in touch with what cannot be fully known.

The case for faith is not about proof. The case for faith is about accepting what God has offered. And that offering is salvation instead of easy answers or simple proofs. When we want easy answers whether a simplistic reading of scripture or proof that God exists we display our lack of trust in God and our lack of faith.

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