I’ve always loved archery. My parents bought me my first bow when I was 12 years old, and I subsequently spent many hours lobbing arrows into my foam target. One of my favorite pastimes was to shoot arrows directly up into the air. The arrow would go far, far up – almost out of sight. Then it would turn around and whistle down at incredible speeds while I quickly got out of its way. A year after I started shooting, however, an accident with the bow nearly changed my life forever; I almost killed a six-year-old girl. I was shooting my bow up in the air, not realizing that the little girl was running around nearby. No sooner had I loosed the arrow did I notice that it would come down directly towards her.
Thankfully she was not alone. Her father was standing nearby, and he saw the danger well before I did. He rushed past me and covered her body with his own just moments before the arrow stabbed deep into the dirt, only three feet from them. I learned two things that day: first, be aware of your surroundings before you shoot. Second, I learned that the little girl’s father was willing to lay down his life for his daughter. She did not need to wonder if her Father loved her; he had proven it in that moment. With a single, self-sacrificial act he had proven himself worthy of his daughter’s trust.
For many people, the word “faith” has become a slur, a word you give to the beliefs which aren’t true. Faith is “believing what you know ain’t so,” or “Pretending you know something you don’t,” or, the most popular misdefinition, “belief without evidence”. Until the early 21st century, however, none of these definitions had ever been standard for the word “faith;” none of them ever even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. But modern critics of religion have repeated such nonsense ad nauseum, so much so that even many believers have begun using the word “faith” in this mutated sense. The skeptics incessantly criticize faith as “belief without evidence,” and the believers feel compelled to defend this pathetic, anemic sort of faith, without stopping to question whether the skeptics’ definition is a good one.
Definitions matter. Faith, as Christians have historically understood it, has almost never implied an absence of reason or evidence. Christ himself came doing miracles, and he told people to believe because of the miracles.1 The miracles were evidence of who he was – that’s what they were for. When Christ scolded Thomas for not believing, he wasn’t saying that Thomas ought to believe without evidence; he was saying that Thomas should believe because of the evidence. Thomas had just spent three years hearing Christ identify himself as the unique Son of God and seeing him prove this identity through wondrous works. He had seen Christ heal the sick, make the lame whole, make the blind see, and exercise power over the winds and the waves. After so clearly establishing his divinity, Christ then predicted his own death and resurrection. Thomas’s failure, then, was a failure to follow the evidence. He failed to accept Christ’s identity and to trust him on the basis of the evidence. Rather than trust Christ’s words, Thomas stuck obstinately to an irrational skepticism.
“Let’s set the record straight. Faith is not the opposite of reason. The opposite of faith is unbelief. And reason is not the opposite of faith. The opposite of reason is irrationality. Do some Christians have irrational faith? Sure. Do some skeptics have unreasonable unbelief? You bet. It works both ways.” -Greg Koukl
For example, imagine there is a man who has a brain tumor and needs surgery. So he researches the best brain surgeons, selects one with a perfect record, and watches him perform multiple flawless surgeries. He speaks with the surgeon, who assures him that his tumor is certainly treatable. Finally the time comes for the sick man’s surgery. But the idiot refuses! “Unless I can enter surgery without the slightest hint of fear or doubt,” he stubbornly says, “I will not trust you. I need to know for certain that I will wake up well before I will go under anesthesia. I will not put my life in your hands.” Clearly, the man has plenty of evidence that he will be healed – but he is refusing to follow the evidence; he is refusing to make any commitment on the basis of the evidence.
Similarly, Biblical faith is not opposed to evidence; it follows the evidence. It is a trust in something which we have good reason to think is true. We have the evidence from creation and experience that God exists, and we have the evidence from history that this God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ and given us divine revelation through the words of scripture.2
What does this revelation tell us? Well it tells us that we are all sinful, broken people. We are hurt by others and then we hurt others in return. We are all doomed to death by sickness, violence, or accident. And after this death we will face a holy God who will visit justice upon us for our rejection of his goodness and for the hurt we have caused others through our rejection of Him. No one can free themselves from this fate. This is the bad news.
But we also have good news, because the evidence also tells us that our God is not a God of stone. Our God sees the brokenness which causes us to hurt and be hurt, and he sees the selfishness which will end in our eternal separation from both him and all the good things which come from him. God sees us as we are – prideful, self-centered, envious, deceitful, petty, and cruel – and he loves us in spite of our brokenness. So He has acted on our behalf; God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ suffered with us and for us, offering forgiveness and healing to all who call upon him. Through such actions, our God has shown us a glimpse of who he is. He is a God who sees, who hears, who loves, and who acts. He is a God worthy of our worship, a lover worthy of our love, and a father worthy of our trust.
Matt 11:1-6, 12:28; Mark 2:10-11, 16:20; John 5:36, 10:37-38, 14:11, 20:30-31; Acts 2:22.
I’m not going into any detail about the evidence in this post simply because my emphasis is on the biblical meaning of faith. I go into the specific evidence on other blog posts.