A leap in the dark or a step into the light?
Whenever I engaged seekers such as atheists or agnostics on Twitter, I almost always see that we don’t meet eye to eye regarding how to define faith.
|My Twitter interaction (May 20, 2013)|
To have a meaningful discussion between both sides, we need to put in plain words what they mean by faith and what we mean by it. Thus, it keeps both them and us from being misunderstood. It is only fair that we ask those who disagree with us that at least they see our views clearly, whether they agree with it or not. And we also seek to do the same to those who disagree with us. As Stephen Covey wrote, “Seek to understand then to be understood.”
|One of the reactions to my comment (May 20, 2013)|
There are those who say that faith is blind. That one can believe something or someone without basis. That knowledge and faith are contradictory. In short, they see faith as a leap in the dark.
But, I disagree with them. I say we believe with our mind wide open. That what they call faith is not the faith that the Bible commands us to have. That knowledge is actually a component of faith. In other words, I see faith as a step into the light.
Yes, Merriam-Webster gave “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” as one of the meaning of faith.
|Screengrab of Merriam-Webster's definition of "faith"|
But that is actually credulity, which is a “readiness or willingness to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence” (Ibid).
|Screengrab of Merriam-Webster's definition of "credulity"|
That dictionary even listed “faith” as one of its related word.
|Screengrab of Merriam-Webster's list of Related Words to "credulity"|
Yet, credulity is not faith as far as the Bible is concerned.
The Apostle Paul himself wrote, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed…” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV. Emphasis mine.) How can we believe someone whom we don’t know? In fact, our Lord Jesus commanded us, “You shall love the Lord your God …with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Thus, our minds don’t go blank or even go on neutral when we truly believe the way the Bible wants us to believe.
(Some of my atheist friends might be rolling their eyes upon reading those Bible verses. I quoted those verses not to settle the argument based on its divine authority, though I firmly believe in the authority of God’s Word. But I only did so just to show that faith is not blind as the Bible presents it.)
And I did not come up with those concepts. In his Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, J. I. Packer wrote,
Faith cannot be defined in subjective terms, as a confident and optimistic mind-set, or in passive terms, as acquiescent orthodoxy or confidence in God without commitment to God. Faith is an object-oriented response, shaped by that which is trusted, namely God himself, God’s promises, and Jesus Christ, all as set forth in the Scriptures. And faith is a whole-souled response, involving mind, heart, will, and affections.
Simply put, faith is not subjective but objective. Faith has to have an object. Faith is either valid or invalid, either a step into the light or a leap in the dark, depending on whether its object is true or false and real or imaginary. And, may I add, if it’s a leap in the dark, it’s not faith. If it’s a step into the light, that’s faith.
J.I. Packer also pointed out that there are three components of Biblical faith: knowledge (“acquaintance with the content of the gospel” or of the object of the faith), agreement (“recognition that the gospel [or that object] is true”) and trust (“reliance… [or] personal dependence” on the object of faith.) Without all those components, it is defective or, worse, not true faith at all.
My seeker friends may reject such definition of faith. (I admit that Christianity as well as other religions are not lacking in fanatics. I actually suspect that that is the reason why they see faith as such.) But I believe it’s important that we clarify that there are those who see faith as a leap in the dark while there are others (like me) who see it as a step into the light. When we do recognize that difference, then probably we can generate more light than heat in our discussions.
We are really talking about two opposing ideas. For them, faith is blind. For me, it isn’t.