What is the Biblical concept of the word “faith”?
In support of the Central Thesis: “No one can actually believe in something blindly.”
This series of blog posts explores what is meant by Christians when they say they have “faith” in Christ. This will serve dual purposes of causing the Christian to seriously consider HOW they themselves came to faith, and of providing a starting point for discussion with non-believers about the word “faith” in a Christian world view.
Roadmap for the series:
- Part 1 – Introduction to my “No Such Thing as Blind Faith” series of posts
- Part 2 – What is the Biblical concept of the word “faith”?
- How does one come to have “faith” in something?
- Part 3 – Sources they trust – parents, pastors, professors, publications, papers, posts
- Part 4 – Intuition – putting the pieces of life together (least “explainable” but still not “blind”)
- Part 5 – Reaction to stress or joy – mountain tops and valleys in life
- Part 6 – Experience – direct experience with Christ in some way
- Part 7 – Conclusion, support of the central thesis, and how we come to change our minds
Rather than begin with the 259 uses of the word “faith” in the Bible, it might be useful to illustrate what is taught about faith in practice in just about every youth group and team building camp in the world.
Jane was nervous, excited, and very self-conscious about her weight as she climbed onto the table in the dining hall. She wasn’t embarrassed. Yet. But she was afraid of the hard floor. She was being asked to stand on the edge of the table, cross her arms across her chest, remain stiff as a board, and fall backward off the table. Insane? Well, her youth group was standing behind her with their arms extended ready to catch her. Could they do it? Probably. She didn’t actually do the math of her weight divided among eight pairs of arms, but they seemed confident, ready, and able. Her youth leader asked her to go first and was very encouraging. He told her that he had done this exercise with hundreds of kids for years with no broken bones, concussions, or deaths. His levity was both comforting and disconcerting.
She was ready, but then she paused. She turned around. Looked at her friends (and one or two frenemies). They were smiling and encouraging. Their confidence was contagious. “OK, I’ll do it.”, she thought.
“Ready?”, she asked.
“Ready.”, they replied.
“Falling.”, she said.
“Fall!”, they shouted.
And down she went. There was an initial tilting feeling, then a short moment of panic as she realized there was no way to stop falling. The youth leader’s voice in her head reminded her, “stiff as a board, or you’ll get hurt or hurt someone else.” With a short squeal, she stayed stiff, and felt the cushioning crush of 16 arms catching and arresting her fall. Eight smiling and giggling faces were surprisingly close by. She stayed stiff as they tipped her up and placed her feet on the floor.
Immediately, there was chatter of “Me next!” and funny imitations of her squeal that made her blush with laughter.
This exercise is called the TRUST FALL and it is used to illustrate faith in Christian circles. The lesson illustrates having faith in each other, and is extended to having faith in God.
Let us analyze the trust fall in various ways, and then show that the above example is in line with the Biblical concept of “faith” and is NOT in line with the mischaracterizations of faith popularized by the “New Atheists”.
Let’s begin with the “fun stuff”. Hitchens says, “Faith is believing in spite of the evidence.” Therefore, the “Hitchens TRUST FALL” would look like this:
Johnny climbs onto a table, wraps his arms around his chest, and becomes stiff as a board. He says, “Ready?”
No one answers, which is evidence that no one is there. He turns to look, and sees that no one is there. The evidence points to no one being there.
Going through the motions, though, he says, “Falling”. No reply, of course. But he has “Hitchens-like faith in spite of the evidence”. So he falls anyway.
Crack! Johnny falls off the table onto the hard floor and the consequences are not good. But he had “Faith in spite of the evidence”.
This is NOT the concept of Christian faith.
This is rightly judged to be delusional behavior. And although many Christians may “say” that they trust Christ in spite of the evidence, I contend that they do not. If you ask them about God’s work in their life, their relationship with Christ, their interactions with God’s word, the encouragement they have received from their church family, they will point to an impressive list of “evidences” that confirm their faith.
(This is NOT a proof that their faith is TRUE. Many faiths, cults, and even atheistic circles provide similar “evidences”, and they cannot ALL be true. But this DOES prove that their faith is NOT blind even if they say it is. They have identified many REASONS to believe what they believe.)
Here is another example that people misinterpret as blind faith.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
But don’t miss the facts. Indiana did not simply come upon a cavern and blindly step into it. He had his father’s lifetime obsession and meticulous study of the history of the grail. He had his father’s notebook with a drawing of how he should approach the cavern. And, he had the experience that the book was trustworthy – the penitent man doesn’t get his head chopped off, and the name of God is firm.
These EVIDENCES and EXPERIENCES and the person and character of his father are what Indiana Jones had faith in. He trusted these things, and stepped out in faith. The path was invisible, but his faith was not “blind”. He had reasons to believe.
Evidential Faith in the Bible
Jesus encouraged this type of faith throughout the Gospels. And he encouraged his disciples to put their faith “in Him” and in his miracles.
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14)
(He didn’t rebuke them for their stubborn refusal to believe their own eyes that saw him crucified dead and placed in a grave. He rebuked them for not believing what they should have accepted as reliable testimony.)
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)
(Again, Jesus is confirming that those who have believed based upon the reliable testimony of the other disciples even to the present day will be blessed.)
This is not BLIND faith. Blind faith in Jesus Christ would be believing “in him” without knowing the first thing about him, any testimony about him, nothing about your need for him, what his life, death, or resurrection meant, or even how he might be relevant to your life. That would be strange faith indeed.
It is certainly NOT what Christians mean by faith in Christ.