Monday, June 18, 2007

Significant Faith - Part 1

American humorist Mark Twain famously defined 'faith' as follows:

"Faith is believing in something you know ain't true."

I've been thinking a lot about faith in recent days. My faith - in a very real sense - has been my foundation through this trial (and many others!). But I think there's a wide misperception - characterized humorously by Mark Twain - about the nature of faith. Or, at least, the faith that the Bible talks about.

We must first distinguish the popular notion of 'blind faith' from the significant faith defined in Scripture:

Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Notice that significant faith is grounded in assurance and conviction. These are two words are antithethical to the idea of 'blindness' or taking a 'leap' into what we suspect is untrue. One of my Jewish friends described his faith as, "I have FAITH that the Lakers will win the championship next year. It's not something I KNOW, it's something I hope for." That is the way I think many people consider faith. But if the Bible is true, it is possible to enjoy a faith that goes well beyond fervant wishful thinking. Let's see how.

Significant faith consists of four components: Knowledge, Assent (or Agreement), Trust, and Conviction. I'll consider the first of these, below, then continue on with the others in future blogs.

The faith the Bible talks about is first and foremost fact-based:

Philemon 1:6: "I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake."

In order for faith to be effective, it must be according to what we know. The amount of knowledge necessary to engender significant faith varies from person to person. Some may need objective facts from the area of science or history; others a more personal knowledge through experiencing God directly in their lives or in the lives of those they love. But either way, significant faith is based on facts, and thus cannot be characterized as 'blind.'

Here's an example of what I mean: Several lines of evidence in modern cosmology (the study of the nature of the universe) point to the fact that the physical universe came into existence at a some fixed time in the past. This fact is mathematically necessitated and cannot be denied on scientific grounds (there are a number of physicists who reject it on self-admittedly philosophical grounds). In the early 1960's, residual effects of the 'creation event' (what scientists term "the Big Bang") were observed and measured in the laboratory.

Before the Big Bang was proven, it was possible for scientists (and others) to believe that the physical universe always existed. The need for a Creator was thus comfortably removed and the Biblical account in Genesis could be denied. But with the proof of the Big Bang came along a whole host of philosophical and theological implications, the most significant of which is the idea that if anything has a beginning, it must have a preceeding cause.

So, what preceeded and caused the Big Bang? Physicists have demonstrated - again, through the elegance of mathematics - that what they term "The Singularity" pre-existed the Big Bang. The Singularity is something about which we can say little, except that no physical laws can pertain to it. It is quite literally beyond all physical reality and beyond all possible physical reality. Again, this is not mere speculation; the Singularity is a mathematical necessity to account for the universe we now find ourselves inhabiting. Every experiment ever conducted to prove the Singularity has succeeded; every experiment conducted to disprove it has failed (for more details, see Frank Tipler's The Physics of Christianity).

One of the oldest philosophical truths is: From nothing, nothing comes. That is, if there were nothing prior to the Big Bang, nothing would now exist. But in terms of physical reality, nothing existed prior to the Big Bang! Instead, when we wind the clock back to before the Beginning, what does science tell us we find? Something incomprehensible. Something beyond the bounds of what is even possible for us to know. In other words, in the literal sense of the term, something supernatural.

This fact is a long way from proving that the God 0f the Bible exists. But it is a solid foundation upon which to add other facts to establish His existence beyond reasonable doubt.

The question is: What do we do with such facts? In a recent survey, 40% of leading scientists claim a belief in God (this is roughly the same number reported in a survey conducted in the early 1900s). What about the other 60%? What about you, if you doubt God's existence?

Knowledge is only one component of significant faith. We must add the other components of Assent, Trust, and Committment. But knowledge is the foundation. It belies the notion that 'faith' is blind.

I'll continue discussing Significant Faith in my next blog.

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