A Leap of Faith?

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Is there really such a thing as a leap of faith?  I think a step of faith is probably a better figure to express the true nature of faith.

There is a concept of faith that divorces it from reason.  Here is an example of such a viewpoint:

Reason and faith are completely incompatible. Faith is the destroyer of reason. It takes particular ideas and divorces them from reality and from reason. If you accept something on faith, you are essentially saying that you will take it off of the table with regards to reason, and treat it how you feel like treating it. Wherever faith goes, reason is pushed out.1

This, frankly, is just not intellectual honesty.  Nearly every decision in life requires an element of faith.  Reason and faith are combined in the day to day activities of life.  Consider the simple act of going across a bridge.  I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where there are no less than nine bridges crossing the Willamette River that divides the city's east and west sides.  As a child, I remember often being somewhat fearful as we drove over one of those bridges.  I would daydream of what might happen to me if we fell off into the river.  I didn't think much about it, but I guess that I trusted my parents to safely take me across any bridge that they believed to be worthy of our confidence.

In Gig Harbor, Washington, where I now live, we watched a new bridge being built from 2003 to 2007.  It's a suspension bridge spanning the Tacoma Narrows of the Puget Sound, that is just over a mile long.  Before I go across this bridge, I don't take the time to reason concerning the structural soundness of the engineering or the quality of the construction of the bridge.  I simply trust that the governing authorities have done their due diligence to oversee both the engineering and construction of such a bridge at every step of the process. 

In 1972, I was in Ghana, West Africa, and was traveling on public transportation, on a modern bus that was full — even the drop-down seats in the aisle were occupied.  The highways, however, were not quite so modern.  While motoring through the countryside, the driver slowed down.  I looked out the window and saw a sign along the road which read, simply: "Weak Bridge Ahead"!  While I am much more confident going across the New Tacoma Narrows bridge than I was going across that bridge in Ghana, each of them require my faith when I am crossing.

In 1939-40 the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge was named "Galloping Gertie", shortly after its construction was completed.  It received this moniker because the road surface actually moved as much as five feet when the wind blew.  People came from great distances to travel across this bridge, and to experience the sensation of driving on a "roller coaster".  In 1940, because of a design flaw the bridge collapsed, after undulating wildly in a strong wind.  Fortunately no lives were lost in this disaster.  

I relate all of these bridge stories to drive home an important fact: an action as common as driving across a bridge requires a marriage of reason and faith. Whether we employ deductive reasoning—

A properly engineered and constructed bridge is safe to drive across

This is a properly engineered and constructed bridge

Therefore, this bridge is safe to drive across,

or inductive reasoning—

A million people have safely driven over this bridge before me, therefore I can safely drive across it myself,

there still remains an element of faith in the decision to drive across a bridge.  I must depend upon someone or something outside of myself, as I make my decision and take action.

Here is my definition of faith:

Faith is a reasonable decision to take action in dependence upon someone or something outside of yourself.

Rather than try to explain this more fully, let's consider several illustrations of how this works in everyday life.  

• I employ faith when I drive to a specific time and place, depending upon another person to keep a promise to meet me then and there.

• I employ faith when I drive down a two-lane highway, depending on the people driving toward me to stay on their own side of the yellow line.

• I employ faith when I plug in my brand new computer, depending upon the electric company to deliver 120 volts, not 150 volts to my outlet.

• I employ faith when I sit in a chair, depending upon the manufacturer to construct a strong and durable piece of furniture.

• I employ faith when I make an online transaction with my credit card, depending upon the technology of the website, and the character of the seller, to protect my information.

• I employ faith when I do work for my employer, depending upon him to pay me the agreed upon wage at the agreed upon time.

We could go on and on with this exercise, but hopefully these examples clearly show that faith is an essential aspect of our lives.  Understand this: we are not employing faith when we do something all by ourselves, with no dependence upon anyone or anything else.  If we're preparing to have dinner with someone else, they may offer to bring the dessert.  But since they have not been reliable in keeping their promises in the past, reason tells us to not trust them this time.  So we thank them for their offer, and say, "That's fine, I'll take care of it myself."  We choose to not trust anyone, but, instead choose to do it all ourselves.

And in this case, it's really a misnomer to say we're just going to trust ourselves.  There's really no such thing as self-belief.  Since faith is a reasonable decision to take action in dependence upon someone or something outside of yourself, there can be no faith in yourself.  When you don't trust anyone or anything else, you just do it yourself.  That is not faith, it is simply action.

This is similar to the error of the one who says: "I'll believe it when I see it!"  Seeing is not believing; seeing is seeing!  If you are looking at it, you don't need faith; you are looking right at it!  The mother who can't believe that her child got an "A" in biology, does not think it is a reasonable proposition based upon the evidence.  When the child shows her the report card with an "A" in biology, she does not believe it, she sees it.  Faith is not required; the evidence is incontrovertible.  She may say, "Well, now I believe you", but the child knows that she didn't believe him; she had to see it.

So, since faith is such an integral part of our daily existence and interaction with others, it is not any different when it comes to our response to God.  The writer of the previously-referenced article says, with regard to faith in God:

Obviously religions are a good example of faith, since many actually preach the virtue of faith. If you say you can't understand why God would let innocent people die, or children get abused, or anything else, they say you're not supposed to understand. You're supposed to just believe. Just take it on faith. Believe without reason, without evidence, and without understanding.2

To exercise this kind of "faith", is not faith at all, in either the biblical sense or in practical experience.  A better way to describe "faith" that is devoid of reason is simply foolishness.  To make a decision with no evidence is to be foolish.  Now foolishness is making a decision based upon a short, limited perspective, whereas its opposite — wisdom — is decision-making based upon a long and broad perspective.

The foolish person will impulsively go into debt to buy a camera because it's on sale for $50 off.  But he doesn't reason than he will pay far more than $50 in interest before the debt is paid off.   The wise person saves up for the camera, and when he has the money in hand, he shops patiently for the best deal.  He sees the long perspective.

The person who impulsively commits himself to a religion without examining the evidence is simply foolish.  Some will say, "Well, he certainly has a lot of faith; I could never make such a leap."  Great faith is not evidenced by whoever makes the greatest leap from reason; the criterion for great faith was clearly pointed out by Jesus.3  A great leap from a reasonable position to an unreasonable one is simply a very foolish decision.  

Witness the decision made by several people a few years ago in a religion called by the name of "Heaven's Gate".  The people in this group were convinced that aliens were hiding behind a comet, coming to free them from the turmoils of life on earth. All they needed to do to hitch a ride was to prove that they were "sincere in their belief". Ritual suicide was the method.  This was not sincere faith; this was abject foolishness.  Did any witnesses say, after these people killed themselves: "I sure wish I had that kind of 'faith'"?  Not likely.  When Muslim extremists blow themselves up saying "Praise be to Allah", do you wish you had that kind of "faith"?  Don't deceive yourself; that is not faith.  It is foolishness!

So what kinds of evidence are there by which one can make a reasonable decision to embrace faith in God?  Where can one look for reasonable evidence? Here is a short list:

• History, both secular and religious

• Literature, both secular and religious

• Archaeology

• Testimony, historical and contemporary, of both "believers" and "unbelievers"

• Logic

• Statistics

In order to make a reasonable decision, one must search these sources as extensively as possible, giving more weight to objective evidence and less weight to subjective evidence.  

Many people who embrace religion, make the mistake of depending most heavily upon the most subjective of evidence.  Some of these are:

• A feeling they had

• An experience they, or someone else, had

• The writings of one person

• A "vision" they, or someone else, had

• Documents that were only seen by one person

• Their own "belief"

Strangely enough, millions of people bank their eternal destiny upon this kind of flimsy, subjective "evidence".  

So then, what if someone were to ask you: "How do you know if what you believe is true?"  What would be your answer?  Some might answer: "Because I've had an experience and you can't deny my experience!"  I long ago stopped trying to deny people's experiences; it's a fruitless enterprise.  Others might respond: "Because I believe it with all my heart!"  So, let me get this right: you know what you believe is true, because you believe it with all your heart?  This is a prime example of circular reasoning.  If this is the best you can come up with, you have truly made a "leap of faith".  No, you have embraced foolishness.  You may have even stumbled upon and opened the right door, but your "faith" is as shaky as that of the adherents of Heaven's Gate.

I've heard a well-known preacher say: "You just need to be dumb enough to believe God."  He's just dead wrong.  God places no premium upon ignorance.  Consider these scriptures:

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.4


If you have not engaged in some mature, reasonable research into the evidences for your faith, then you need to work on that short list above.  Many excellent resources are available.  I especially recommend the works of two authors who each, independently set out on a mission to disprove the Bible and the faith promoted within it.  Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, who each have written many works, after striving to repudiate the faith of the Bible, have ended up embracing it.  Pick up their writings, or the writings of others, and strengthen the foundation of your faith.  You'll be ready then, to give a well-reasoned answer for the hope you have within you.5

1 http://objectivism101.com/Lectures/Lecture15.shtml

2 ibid

3 Great faith is the result of deep humility.  Check out Jesus' encounter with two unlikely people who had great faith: Matthew 8:5-13; 15:21-28

4 1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Timothy 2:15

5 Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

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