The caricature of faith presented in the popular culture is commonly referred to as blind faith. By blind it is meant that the person of faith has no evidence for the thing they’ve placed their faith in. On the other side the “faithful” say that nothing could be further from the truth. Our faith is built over time by relying on the promises of God and seeing Him fulfill them, often going beyond what we even believed He would do.
What is being set up by framing the discussion this way is called a dichotomy, a division into two separate and mutually exclusive groups. On the one side is faith and on the other is knowledge. This is a broken comparison. Think about it like this, belief is a holding of truth without complete certainty. For most ideas belief is the best we can expect. Why?
To move from belief to knowledge requires experience. For example, I believe that my car will take me safely to work and back home tomorrow. I don’t know it will, because that would require psychic abilities. When I get home from work tomorrow night I can say my belief was justified and true. I have converted my belief into knowledge.
It’s easy to miss but faith is right in the middle of this conversion from belief to knowledge. When I leave for work tomorrow if I walk past my car, down the street, and on to work (a half mile away) I can maintain my belief that it would have taken me there and back, but I can never convert it to knowledge without the experience. If, however, I choose to act with trust in my belief and get in the car I will have just expressed faith in my belief. The act of getting in the car and starting it up is an act of confidence in the hope of getting safely to my destination and returning in like fashion, and it is evidence that the same is likely though it cannot yet be seen (Hebrews 11:1, anyone?). Belief and faith are not concepts that are unique to religion.
In the debate between blind faith and faith based on evidence I would ask you to consider that what we have in biblical faith is not one or the other. It is both. In Hebrews chapter eleven we have what pastors and biblical scholars have forever referred to as the Hall of Fame of faith. Many of the most notable people of biblical history are introduced and their faithful acts expounded in order to exhort us to act likewise. The story is briefly summarized of God’s request of Abraham to sacrifice his son to Him. I’ve heard many different explanations given for why Abraham agreed and what was going on behind the scenes, but the author of Hebrews says Abraham intended to carry through with the sacrifice in faith that since God had promised that Abraham’s legacy would be established through Isaac that He could raise him even from death to live again. He believed that whatever God asked him to do was good and right. His belief led him to obey by faith when God asked to do something that seemed to be strange and counter to His previous promise. So Abraham reasoned that, since God can not lie, whatever the outcome of sacrificing Isaac God’s promises would not be nullified. The walk up the mountain, the gathering of the wood, the binding of his son, the laying of him upon the altar, and the lifting of the knife moments from striking are the definition of faith. These are the actions that will illuminate the truth of the belief.
Abraham’s obedience in the sacrifice required action without direct evidence of the outcome, but he would not have had a son to sacrifice if not for a miraculous intervention by God to deliver on a promise (see Genesis 17:16-21). In fact, Abraham’s response to God in Genesis 17 is very telling. He questions God’s ability to provide the promised son based on evidence.
Abraham bowed with his face to the ground and thought, “I am almost a hundred years old. How can I become a father? And Sarah is ninety. How can she have a child?” So he started laughing. Then he asked God, “Why not let Ishmael inherit what you have promised me?”
Did you see that? I never did until I was doing the research for this article. God says do A and I’ll do B and Abraham said something equivalent to, “but God all the evidence says this can’t happen”. Some pillar of faith this guy was! How’d he get into the hall of fame again? Oh yeah, he chose to trust God anyway and , spoiler alert, the promised son was born. And so when the subject of giving him back to the God that had promised him to Abraham and promised he would be the father of many nations it was a no brainer. Is that so surprising?
Yet we continue to talk past each other when we argue and debate with non-believers. What good is the debate if we’re debating for and against positions that don’t exist in the real world?