Thursday, March 8, 2018

Reason and Limited Knowledge

I have seen a growing trend  by skeptics to define faith  as the opposite of reason. These skeptics argue that faith, and the Christian faith in particular, is an excuse to ignore and even contradict reason. So what are some examples of faith from scripture?

One example is David going up against Goliath. As David stepped out onto the field of battle and Goliath taunted him with insults, David responded, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head" (1 Samuel 17:45-46, NIV). David was a teenage boy going against a hardened champion who had terrified an entire army of Israelites and yet David's faith led him to make this boastful statement.

Another example comes from the New Testament. Jesus entered Capernaum and encountered a centurion whose servant was ill. The centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant but when Jesus headed toward his home, the centurion stopped Jesus and told him that all Jesus had to do was speak the word and the servant would be healed. Jesus responded by saying, "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith" (Matthew 8:10, NIV). 

Both David and the centurion expressed faith in outcomes that defied the logic of the day. David believed that as a boy he could bring down the mighty Philistine champion while the centurion believed that Jesus could miraculously heal his servant from a great distance.  Did these men embrace faith  as an excuse to ignore reason? The fact that they were both right seems to indicate otherwise. So what was the difference for these men? What allowed them not only to have faith but to be right?

Both of these men had experiences that had shaped them and informed them. David had encounters with lions and bears where he learned not only God's faithfulness but his own capabilities. The centurion, in his career as a commander of armies had learned the power of the spoken word and of authority, and he saw both that power and that authority in Jesus.  Neither of these things could be proven empirically to other people, but their own experiences and the Spirit of God moving in them was enough to convince them.

Faith does not stand in opposition to reason. Faith takes up where reason leaves off. Reason can only tell us so much because reason is dependent on what we know. When our knowledge fails us, reason becomes inadequate. Faith in Christ steps in and fills in that lack of knowledge of facts and figures and empirical data with a knowledge of the person of God as he works in our lives.  Our faith as followers of Jesus derives from knowing the God of the universe in a personal way and allowing that knowledge of God to fill in the gaps when our earthly knowledge, and thus our reason, can go no further.

Faith is not the opposite of reason but sometimes faith knows more than reason. Never ignore reason but be honest about how far your knowledge goes. When you reach the end of what you know and reason only goes so far, remember Whom you know and allow faith to fill in the gaps.

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