Faith vs. Reason

Today I heard a sermon by Alistair Begg on the life of Abraham (actually, at the time still using the name Abram). At one point Pastor Begg said something like, When faith comes up against questions, then the questions have to go.

He was referring to 75-year-old Abram, having believed God when He promised to give his descendants the land He’d brought him to, confronting questions ten years later. How long do I have to wait? Is this really going to happen? Maybe I misunderstood and this nation will be built through my servant who stands to be my heir. No, God said, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

So, another 13 or so years pass, with missteps along the way. And when Abram knows it is impossible for he and his wife to have a child, God renews His promise. What’s Abram to believe? His rational understanding of the way the world works (he knew his body was as good as dead when it came to procreation and he knew his wife was past her child-bearing years), or the promise of God? His reason, or his faith?

“And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23). Abraham believed God.

He didn’t hope something into existence without cause and against all odds. Rather, he believed God was powerful and completely true to His word. He believed God was not limited by what Abraham had heretofore experienced. (I’ve never seen a 99-year-old man father a child, so it can’t happen.)

Oddly, this kind of faith is out of vogue. Well, I suppose it isn’t so odd. After all, Satan, a liar and the father of lies, has been lying about God and His work and plan since those days in Eden. Then along came modernism, buoyed by rationalism. And we have professing Christians saying things like this:

Our earlier understandings of Creation and of most Christian doctrines no longer make sense because we now know more about Creation, that is, we know more about God’s acts as Creator. We’re capable of higher understandings.
Acts of Being: Updating Thomistic Existentialism

So why, I wonder, wasn’t Abraham justified by reason instead of by faith?

Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 9:42 am  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. And that is where you have the difference between the biblical definition of faith and how the world defines it. One of Satan’s great tools is taking words God defined and twisting those definitions as societies and cultures “evolve.”

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  2. A fake version of this kind of faith is readily present today. It starts with the idea that God sometimes does things which are beyond our expectation. Then it turns it around to say that therefore things which are beyond our expectation are expressions of God. Therefore faith means “believing” in things which are irrational. These people are then pleased to be called “believers”, which takes the attention off what God might do and puts it squarely on the reactions of the person themselves.

    This sort of thinking ends up calling it a “miracle” when we find a parking spot in a busy carpark. To the outside world this continual focus on closing your eyes to “believe” the irrational means the the claims of Christianity to have anything to do with normal life can be easily ignored.

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  3. Excellent post. The definition of faith can be a very divisive issue in our culture today. But what it all boils down to is trusting in God and believing he will do what he said. What better example do we have of that than Abraham?

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  4. Kameron, I hadn’t really thought about how the meaning of “faith” has been distorted. Great point.

    Ken, I see your line of thinking. I suspect that kind of believing in the unexpected is born from false teaching that says we should name it and claim it or that God wants to see us rich and famous, not to mention healthy and happy, if we’d only believe.

    What God wants is for us to be like His Son. He wants us to see Him and trust Him, even if we find ourselves next to Joseph in an Egyptian prison or beside Job in the ash heap.

    And, Dona, I guess that’s essentially what you said, isn’t it. Trusting in God and believing He will do what He said. Yep, that’s faith.

    Becky

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  5. Just a quick thought – Isn’t this the same thing as “blind faith”? God calls us to faith, yes, but not always to blind faith like Abram here. Doesn’t God want us to use our minds and our reason too?

    I just feel that there’s more to be said here.

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  6. Hi, Daniel,

    No I don’t think Abram had blind faith. I don’t think Joseph did either. Both of them encountered God personally.

    Abram’s faith was believing that God meant what He said. Abram didn’t need faith to believe God had talked to Him. He knew that was true. His faith, in that respect, was grounded in his experience.

    But would God do what He said? Would Abram really have a son and become the father of nations, especially considering all that was true physically about the aging couple? That’s where faith came in: God said this, but I see that. What do I believe as a result of these two facts?

    We have the same situation today, only our encounter with God is through the pages of Scripture, no less God’s word and clear instruction. We have what we know God said and we have what we see around us, often (but not always) in conflict and we have to decide who (or what) to believe.

    In short, I believe faith is grounded in reason. God made us whole persons, with body, will, and intellect. It would be unreasonable for me to say I believe God wants me to win a Gold Medal in the next Olympics, probably in down hill skiing.

    The most unreasonable part of that would be a complete lack of communication from God on the subject. But now I’m touching on how do we know what God wants us to do, and that’s not an easy one-size-fits-all answer.

    Becky

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  7. An excellent response as always. Thanks for clarifying.

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  8. Reason without Faith is timid and impotent,

    Faith without Reason is blind and reckless.

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