The Assurance Of Things Hoped For


Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Some while ago I had a discussion on a Facebook site that brings Christians and atheists together. The question came up at once about how foolish it is for Christians to depend on faith instead of reason.

No, no, several of us responded. We aren’t choosing faith over reason. Our reason leads us to faith. Impossible, these atheists answered. Finally we backed up a step and defined our terms. It soon became clear: to the atheists in the discussion, faith was limited to blind belief, more nearly tied to what I call wishful thinking.

A light went on. No wonder those atheists were dismissive of Christians. Who wouldn’t question someone who knows something isn’t so (or who has no evidence that it is) but who wants it to be true and therefore simply declares it into existence?

To the atheists in that discussion, there was no other meaning to the idea of faith.

And yet, the Bible gives an entirely different view of the issue. Hebrews 12:1 basically defines faith for us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I think the last part of the definition is actually the strongest because conviction pushes the matter beyond just wanting it to be true. There’s a convincing element to the word. After all, we convict criminals—we make a strong and convinced statement about a person’s guilt, not based on wishful thinking, but on evidence.

In the same way, faith is conviction—belief based on evidence.

But doubters are quick to point out what comes next—the conviction is of things not seen. You can’t see God, and yet you’re convinced? You can’t see angels. You can’t see heaven. You can’t see the Holy Spirit or demons or hell or Satan or Jesus or a video showing men moved by the Holy Spirit writing the Bible. Pretty much everything in the Christian faith is conviction of things not seen.

How, then, does one become convinced or convicted as to the truth of Christianity? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it! If I could give an answer in a nutshell, I’d have pastors and missionaries and evangelists beating a path to my apartment.

There’s actually a lot that goes into this convincing/convicting. One element is proclamation. Like anything else that we believe, we may have first heard the statement from someone we trust and we believed it for no other reason than that he or she said it was true. Many a Christian took that first “leap of faith” because someone older and smarter and more experienced and knowledgeable told us the truth about Jesus. And about us.

Another element in the process of becoming convinced/convicted is verification from personal experience. So a trusted someone says, all people everywhere are sinners. Without much trouble, I can verify that statement based on my experiences. I see the news that shows people doing heinous things, I look at my family and friends and see their flaws and foibles, I search my own heart and find wrong attitudes and desires. So, yes, I can agree with and be convince of the truth that all people everywhere are sinners.

A third component to the process is reliable corroborative evidence—things like people whose lives have been changed or who live their lives in a way that is countercultural, Bible passages and the overarching Biblical narrative, miraculous events that have no explanation apart from supernatural intervention (or lying, but lying has been disproved).

Another part of this process is deductive reasoning. For instance, one way to arrive at belief in God is to draw a conclusion from several self-evident statements:

    1. One who creates is outside of and apart from what it creates (a painter and his painting; a watch maker and his watch)
    2. Nothing in the known world has the ability to create sentience
    3. Therefore, something outside the known world with the capacity to create sentience must exist.

That’s a somewhat clumsy effort to illustrate how deduction works, but I hope you get the idea. There are numerous others, but apparently Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury is credited with the development of this approach. Here’s his deduction proving God’s existence with a bit of explanation following:

Anselm’s first form of his argument follows:

    1. God is the greatest possible being (nothing greater can be conceived)
    2. If God exists in the mind alone (only as an idea), then a greater being could be imagined to exist both in the mind and in reality
    3. This being would then be greater than God
    4. Thus God cannot exist only as an idea in the mind
    5. Therefore, God exists both in the mind (as an idea) and in reality.

The first premise (1) that God is the greatest possible being stems from the classical attributes of God i.e. omnipotence, omnipresent, omniscience…etc. It naturally follows that there cannot be two rival omnipotent beings…etc. For Anselm (and most theistic thinkers) this understanding of God goes without saying. It is axiomatic to say that God is omnipotent…etc. Any other definition of God would not be God.

The second and third premises (2 and 3) argue that something that exists in reality is better than something that exists only in ones imagination. For example, which is better imagining that you have £1 million, or actually having £1 million in your bank account?

The conclusion (4) follows from the first three premises (1,2 and 3). Anselm’s final conclusion (5) is that if all the previous premises are true (1,2,3 and 4) then God must exist. “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God”

Other elements that go into the convincing/conviction that is faith in what we do not see involves inductive arguments. We reason from what we “see” to what we don’t see. For instance the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence is inductive—we see that an objective morality exists and conclude that the sense of right and wrong has its origin in a Moral Being.

These various ways of becoming convicted of what is not seen are philosophical. Too often our atheist friends want to stop with the words “not seen” as if the lack of material evidence means there is no evidence. However, there’s one overarching argument against this opposition.

While atheists accept that science can discover new things to the point that scientists might refute a position that had been commonly held to be true in a past age, atheists take for themselves omniscience in regard to God by saying that since they have not discovered scientific evidence for Him, He does not exist anywhere in the known and unknown universes and possible dimensions.

To know such a thing a person would have to, well, be like God. But since, in their view, there is no God, then they can’t know if God is in some distant universe or dimension. In other words, their position is simply . . . dare I say it? . . . wishful thinking.

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Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments (13)  
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