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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13 Comments

  1. Excellent post. It reminds me of a time when a co-worker (an Atheist) and me debated for days on end. Neither of us would eventually budge on our positions. However, the third guy in the office was convinced by our discussions to give his life to Christ.
    I’m glad I found your blog. You have some really good posts that help to keep me inspired.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an awesome experience, jw. Such a good example for all of us. And how kind of God to show you fruit for your labor. Thanks for sharing that. I’m glad you found A Christian Worldview, too. 😀

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Exactly! The Christian faith has always been about evidence. The entire Bible was written “so that we may know” and “so that we may believe.” It’s a historical testimony.

    I have been compiling apologetics videos on a Youtube Playlist for some time. It runs the gamut from science to history to miraculous testimonies that have verifiability. The playlist is entitled “Evidence for Christianity-Nathan Lumbatis” in case anyone wants to give it a watch. There’s about 27 videos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is great to know, Nathan. I’m not an apologist, but I love the subject. Of course atheists have counter arguments, which is why there are prolonged discussions on the topic, but there are a few subjects which I haven’t heard atheists answer yet—not in a meaningful way. How they can know there is no God anywhere in all of the known and unknown is one of those topics.

      I might use your videos in the future when I post on similar topics. 😉

      Becky

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      • Well, they’re not my videos. They’re videos of well-known apologists such as John Lennox, Stephen Meyer, Gary Habermas, Daniel Wallace, James White, etc. So, feel free to use away!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That was awesome Becky. Our faith is NOT a blind leap in the dark by any means. No matter who we are, we simply look at the evidence presented to us and make decisions accordingly. Some decide correctly, and some do not. Your points are very well put together, and actually helped my solidify my own position. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Wally. I know a lot of atheists belittle Christians for passing on our faith to our children. Brainwashing, they call it. But when I was writing this, I realized that all of us—adults, children, atheists, Christians—believe things we’re told by people we trust. If they prove to be liars, then of course we stop believing what we’ve been told. But the truth is, there is a preponderance of evidence for the Christian faith. At some point, I think we Christians all must move on from believing because someone else told us. We need to appropriate faith for ourselves and experience God in our own lives. That’s convincing to me, but I know it won’t convince unbelievers. So I find it really interesting to study logic and reasoning to see just how completely they support the truth about God.

      I appreciate you adding to the discussion, Wally.

      Becky

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      • Appropriating our faith for ourselves. Bingo!

        That, ultimately, is what separates those who grow and mature from those who stagnate and possibly get sidetracked in their faith.

        Preponderance of the evidence..hmm..isn’t that the standard for winning a civil judgment in a U.S. Court of Law? Interesting if you think about that for just a few minutes.

        The more I study, and the more people who tell me I am a moron, the firmer I actually become in my faith, as I find myself constantly having to defend it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Amen, brother. I’ve had the same experience. Discussions with those who don’t believe always push me to find answers to the questions and I come away more convinced/convicted of what we do not see!

          Becky

          Liked by 2 people

  4. […] 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……Read the rest of the post here: The Assurance Of Things Hoped For | A Christian Worldview of Fiction […]

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  5. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Then maybe you would like to pop over to my blog and offer your view of a definition of Yahweh,Becky?
    I would be interested i your take.

    https://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/defining-god-a-challenge-for-believers/

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  7. […] fact, I just recently wrote about faith as the conviction of things not seen. In that post I tied conviction with the idea of being convinced, in the same way that a jurist […]

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