Monday, August 16, 2010

Ever Strengthening Faith

This post is a quick reflection on a philosophy class I just finished concerning Reason and Faith. I have not hammered out my thoughts nor did I proof-read this post. With that said, please read with mercy in light of that fact, and return in a few weeks for an updated version.

We know that belief-that God exists is not enough for salvation. Salvation is relationship with God. While I might believe that the president of the United States exists, this by no means suggests that I am in relationship with Barrack Obama. Likewise, one might know of God without knowing God personally. But many suggest that humans can only “know” things through natural inference. Natural inference does not allow for us to enter into spiritual relationship with God. There are some who suggest that faith is just a form of belief of the mind. However, many Christians suggest that faith is a matter of the soul/spirit and not merely a matter of the mind. If this is the case, can faith ever be effective? Can it ever overcome doubt?

There have been philosophers that have pointed out that we are only able to reason from experience. Our language is built upon experience, and we explore ideas by forming them into words. Thus, God cannot reveal anything to us that we cannot understand from experience. We cannot say, suggests this line of argumentation, that God gives us any special revelation that we could not arrive at from experience. And, even if He can, it does not do anyone else any good because we have no words from experience to explain what has been revealed. In other words, God cannot, or, at very least, does not have to, reveal anything new to us. With this in mind, these philosophers contend that all the knowledge that we can ever affirm, we learn through natural methods of reasoning from past experience. Thus, faith has little to do with the statement: “I know God.” Is this really the case?

Although the argument about beliefs might not deal exactly with faith itself, I find that it does have implications for some persons’ views of faith. For example, many Christians would argue that faith is a higher ability than reason. In addition, many would also posit that faith informs reason. In light of the above reasoning, can this be the case? Can we claim that “belief-that,” a product of the mind, can be informed by, “belief-in” (faith), a product, arguably, of a higher function? If faith is beyond humans’ natural experience and is not developed from experience, can it still inform the mind which understands from experience?

I think there is a way that faith can be helpful to reason, even if reason only affirms what we know from experience. Faith might be a quality that, among other things, somehow strengthens our already formed beliefs of the mind.

For example S might believe through reasoning from evidence that G probably exists. Let’s say that S was willing to place a value of 55% to this assuredness of G’s existence. Let us also imagine that S has tried with all his might to find evidence for G, but still is only somewhat sure and holds some doubt. Could it not be the case that G has a power to reward S if S chooses, on account of his desire for relationship with G, to trust G in spite of lingering doubt. Suppose G provides that faith, a quality He provides if S desires to exercise it, is such a quality that it causes the mind to become more certain in previously held beliefs. Thus, because S decides to place his faith by gradually raising S’s assurance of G’s existence, until it eventually reaches 100%. This could be accomplished by some relation of soul and body, in which a soul that has faith has the ability to cause the body to be a healthier functioning machine so that the mind can more easily replace doubt with trust.

I am not exactly sure how this might work, but let’s think of one possibility to show that it is at least logically consistent. It is natural for our feelings to play a part in the strength of our beliefs. Feelings do not have to be the direct result of beliefs. When I look at my wife and my heart flutters, I do not experience this love just because I believe she exists and loves me back. My feelings for her are deeper than my beliefs about her. If we believe in unconditional love, we must affirm this. Thus, feelings can be something other than beliefs that yet effects belief.

If faith is beyond reason, does that still mean it cannot influence our emotions? I see no reason that it cannot. When feelings are heightened, our beliefs are impacted. For example, when I hear a bump in the night, I might think nothing of it at first, but then I begin to think of the safety of my wife and daughter. The emotion of fear begins to drive my belief that there is someone in the house until I become almost certain of this.

Faith might not be a mere belief that God is present, but an overwhelming feeling that He is reaching out to our heart. While our mind might not think much of His presence at first, the feeling lingers and will not leave us alone: the stronger the feeling, the stronger the belief.

Thus, we do not have to affirm that faith is just another species of belief that is formed in the mind of man. It is a gift from God that is more likened to feeling than ascent to truth, seeded in the heart, to keep us grounded in His love. While there have existed times in my walk in faith that I might have thought, “what if God is not there?” there has been something much deeper within my being that has kept me rooted in my walk, and I believe this is the quality of faith. Praise God!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Crutch of Inbred Sin

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? –Saint Paul, Apostle of Christ

Reliance upon sin for the Christian is deplorable; we are surely to utterly rely on Christ and no other. Yet we often defer to our inbred impurity as excuse for wrongdoings. It is true that our perfection is not realized at the moment of conversion. Sin still lives within. However, while it lives within, it has no more dominion when Christ’s Spirit resides on the throne of the heart. Can we deny this? Is it not the case, as St. Paul suggests, that in light of the Spirit, if we focus upon Him, we remain in His will and do not have the opportunity to sin (Galatians 5:16)? Voluntary sin on behalf of the Christian is thus an act of volition in which one diverts His gaze from God Most High. In light of this, are we justified in the acclimation that “the Devil made me do it?”

As a matter-of-fact, I must recognize infirmities and psychological ills. In this consideration, I recognize such evils that result from these conditions of the human being to be involuntary and unrecognized as sin by the offender. In His mercy, God extends grace to us when we are guilty of such transgression. The above query deals with those sins that we recognize as such and participate in them nevertheless. This is the nature of such sin that we attribute to inbred sin. To attribute it as such is to recognize it as sin. So, I ask again, are we justified, in light of our known sin, to say, “I cannot but help to sin. It is in my nature”?

If it is an act of volition, how can we say such things? One might object, “I am weak, and my brokenness is such that I cannot help but sin. I would respond, “Do you not call yourself a follower of Christ and, as such, do you not proclaim to have Him living within? If so, then is it by your power that you live, or by His?” In light of the multitude of sin we are capable of committing in our life, it is easy to say that I might become overwhelmed and must submit to my nature at some point in time. However, think of each potential sin as it presents itself through initial temptation. Reflecting on each potential sin, one at a time, do we not have the ability to deny our temptation by appealing to the power of Christ within, or is that power too weak?

In order of the severity of their impact, think upon sin from least to greatest. The white lie: are you unable, with Christ’s power, to deny your desire to lie and instead tell the truth? The act of stealing: are you unable, with Christ’s power, to deny your desire to steal and instead trust Him for sustenance? The act of murder: are you unable, with Christ power, to deny your desire to kill and instead learn to love others as Christ loves you? When temptation comes our way, cannot Christ lead the heart away from such contemplations, or is His model prayer said in vein when we say, “Lead us not into temptation”?

When we approach sinful acts in this manner, we surely affirm Christ’s power over each, but in real life circumstances we too often circum to our temptations and use our inbred sin as an excuse. Sin has no power over those who are in Christ. While it lingers until we are perfected in Him, it cannot, or, at very least, should not reign. But, in order to realize this truth, we must trust in His power, and this is as much a plea for myself to follow as it is my message to you.

While we are capable of sin, even as Christians, and still have an advocate with the Father if we do fail, we do not have to do so. Sin should be the rarest of exceptions and never the rule. He has the power to deliver if we be vigilant enough to recognize our temptations and then lean utterly upon Him.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all you care upon Him; for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen –I Peter 5:6-11

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is Equality an Established Truth?

Most sane human beings have some sort of ethic from which to operate based in a phenomenon known as morality. Morality seems to be an inescapable quality that humanity upholds and from which we establish laws to which we hold each other responsible to follow. The ethic of equality that we, especially in the United States, hold seems to be a peculiar and particular assumption that must be firmly grounded in other beliefs (i.e. humans have value, etc.). Equality that grants each person a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be based on the fact that each human has been created with such rights. But, what overarching law demands this equality?

It would seem that if it were the case, as many assume, that humanity arrived on the scene through a very gradual, unsupervised process of natural selection (NS), there would be no other laws of morality than those created by the creatures that arrived from this process. Or, as the proponents of Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian suspect, NS might, out of necessity, demand “survival of the fittest” (SOF). The ethic of equality seems to assume a prior law set in place before humanity, not set by humanity, and although NS might precede humanity, it does not seem to grant equality; in fact, SOF seems to preclude such a law.

Most people base basic human rights on the basis of a divine authority. In other words, we establish our equality on the fact that we are created by a God who has established order as such. However, there have been some in recent times that have tried to establish the basic right of equality without the need for a higher authority. Can this be the case?

I might be able to write a lengthy dissertation on the topic, and someday I might do just that. But today I have a simple thought. So, for now, consider the following: There have been philosophers in the past that attempt to establish an ethic based on the ambiguity of our existence. One such philosopher Simon De Beauvoir claims that, since we are the highest being, at least that we know of, it is our responsibility to establish the rights of others and live peaceable lives based on our own ability to take charge of our fate. She argues that if there is no higher being, we are duty-bound to take control.

While these philosophers establish a need for humans to be responsible in forming ethics and laws, it still seems that the basic right of equality is not so basic without the assumption of the existence of God. Why is it my responsibility to establish equality for persons weaker than myself? If it were the case that there were no God and SOF was our highest governing truth, it might be argued that it is human duty to exploit and expose the weakness of others, ethnically or otherwise, so that we might weed out disease, figuratively or otherwise, that is spread by their weakness and incapability.

I know that the previous statement is a disagreeable one, and it is so for good reason. I submit that it is disagreeable because equality of all humanity is a basic truth grounded in God, otherwise it could not be rightly considered basic at all. If one believes in equality for all, the existence of God seems to be the most reasonable explanation of the existence of such a basic truth.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Faith is to the Soul as Reason is to the Body

As a person’s body cannot rightly be said to be whole without both flesh and bone, so the human cannot be said to be whole without both body and soul. Like flesh and bone, these components cannot function properly without each other (at least in this life); however, we can, as we do with flesh and bone, speak of each separately and diagnose each part of the greater whole.

With this in mind, we must understand that each part works with the other for the good of the whole, yet they each operate with different capacities. The brain operates with reason and observation. When it ponders an object of its interest, it begins to formulate ideas based on previous experience and knowledge that can be expressed in language. The soul, on the other hand, operates with faith. When it ponders an object of its interest, it begins to form a relationship to the object that cannot fully be explained by human language.

Thus, doubt and faith are both capacities of the greater whole, yet each one works on a separate level of the human being. Doubt comes from gaps in reason. However, faith is a product of the soul. As John Wesley pointed out, faith lies in the hidden heart of man. With this in mind, we need not assume necessarily that doubt is to be an indication of “weak” faith, unless the doubt cripples the relationship between God and person (I will speak more to this in a moment).

Because of these phenomena of human function, we might better understand why the Christian who is plagued by doubt might yet hold dearly to faith. While the mind might have severe trouble in its understanding of God, producing doubt, the soul, in relation to the Father, has no trouble relying and trusting the object of its desire (if we can rightly call God object). As modern psychology has indicated, many factors can contribute to a strained mind. Thus, some people do not have the capacity to “believe” properly because of plaguing anxiety and the like, and the gracious and patient God of Creation mercifully understands such issues.

While I hope that this can be digested as a word of hope, I must not neglect a word of warning. This distinction between faith and doubt does not suggest that doubt cannot penetrate to the soul and hamper faith. Doubt can become cancerous if not rightly understood. If one allows doubt to overpower the mind, the person can become so obsessed that the heart has no power in which to operate. As bone cancer can cripple the whole body, so doubt can cripple the whole person, if he or she does not actively allow faith to inform reason.

Properly align your faith and reason, properly accepting the capacities of each so that common human malfunction does not cripple your joy in relation to the Father. He is patient, kind and loving. If your mind has trouble accepting, but your heart wishes to hold on, take this as an indication that He has your heart and smile because you are His beloved, even when this fact is almost impossible to fathom.