Recently an atheist challenged me on the notion of faith. His definition was, “Faith is jumping to a conclusion when you don’t know the answer.” He went on to say that faith is not a virtue. He was following a version of the “god of gaps” concept, which says that God is what you invent when you can’t explain something. It views faith as a negative, blind response that stifles the individual and stops the thinking process cold. Truly, then, what is faith?
The definition of faith in the Bible is ambiguous. Two Greek words are translated “faith.” One is “elpis” used in passages like Hebrews 10:23. The other is “pistis” used in passages like Hebrews 11:1. The lexicon tells us that “elpis” refers to hope. If you look at Hebrews 10:23, you can see that the use is not blind, but general. “Pistis” refers to steadiness or steadfastness, but it is not blind.
Much of modern science is based on faith. The “big bang theory” is a faith concept. It is based on a great deal of evidence, but it cannot be tested or falsified in any way. We might be more inclined to call it a conclusion than a faith. Evolution is based on several acts of faith. One of those is uniformitarianism, which says that no process has operated in the past that is not operational today. Natural selection (survival of the fittest) is a faith concept. We repeatedly find situations where the fittest don’t survive, so we have to modify the concept. Evidence becomes a factor here. Can we find a cause for the fit not surviving?
Quantum mechanics started as a faith. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” As scientific research progressed, scientists saw evidence that led them to believe (have faith) that what they observed was being caused by things that they couldn’t see or detect at the time. What is faith if it is not built gradually on evidence?
Hebrews 11 describes in detail what it means to have faith in God and act on His instructions. Various cases are highlighted to illustrate people who acted by faith without a practical understanding of why they were doing what they were doing. Did they do it blindly? Abraham, for example, is one of those whom the Hebrew writer tells us functioned by faith. Did Abraham act blindly? As you read the history of the life of Abraham, you see that he had many experiences that built his faith. This history is reviewed in Hebrews 11:8-19. Reading his story in Genesis, you see Abraham having experience after experience, which gave him a steadfast faith to sustain him.
What is faith to us? Why is our faith different? The answer to that is evidence. Our experiences in life, our education, our study, our failures, our successes, and what we have seen, can all build our faith in God, or destroy it. Faith is never blind. Our faith is either something that works, builds us up, and blesses us, or leads us to despair and destructive actions. Hebrews 11 describes what faith can accomplish. Verses 33-40 tell us that through faith, people have “subdued kingdoms, brought righteousness, obtained promises … God having provided a better thing for us.”
This ministry exists to build up faith and give all of us confidence that ultimately we will have something better. That is our most enduring faith, and massive amounts of evidence support it.
— John N. Clayton © 2020