Contend Earnestly: Faith and Reason: Do They War Against Each Other?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faith and Reason: Do They War Against Each Other?

This morning I was having quite the discussion based on this quote by one of my favorite theologians, Martin Luther:

"Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. "

Now, some (I don't think all the guys I was discussing this with would take it this way) take this quote and use it for some help in an understanding that our faith isn't reasonable or logical. But, this is not what Luther was trying to get across. We must take Luther in his context and whom his fight was against. His fight was against Rome who was taking their theological constructs from Aristotle and Aquinas. Both of these men put revelation (Scripture) and reason on an even playing field. In actuality, they usually would put reason completely above Scripture in any competing argument.

So, when Luther is speaking of things such as reason and logic, he is not speaking about throwing them out all together, but making sure that they keep within the context of the revealed faith in our Scriptures. A clearer quote from Luther came from a debate Luther had where he said that,

Reason is a whore

This is clearer because reason is not sinful or wrong in it's context it should be used in. If used inappropriately beyond the confines that God has placed it in, one can then abuse what God has made to be good. Think of sex within the context of this quote. Sex is not wrong in the correct, godly context, but taken outside of the bounds which God has placed it, one becomes a whore.

So, should we have a reasonable faith? Yes. God calls us to. There is never a story of faith in the Bible that was a blind faith, or one without reason. We are even told that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac because of his understanding that God would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). He wasn't blindly walking up the mountain to sacrifice his son to an unreasonable and irrational god.

What one finds as they search the Scriptures and then tests them to the things of this world is a rational, reasonable God. This God is who gives us our reasonable faith so that we can trust in him. One does not take a blind leap of trust or faith. Faith without reason is foolish, reason without faith is pointless and damning. The reason I say that it is foolish is that no one should trust in something or someone without a reason. Why should we trust in Christ and his cross? Because God has given us reasons to do so. Do we always understand these reasons? No. But we do have reason and rationality to believe and trust in the Scriptures and the God who speaks through them. This also goes with someone who has intellect and reason but no faith. They are damned and without hope, because their reason and rationality aren't directed to the one who underlines their whole life of worship.

These two aren't warring but must work together. We even have the definition of faith in Hebrews that points to reason and logic within the person that has faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

Assurance and conviction do not come about through the air, but through a reasonable understanding of whom or what you are putting your faith and trust in. This is why when reason tells us something that seems to contradict the Bible we must put our attention on the reasonable God who is infinite. Our faith is reasonable and logical, but when life doesn't make sense in our finite minds, we must have faith in our infinite God.

Know that I am not saying one can merely come to God through reason, but one cannot come to God without a rational reason for doing so. One doesn't just one day wake up from being an Atheist to a blood bought Christian.

If you want to think about it this way. Today I am putting faith in the building that I am in. I have faith that it won't collapse on my head because of my minute knowledge in engineering and architecture and my experience of being in this building everyday. This is a reasonable faith not a blind one.

One will also notice how God tells us to report on this faith:

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
1 Peter 3:15

Peter uses the term "apologia" which of course is where we get the use of apologetics, which means to make a defense. Actually in the Strongs it says, "to make a reasoned statement." The term was used for courtrooms where something was defended with evidence and reason. One wouldn't walk into a courtroom and tell the jury, "just believe me."

Neither would God. He is always giving us more and more reasons to believe in Him. He has given us reasons and logic and rationality to have faith in him and he has never asked to follow blindly.

This doesn't mean we'll always understand or have a depth of knowledge in any given situation, but we can have faith in those times because our God has always been faithful and just and he alone is the evidence and reason to believe in those times.

If he didn't give us evidence and assurance then we would never believe the following:

...for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”
so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5b-6

When someone asks why you believe, never tell someone to "I just believe" or to "I had to take a leap of faith" because God has never asked you to do so.

Check out this short video on this topic as it gives a great summation in under 4 minutes: Faith vs Reason

HT: Mark at Here I Blog


Matt Redmond said...

In my dozen years of teaching/ministering/pastoring I have never heard "I just believe.' However, I am sure those people exist.

I, the one, who unapologetically posted the quote that got you all worked up, posted it because I am recognizing more and more how much I must lean into my faith when "worldly" reason, sense and understanding tempt me to rely on what is seen and not on what is unseen - the God, who is there and surrounds us with gospel-love given daily because of what Christ has done.

Since I resigned from my position and have no gainful employment at the moment and only have a call and the gospel promises, this quote rings true for me. Not because my trust in God is objectively "unreasonable" but because so many people think it is "unreasonable."

I am also ok with the term blind faith. I am not so snarky and willing to parse every word uttered by people I have no other reason to trust, understand what they are saying. No one knows what the day holds for them, whether tragedy or reasons for laughter. They are blind to that as Abraham was. But they do know God and his promises and character and the gospel that even if the day holds death, they will be showered with love from their Father for all eternity.

You see, I do not think we disagree at all - except I felt the quote needed no qualification and you did. I think it rings true for many who would never, ever say, "I just believe" or the like. I think many get it because the world tells them everyday their constancy in virtue is unreasonable their sacrificial support for the propagation of the gospel makes no sense and they are constantly misunderstood when they choose difficulty over the American Dream of ease. They get it.

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Darlene said...

From what I understand of Luther, his stance against reason in part had to do with his view of the Sacraments. He taught and truly believed that the water of Baptism combined with the Word of God, effected and brought about the promised result. So it was that he saw the waters of Baptism truly imparting the life of God in the one being baptized.

In the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, he taught and believed that the Word of God together with the blessing of the gifts of bread and wine truly resulted in the people of God partaking of the true body and blood of the Lord.

He strongly preached against the Lord's Supper being merely symbolic just as he preached against Baptism being symbolic. Yet, he recognized that when the Christian believes in the Sacraments, they believe in faith that they accomplish what they represent even though reason tells them something quite different. The waters of Baptism indeed impart the life of God and the Christian who partakes of the bread and wine is partaking of Christ's body and blood. Both of these Sacraments are means of grace imparted to the believer to strengthen his spiritual walk and comfort him in times of doubt.

As an Orthodox catehchumen, I am coming to appreciate the nous, the mind in the heart. It is through living the life of Christ and experiencing the life of the Church that I am encouraged to continue in the faith of my Fathers.

Christ said to Thomas, "Blessed are they who believe and have not seen." The apostle John says, "For we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

So much of our Christian life is trusting our Heavenly Father. We believe in the Blessed Triune God, even though reason can explain it away. We believe that all things were created through Christ, even though man's reason can explain it away. Yet as we continue in belief and trust, He sustains us with innumerable gifts, the fruits of the Spirit, hope in the Resurrection, victory over sin, comfort in times of grief, courage in the face of danger.

Christ has taken on our humanity and now we share in His divinity, being changed into His likeness.

Christ be with you on your pilgrim's journey!

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