Further Reflections of Faith and Love

I hoped she loved me, but I did not know. She turned me down cold in tenth grade and so there was reason to doubt that she found me attractive, but tenth grade was a long time ago. And yet her note that year had been very spiritual and very final: she would only date me if God made her or at least that is how I read it.

Still hope springs eternal in the heart of a senior’s breast.

I talked to her mother about her coming home from college and my father said he thought she was not dating anyone else. She had been friendly the last time she came home and visited church, but I was not sure.

Love was satisfied with the evidence and acted on hope: that was faith. “Faith” is gives substance to hope, but it is connected to reason. As a result, most great deeds, including the great discoveries in science, are a result of faith.

Faith is the evidence needed for love to act reasonably, at least for a Christian.

If not a Christian and given to Hallmark movies, then a man might believe that “faith” is believing something despite the evidence: a pretty fair definition of foolishness. People can use “faith” as they please, but should recall that this rule applies to everyone else.

If a non-Christian normally uses the word “faith” with a meaning different from a Christian, then he must be careful when talking to a Christian. An American looking for a subway in Britain better ask for the “underground” or he is likely never to find the Tube and end up wandering around an underpass.

Stephen Hawking commented that a mathematical formula caused a staggering percentage of readers to put down a book, but quoting a Bible verse may be worse. People who like the Bible think they know what you are going to say and people who don’t like the Bible don’t like people who quote the Bible.

Still as a Christian, I love the Bible and so act in hope that one verse will not cost me too many readers. The writer of the book Hebrews (11:1) says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Faith is related to hope, though it is more than hope.

Unlike a great many philosophies and religions, Christianity thought hope was a good thing. Some pagan Greeks viewed hope as a cheat sent by the gods to keep people living, so the gods could stay amused by human antics. Secularists, in a universe without external meaning, have often given way to despair and Nietzsche-like crankiness. Golden age science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft tried liberating himself from religion and created splendid stories, but ended up with Cthulhu.

Christians have good evidence from experience and philosophy that there was a God and that He is good. We have evidence that Jesus is alive and that the soul is immortal.

Things go bad in a messed up world, but we have reason to think that the bad is superficial: the Good will prevail. This doesn’t make the sad go away, but it does give reason for hope.

God is in Heaven, so all will be right in the world.

Not all hopes, however, are rational. I have long hoped for a jet pack that will get me to work, but have turned fifty this year with no safe jet pack in sight. Things are fundamentally good, but not all desires are fulfilled. Partly this is because my desires are not all good (my desire for a castle is a bit much) and partly due to the broken world.

Kids that are starving should have food, God made food for them, but people have made the world a place where children starve. For a person who thinks the universe has no meaning some local hopes might not disappoint them, some food may arrive for the starving by chance or by some good human deed, but there is no ultimate meaning.

No event has any ultimate meaning or redemption and while it is perfectly possible to ignore this fact and be happy, it does limit hope. We can hope to win today, but we will lose in the end.

Christians are in the opposite position: hope is reasonable about the big stuff, all will be right in the End, but the End is not yet. This means that while hope can be good for a Christian, my hope can be disappointed.

I thought it would be good for me to date the young lady, but my “good” may have contradicted what was good for her, the community, or the cosmos. It is a complicated, interconnected universe, and love and hope are not enough.

If as science suggests a butterfly flapping its wing can send trembles through the atmosphere, a human relationship is even more alive with possibilities both good and bad. Just a moment’s contemplation of this fact would paralyze the prudent, but a lover is never prudent.

What has love got to do with it?

The cosmos is such a complicated place, and I am so broken, that the safe thing might be to do as little as possible. Avoiding pain is so hard and pleasure has such unexpected results, that some Epicurean philosophers, with no good gods to give them hope, argued for a life of maximum moderation as the best way to achieve happiness.

But Plato was wiser than the Epicureans, knowing that humans will always fail in moderation due to love. When a person sees beauty, love is stirred in the soul and the man or woman longs for the beloved. If the object of love is beautiful enough, then a person might do anything for the sake of love.

Spock and the Vulcans might be able to live by pure reason, but humans cannot, and even in the Star Trek universe Vulcans must deal with the mad mating cycle called pon farr.

Christians know that love is a good and so cannot be content merely to deny passion anyway. God is Himself love and so rejecting all love would a rejection of God. But again while love is very good, it is easy to see that my loves can be misguided.

My attraction to the beloved does not mean she is attracted to me. Humans are capable of illicit attractions or disproportionate ones. Swollen love of country has motivated genocide. Reckless love killed Romeo and Juliet. Religious loves can motivate unholy wars. In Paradise all human love will be appropriate, find the right object, and be satisfied, but a look in the mirror tells me this is not Paradise yet.

Love is, by nature, unreasonable, but needs reason in a broken world.

Love is a great energy either for good or evil. Reason is moved by love to consider the object of desire, but it must consider more than what love wants. In a good man, reason weighs and considers the evidence before allowing love to act.

Many non-Christians can see the necessity of this check on love, but Christianity gives any human, not just some hypothetical philosopher-king, the potential love reasonably. Part of being “born again” is gaining the spiritual power and the metaphysical motivation for reason to guide love.

And yet the cosmos is so complicated that we might shudder still to act in love. What if we are wrong?

Christianity does not just enable reason to check love, but also provides evidence that our reasonable love mostly will get it right and that God’s perfect love will forgive our trespasses. God is a good Father and if we will grow as He has asked us to grow, guided by the rules He has given us, then He will take care of the rest.

He will have grace on our errors.

Human beings are in time. This is a great good, since it allows us a chance angels do not get: repentance. We have time to turn from bad deeds, but because we are time bound we are limited and those limits include our knowledge.

No human knows it all, so no human can be sure of much of anything outside of the existence of God, linguistic truths, and mathematical truths. The greatest possible being must exist, in English all unmarried men are bachelors, and 2+2 is always 4, but that turns out not to be so much.

If knowledge is certainty, then humans don’t know much. Doubt will always exist, but the doubt may not be reasonable doubt. Since God is a loving parent to us, school will not be too hard. If we seek, then we will find, if we seek what we should.

A scientist like George Washington Carver hopes to understand the peanut, because he loves God’s creation. He gathers substantial evidence to firm up that hope. He has enough experience with God’s world that to act on his hope and this action is faith.

Sometimes his experiments will show that his particular idea, this proposition of faith, is wrong. Any religion or philosophy can account for error, but not the hope in the goodness of God that makes revising his idea reasonable and so trying again.

Countless experiments show Christian faith in the goodness and reasonableness of God was not misplaced. We can make scientific progress! Error is no source for ultimate despair, but in a man who loves creation a call to try again.

This is very good news, such good news that it made Western civilization possible, especially science.

How?

Christianity teaches that though broken the cosmos is good and reasonable, because God is good and reasonable. The Christian “God” is not just a bigger version of the old mythological beings we call “gods,” but something else altogether.

God and Homer’s Zeus have nothing in common: Zeus is a kind of superman, but God is totally other than human. Zeus is potent, but God is omnipotent. Logically you could have two gods like Zeus, but there can only be one all-powerful, all-knowing God.

Since He exists, we can fear Him, but when we discover that He is good, we need not fear all our actions. Humans also gain the ability to say a condition is “good” or “bad” and so can be guided in our decision making.

Messing about with nature without guidance in a meaningless universe is likely to end badly. Why assume there is a pattern and structure to find? In fact, why view an ear that cannot hear or an eye that cannot see as “bad” and try to change it rather than accept it?

Things have the purpose we give them, not any “real” or essential purpose.

Humans love nature and so wish to study it and learn her secrets. Love always wants knowledge of the beloved, as anyone on a first date knows. And yet without a good God, the moment the man who loves Nature asks what he should do to Nature, he is left with no answer.

Is Nature better as she is or better as he wishes her to be? What if others prefer a different outcome? To know the beloved may change the beloved, but change may make the object less lovely.

Science without monotheism, the God of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, is too dangerous to attempt. Men without god might worship Nature, choosing to view what “is” as what “should” be, but then science would be neutered. Men without god might despise Nature, as some Greeks did, but then it is hard to get those same men motivated to study a thing they loathed.

Cultures without monotheism develop high culture and technological marvels, but never sustained the kind of investigation made possible in Islamic, Jewish, and Christian lands and of course it was ultimately the dominantly Christian lands that experience the Scientific Revolution.

Atheists can claim Christianity was not necessary for the Revolution, but the fact is that Christian lands did it and nobody else did. Maybe Christians were lucky, but a simpler explanation is available: Christian doctrine.

Christianity argues Nature was good, but broken, just as humans are created in God’s image but broken. Humanity was made a steward of the good Earth by God and this had implications for Christian actions. Since God made the polar bear, no thoughtful Christian would lightly destroy the last bear, but at the same time no Christian would make the bear all-important either.

We could love, think, study and trust that God’s pattern, His reasonable thoughts that we call natural laws, could be found. While no man can totally trust his own loves, hopes, and faith, a community of men seeking truth should find it.

In aggregate, our particular vices often will be canceled out by the virtues of our neighbor. George Lucas liked Jar Jar, but the rest of fandom did not. Fandom constrained future movie appearances, just as in aggregate humanity rises up against deviant cultures.

Any particular era might develop quirks, ours own seems obsessed with bad sex, but over time these even out. President Obama is right to look to the “curve of history,” but is wrong to assume America is always with it. Our embrace of slavery, long out of moral favor in the Christian world, is an example of our being behind history for centuries. The fact is that even our quirks will even out in time.

Nigeria, South Korea, or the growing Christian church in China may have more to say about our moral future than the Supreme Court.

Reason is vital to love, because love without reason is destructive, but reason without love is useless. Reason is a tool, but no tool can motivate building a structure with the tool or provide a blue print. Love is the motivation and Christianity is the blueprint that has created much of the good of the West.

As a kid, I went to a few youth groups in churches that emphasized “love” over “reason.” We were told just to “love” God, but simultaneously were rightly warned that our natural loves could go very wrong. Nobody seemed aware that “love of God” without knowledge could become very, very bad. Zealot religion is ugly, often violent, and frequently heretical.

People can justify any vice in the name of loving God as Inquisitions and the Episcopal Church USA prove.

Knowledge and love go together, but learning that lesson can cause an overreaction. I can know lots about my beloved without being good to her. A desire to know is a result of love, but it is not love.

Many Christians react to anti-intellectualism by becoming intellectualists. They value their own reason over relationships, particularly any relationship with people in the past. My parents are older, my grandparents are dead, and I am attracted to the spirit of this age, so I ignore the opinions of those who created me as I am.

I easily break relationship to fulfill new loves, becoming the sort of person who cannot even understand the romantic tension of a Jane Austen novel. Jane Austen gives men and women a tension between goods: society and love. The author assumes her reader will know that both are good and that just ignoring one or the other will lead to disaster.

Moderns are taught to favor our own narrow reason. We cut ourself off from the wisdom of the past and become chronologically lonely. History becomes all about “advancing” and the digressions and mistakes are forgotten. Fools assume that the spirit of their age is identical to the virtues, but not the vices of past ages.

We are like the abolitionists, even if our behavior is more like the sensuality of the slave holders than the Christian moralism of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Today we look at “third-world” nations and marvel at their rejection of our immorality. Americans assume that our “old morality,” a consensus just twenty years ago, was unnecessary to our prosperity and power.

We shall see.

Faith denies the modern American a lack of doubt, since believing on faith assumes some possibility that we could be wrong. I believe in God based on experience and the best reasons I can find, but I could be wrong. As a result any Christian should be humble about what they know, we are not sure.

We are not sure our moral views, our religious views, our present scientific consensus is right, but it is the best we can do. Doubts for a Christian do not prevent action, because we trust God to guide us.

We are children with a good Father. My mother told me that a magic day in a child’s life is the day he or she learns the word “accident.” The child has an accident, smashes a valuable vase, and expects punishment.

The good parent says, “Do not worry. It was just an accident.” and hope is born.

A child learns that she can make mistakes and that as long as the bad consequences were unintended, she is not punished, but taught. As a result, she moves forward and makes decisions in “faith” motivated by her loves. A good teacher shows her the beauty of the natural world and she starts investigating: her mistakes are opportunities for learning and her insights enrich humanity.

She is not afraid, because she has faith.

Mistakes are mistakes, but they are not sin. God does not pretend our errors are not errors, but He also does not call mistakes “sin.” As a result Christian do not “repent” of errors on mathematics tests, but for mistakes in morality!

Living by Christian faith is hopeful not limiting. There a few things I wish to do that God reveals that I should not do, but there are very few.

And so this is faith for the Christian: hopes that have been confirmed and given substance by human experience, past and present, Divine revelation, and reason. Science functions this way, but so does the daily life of sensible people.

When I wanted to ask that beautiful girl I first met in tenth grade, I based my actions on reason and my experience. When I had evidence to go with my hope, then I asked the young lady out by faith.

As for the young lady? I found out the truth about her feelings. Gentle reader, the young lady’s name was Hope and by faith I married her.


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