Sooner or Later It Comes Down To Faith

In one of my classes, after discussing a number of difficulties and issues related to the creation stories in Genesis, a student chimed in that sooner or later one simply has to have faith.

I didn’t disagree, but instead asked: What sort of faith, and faith in what?

We had already read part of Paul Tillich’s classic The Dynamics of Faith, and so students were aware of the possibility of other ways of thinking about faith.

If one says it comes down to faith, does that mean faith in the sense of simply believing that the stories in the Bible are historically/factually true? Or faith in the sense of believing that the stories are meaningful and significant even if not literal depictions of actual events? Or faith in God in the sense of trust in spite of not knowing quite what to do with the stories in question?

Often when someone gets to the point of talking about needing to “just have faith” in practice it means simply to accept a way of interpreting texts that one had previously been told to.

If we consider the story in Genesis 3, for instance, if “just having faith” is taken to mean “believing that a snake really talked even though I have never experienced such a thing today and would seek professional help if I did,” what the person is actually doing is “just having faith” not in what the story says, but that those who told them that they must treat the story as a historical account in spite of knowing in all other cases what sort of literature they are dealing with if it includes an animal that talks.

And so “just having faith” in many instances turns out to be neither “just having faith in God” or “just having faith in the Bible” but just having faith in other people’s judgment about the appropriate way to interpret the Bible.

People are free to “just have faith” in this sense, but I suspect that for many, it will be appropriate and helpful to point out to them what the actual object of their faith is in such cases. They may not have realized.

  • http://blog.amberlbaker.com Amber Baker

    My “just have faith moments” tend to fall under the third: trust in spite of not knowing quite what to do with the stories in question. 

  • John

     
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    }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Sectio;Just curious, if you were of
    clear mind (say, around mid-morning) and you suddenly saw a vision of Jesus
    appear before you and he tells you to go and see someone (or something like
    that) would you do what you thought the appearance of Jesus told you or would
    you go and see a professional, or both?

    • Scott Ferguson

      “or both?”

      Love it!

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  • Beau Quilter

    JamesWhat sort of faith and faith in what? – is a question we can just as easily ask using another biblical passage. Just change a few words:If we consider the story in Mark 16, for instance, if “just having faith” is taken to mean “believing that a 3 day old corpse really came to life even though I have never experienced such a thing today and would seek professional help if I did,” what the person is actually doing is “just having faith” not in what the story says, but that those who told them that they must treat the story as a historical account in spite of knowing in all other cases what sort of literature they are dealing with if it includes an resurrection from the dead.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @google-ccab71d7f599e94f2fe37ba3eb85654f:disqus , yes indeed.

    @db5f736e149ee0d7c3ce8470a70f10de:disqus , I probably would indeed do both under such circumstances.

  • Anonymous

    Encouraging others to have faith is always a good indicator of an abuse of power. 

    If I tell you to have faith, I am telling you to ignore whatever doubts, reasoning or experience you have that is causing you to not think the way I want you to. Although dressed up in a term that is often considered positive, it more usually is an attempt to subdue your independence and intellect.

    “You’ve just got to have faith” should be a huge warning flag of someone with maleficent intent.

  • http://profiles.google.com/blake.landon.reas Blake Reas

    I am going to have to go with Bultmann on this one: The bible is simply unbelievable.The world of six day creations, and failed apocalyptic Jewish teachers has little if anything to say to us.  The bible, like any other human writing, gets some things wrong; and some things right. 

  • John Thompson

    I have never experienced a leper being healed instantly by a touch, a young man being raised from the dead, or another man being called out of his grave. But by faith I believe that these happened. Just because they are not within your realm of experience does not make them any less true. There is more to life than what you can touch or see. It takes as much faith to believe that this is all there is as it does to believe that there is a God who created us and wishes to commune with us.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    John, are the only options “there is nothing more to this life” and “God healed lepers a long time ago but has since stopped doing so”? I don’t see why one cannot affirm both that life is meaningful/God exists and also acknowledge that the existence of stories about miracles happening in the first century can never constitute proof that miracles actually took place in the first century. Simply choosing to believe certain things is obviously your prerogative, but you need to be aware that your choice to believe doesn’t mean that your beliefs are entirely correct.

  • John Thompson

    True, merely choosing to believe something does not make it so. On the other hand it does not make it untrue. My question though is what part then of the Bible is real, true, or story (myth) to be learned from? Does this mean that the resurrection of Jesus is myth?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @John, I think the key questions are (1) how do we determine what is likely to be true about the past, and (2) how should religious believers respond to the fact that things that are important to them, such as claims about Jesus’ resurrection, cannot be demonstrated to be factual using the methods and tools of historical study?

  • John Thompson

    If we can not show the resurrection of Jesus to be a historical event with the testimony that we have then what event of history can we demonstrate to be factual? If we remove the historicity of Jesus and His life, death, burial, and resurrection from Christianity what exactly are we left with? 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    John, I’m not sure why you are suggesting that we cannot even ascertain with probability the historicity of at least some details about Jesus’ life, his death, and his burial. Why do you view those as problematic from a historical perspective?

    • John Thompson

      I do not have a problem with the historicity of Jesus’ life, His death, His burial and His resurrection. I take it from your question about “how should religious believers respond to the fact that things that are
      important to them, such as claims about Jesus’ resurrection, cannot be
      demonstrated to be factual using the methods and tools of historical
      study?” that you do have problems with this historicity.The wording of the question seems to indicate that you see problems. My question then was that if this is so, how then are we to have any confidence in any historical information?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    So you understand why a claim to resurrection is in a different category from mundane claims about things like speech, death, and burial, when it comes to whether historians can offer an assessment of likelihood? A resurrection is inherently improbable, and so there is no evidence that can ever make it legitimate to claim that it is more likely that a resurrection actually occurred than that a story about a resurrection arose for some other reason.

  • Gary

    Is dead, dead, or is there more? Let us know when you find the answer. I’d like to know.

    • John Thompson

      Is not that the question that the resurrection answers. So it is important for us to carefully investigate these claims. If dead is dead and that is it then that is a game changer. Same if there is more to our existence than just these few years in this mortal coil.

      • Gary

        “to die, to sleep…to sleep, perchance to dream, ay, there’s the rub”
        rub = difficulty = faith?
        You’re right. A game changer. The only thing known for certain is
        Probability of resurrection + Probability of no resurrection = 1.0
        Too bad it can’t be pinned down better. If I knew, I wouldn’t be blogging so much. Maybe blogging can be defined as searching for information, which does not exist.

  • John Thompson

    Yes a resurrection is inherently improbable – I would probably call it impossible. I would disagree that “no evidence can ever make it legitimate.” I think that you have a problem with the interpretation of much of history if you throw out the evidence of the New Testament and the early church fathers. It is because of the improbability and the impossibility of the resurrection that the testimony from 4 different witnesses is so compelling.
    So again my question is what are the historical standards of evidence that you are using to discount the resurrection?
    I uderstand the argument about how ” a story about a resurrection
    arose for some other reason” but  question the amount of time that is between the events and the supposed rise of the story. I find that claim even harder to believe. To assert that this improbable of a story rose to the level of acceptance that it did in 70 years is asking a lot.


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